Something I have learnt over many years of mental illness is how the way I treat myself affects my mood and personal wellbeing.
Several years ago I reached a crisis situation with my mental health (or should I say “another crisis!”). I knew I would find it hard to cope if I slipped into a state of severe illness that has happened to me before, so in an act of desperation I reached out for support to as many agencies as I could.
A part of the help I managed to obtain was being able to see a counsellor. This was an odd experience for me, who had not got on with “talking therapies” in the past, but I was desperate.
Although I struggled with the counselling, it did achieve something that became a revelation to my way of thinking.
I remember vividly how the counsellor was looking at me. A puzzled frown would come across her face. Then she proceeded to ask me why I always used the word “should” when I talked about myself or what I was doing. I couldn’t answer her. Then she repeated the words I had used over the past few minutes and it became clear that my low self esteem and self hatred was coming out in my language. The very language I spoke to myself all the time.
I should do this and I should do that; I ought to do this or I ought to do that. The negative connotations of everything I said about myself were obvious for an outsider to see, but I was blinded to this punishing trait.
That afternoon was a revelation to me in the way I saw myself. The way we use language is so important to the way we perceive the world around us and ourselves within that world. I had been punishing myself in almost everything I had done for years. Being hard on oneself discourages one’s self development in so many ways.
It creates pressure on us and provides punishment when our standards are simply too high. It provides the outlet of guilt on our shoulders as we see ourselves failing in the things we tell ourselves we “must” achieve.
I learnt, over time, that by replacing the word “should”, with the words “I would like to” or “I could do” somehow made life seem so much easier. Rather than piling stress and guilt on my shoulders, it provided a possibility of enjoying what I was doing, and that what I wanted to do or achieve was a positive step rather than a chore.
There are many examples of unhealthy and punishing language and ways of thinking, but for me, the realisation of the way I speak to and about myself has allowed me to change not only the way I think but to challenge the image I have of myself. To lift the burden of expectation and to carry on my daily tasks by wanting to do them rather than seeing them as something I must do.
By reaching out and trying many different ways to help my mental wellbeing, one of the most valuable lessons has been the language I use and the way I see myself and the daily tasks ahead.
I now avoid the use of these punishing phrases and I can even laugh when I do use them. It has taken a long time, but I can now recognise when my language becomes negative and punishing and I can challenge my thought process.
This wellness tool, of challenging the way I use language, has been one of the most useful lessons I have learnt.