There must be someone smarter than me, more scientifically minded, who has done a thorough study of this issue. I should find that person, and quote him/her extensively. But I’m not going to. I’m going to sit here with my avacado and opine without the benifit of scientific evidence or a study to back me up. This, my friends, is going to be straight up anecdotal.
The assertion that words matter isn’t going to be a new one. They are the means by which we interact with and understand the world. A select few get past the words-only forms of intercourse, and the importance of the communication that takes place through touch should not be underestimated. But mostly, we fight with words, we promise with words, we agree and we contract and we explain ourselves and we share and we grow and it all happens through language. I am in awe, always, at the power of language.
But that’s all external. What about our words and the internal life? After all, doesn’t most of our thinking come to us in words? When you look in the mirror and find a new line that you didn’t notice the day before, the image is just the image. It’s the words that carry the judgement. Our opinions are in our words. The images exist without judgement, it takes words to make blue the wrong color of blue.
Once upon a time, I was dating a man. He was an interesting man. A strange, unfamiliar man full of football and fishing who made me laugh sometimes and made me cry sometimes and seemed (at the time) like the whole world. It didn’t work. Of course it didn’t work. But my heart and my head weren’t in agreement on that. My head was sure that it ought to be able to corral my heart by berating it for its irrationality. Or more precicely, my neo cortex had a good explanation for what should happen and my limbic brain, upon seeing his shirt comingled with my shirts, said “but I love him.” On it went. Head: this isn’t worth it. Heart: but I love him. Head: not worth it. Heart: but… love, damn it.
The pathway between seeing the shirt and the voice that said “I love him” was as well worn as a deer path in the direction of a salt lick.
I did stop loving him, and I did it deliberately. I didn’t pull off this feat of sensibility with my logic or my rationality or with any kind of evidence. I just stopped saying “I love him” to myself when I saw the red shirt. I picked neutral over affirmative. I’d start with the cascade of those three words “I…” and I’d divert. “…see a red shirt.” Oddly, it didn’t take that long. Of course, he helped me out by saying something completely assinine and that was the end of that, but even before his ill-considered mouth, I broke the grip he had on my emotional state by changing the words I used when I talked to myself about him.
You don’t have to change your mind. You have to first become aware of the things that you say to yourself. You have to hear them, really hear them and ask questions like “Is this true?” or “Would I say this to someone I respected?” or “Would I like it if someone said this to a person I cared about?” You can’t change it if you don’t know it’s there.
Then you have to replace the words. Or just stop saying them. “I…” <insert sigh> “oh, nevermind.”
This is another one of those things where we mistakenly think there is a how. There isn’t. It’s a bianary system. You’re either on or off, you either do or you don’t. You wake up one morning and you decide this isn’t working, and then you stop. You stop incrementally, but it’s the decision that counts, not the speed of your implementation. You’re allowed to stop telling yourself something and then backslide and then stop again. We all do it, these things take practice. It took weeks, if not months of concerted effort to short circuit that voice that told me I loved the football fisherman – I’d been telling myself that I loved him for at least a year at that point. But if I hadn’t, I might be married to him and just as miserable as I was dating him. By that measure, the time it took was totally worth it.
So there you go. Change your words, don’t worry about changing your mind.