Words matter; what we say and how we say it counts. In a recent blog, Phil mentioned the concept of the inner critic from The Artist’s Way, and how we can work with positive affirmations to help reframe what we relate to as reality. When speaking to ourselves or our intimates, we can use our words to encourage, inspire and elevate each other. We can also do the opposite.
Our words and our thoughts are intimately connected, and when our words cause stress they can affect our health and well being. The right words placed lovingly in someone’s consciousness can lift them to greater achievements and an overall better feeling about themselves. Conversely, casual comments can cause hurt that might stay with a person for years, particularly when they come from an authority figure, a partner or a person we hold in high regard.
When Maude was in Junior High School, she had a music teacher who was particularly vicious* with his words. He came up to her one day and said: “Move your mouth, but don’t sing!” To this day, she never sings freely in public, and as a result of the self-consciousness and insecurity this created, she has missed out on experiences of music that might have been in her life. (* Maude wrote “viscous” by mistake. Those were definitely words that stuck with her.)
Words are just one of the ways we have of understanding and navigating the world. The animal part of the brain has managed us and our evolutionary ancestors successfully for millions of years and its information comes to us in the form of intuitions and emotions. Now we also have a thinking mind which uses words to interpret the world. Sometimes those conclusions are different and at odds with our emotions. (Phil will be expanding greatly on this idea in a future post on his personal blog.)
Emotions may not make sense to the rational mind because they do not appear to respect reason, cause and effect, or justification. We are effectively receiving two messages: spoken language and body language. Dealing with these mixed messages can be a challenge for humans.
Words are metaphors, just labels stuck on things, and as such, not real. What is real is your body, your senses, your feelings, yet sometimes, they are not true; think optical illusions or that the sun does not actually travel across the sky. Your brain imagines a different reality that is sometimes correct.
To integrate these two languages successfully is a valuable skill.
For the speaker, be aware of your body. Your feelings are telling you things, but your head does not automatically have words for them. Find those words; they will help you and help your partner. To name something is to give you power over it.
As a listener, be conscious that the speaker is actually speaking two languages: spoken language and body language, and you are listening with both of those languages, too. Listen to their body language with yours. How does it make you feel? Look for words to describe how they are feeling. “You seem sad today.” Naming in this way will change how you think, will make them feel seen, and may even give them insight into what they want to express.
So when you are having a difficult conversation with your partner, remember that words are only half of the reality we live in. Pay attention to both halves.
Listening to the meaning behind your partner’s words is key to a successful relationship #quote Click To TweetIt is important to be aware of your words and how they can affect your partner and relationship. Words have different connotations for different people; each person’s history imbues the word with their own nuances of meaning. Put effort into learning your partner’s meanings and vocabulary. When you create a mutually understood vocabulary together, you can avoid much misunderstanding and hurt. Learning to listen like this is an art that helps create and maintain a peaceful conflict-free relationship.
Speak aloud your desire and intention to learn each other’s true meanings and to find mutual vocabulary. Together you can also create your own words and phrases that both of you understand. This can add humor to otherwise challenging situations and be lots of fun.
Asking questions can also be really helpful. If you’re in a conversation and you aren’t understanding what your partner is getting at, stop and say “I hear you and I want to understand. When you say …, what do you mean?” If some phrase comes up that pushes a button for you, or if you are getting a negative feeling about the meaning, stop and ask, “When you said…, I noticed a defensive reaction on my part. I know that couldn’t have been your intent, so would you explain to me in different words what you meant?”
Questions asked in a loving tone are always a good way of showing the desire to understand, coupled with positive assurance of the goodwill you both have for each other. Avoid words like “but, no, I disagree, you always, you never” when you’re sharing ideas and making decisions.
Pay attention to your words and tone to each other. That alone can shine light on any feelings of darkness and distance. If you make this playful and fun, it will be all the better and more effective. Be gentle with your words, and listen for the feelings behind your partner’s words. At the deepest level, people want to be friends, not enemies. Hear and respond to their entire message.