Many of us embark on personal journeys of healing.
Healing from old wounds, healing from traumatic childhoods, healing from old "addictive habits," even healing from what we might perceive as "past life junk."
The Highly Sensitive Person-- or "HSP"-- tends to be more "aware" of his or her inner world, and generally spends more time in introspection than most people. HSPs are also more aware of subtleties, feelings and tiny patterns which can be a wonderful gift... but it means we are also more deeply affected and influenced by the ups and downs of our lives. As a result, we're more susceptible to getting bogged down in endless analysis when we hit life's challenging patches.
Because we're simply more likely to "pay attention" to the stories and language we are using to narrate our lives.
Consequently, sharing that story with appropriate and "mindful" words can be especially important for HSPs. We don't always like to stay awake, because rigorous self-inquiry-- that is, telling the real story-- is not always pleasant, and can be outright scary when we come face-to-face with "less than attractive" parts of ourselves. But the benefits to "Calling Things What They Are" almost always outweigh the downsides.
Here are a few "Language Traps" to consider, along with brief explanations of how we sometimes use them as barriers against our own progress.
Feelings are feelings, not facts:
Because HSPs "feel things deeply," we tend to spend a lot of time immersed in the inner landscapes of our feelings. In fact, many spend so much time there that they become "identified" with their feelings.
But however intense these feelings may be, we must keep in mind that feelings are something we feel, not something we are. They are transient, not permanent. And it's important that we remember this, when we talk (both in internal dialogue and with others) about what's going on with us. We must stay mindful of our language:
Don't say "I am angry!" when the truth is "I feel angry!"
Don't say "I am sad" when the truth is "I feel sad."
Don't say "I am so hurt" when the truth is "I feel so hurt."
When you are a Highly Sensitive Person, this can be one of the single most difficult things to do, because we tend to interpret our feelings as "facts," not as feelings. The power of our feelings seems overwhelming, but even so, they are still "just feelings."
If you recognize yourself in this particular language trap, try making a conscious practice of calling feelings "what they truly are."
On a conscious level, it may seem like a very small thing, but on a subconscious level you are changing the "story" you're telling yourself, correctly identifying what you're feeling as something transient, rather than permanent.
The Trap of Saying "I Can't:"
Another major language trap consists of characterizing a challenge with the phrase "I can't!"
I "can't" go to the doctor to have this skin rash examined, I "can't" quit my job, I "can't" manage money, I "can't" tell my toxic friend to stop calling... most of us have used that phrase at one time or another.
At its root, "I can't" is basically a cop-out; it's an excuse we use to avoid looking directly at-- and speaking-- the truth: I don't want to do go to the doctor because I'm afraid or I don't like dealing with my finances or whatever the issue may be.
"I can't" becomes a trap because it's a way we allow ourselves to abdicate responsibility and accountability for difficult issues in our life, some of which may force us to look closer at our inner "shadows."
We also tend to make situations worse when we use "I can't" in contexts where we are faced with a choice between two unpleasant outcomes: We say things like "I can't" when faced with a choice like leaving an emotionally abusive spouse and suddenly having to "deal with everything ourselves" and staying and continuing to be emotionally abused.
In a sense "I can't" becomes a way of making a decision by not making a decision; a way to postpone dealing with unpleasant realities which-- in the end-- may cause us even more pain than would be caused by taking current action in our own lives.
As an exercise, watch your language and observe if or when you use the phrase "I can't" as an avoidance tool-- either as a way to avoid expressing your own truth honestly ("I have no interest in learning about managing money"), or as a way to sidestep dealing with a difficult or fearful situation ("I can't ask for a raise"). Adopt the habit of expressing yourself without falling back on "I can't" in such situations. Practice saying the truth, even if only to yourself, using phrases like "I don't like to," or "I don't want to" or "I'm afraid to" instead of "I can't."
Again, the difference in phrasing may seem subtle-- on the surface-- but you're quietly changing the context of your personal story from having permanent ("I can't") obstacles to temporary ("I'm afraid to") ones.
Generalizing: Isolated Events Do Not a Trend Make:
Sweeping generalizations can also be a Language Trap.
Paradoxically, HSPs tend to be very generous, mindful and sensitive with their words when describing others, but less so with words describing ourselves. We forgive a million sins committed by others, but condemn ourselves for a single mistake. This means we easily fall into "untrue" ways of describing our lives; the things or events we are part of-- and perceive as negative-- by labeling them as something we "always" or "never" do.
"I'm useless with money, I always overdraw my account at the end of the month!" we may say, when the truth is that we've been overdrawn exactly twice in the past 18 months. "I can never maintain friendships!" we lament, when the truth is that one friend got married and simply chose to spend more time with their new spouse (quite natural) and another moved four states away. Maybe we claim that we "always attract toxic people who use me," when the truth is that the vast majority of the people on our lives are nothing of the sort.
These generalizations may have their root in unrealistic expectations we create if we have tendencies towards perfectionism-- a common HSP issue. Although these thoughts occur to everyone at one time or another, they feel more intense for HSPs because they are overlaid with the HSP trait of conscientiousness, which-- in turn-- can lead us to to becoming overly obsessed with "never doing anything wrong" and beating ourselves up whenever something doesn't go as planned.
Stay aware of whether you are really being truthful, when you make statements about events in your life. Practice saying "I've messed up my bank account a few times" when you feel tempted to say "I always mess up my finances."
To Want... Or Not To Want:
Last-- but certainly not least-- be mindful of negative phrasing because it can be one of the most pervasive-- yet subtle-- "Language Traps" in our lives.
What does that mean, exactly?
There are many instances in which we have a pretty good idea of something we want in our life-- relationships, careers, projects, finances, lifestyle-- and yet we succumb to a pattern of not asking "directly" for them. Instead, we believe we are stating what we "want" by instead making a list of all the things we don't want... and then we end up feeling stuck because because even though it seems like we've done the work on ourselves and identified our wants, needs and desires it seems like "nothing ever changes."
I'll avoid getting into the many "programs" within in the conscious community that focus on this issue-- from "positive affirmations" to "The Secret"-- and just briefly touch on the underlying psychology of positive phrasing.
Consider, for a moment, a fictional person who's at his or her wits end over seemingly always attracting "mentally ill chaosmongers" in his or her relationships.
This person may even have developed a long "laundry list" of attributes of a desirable relationship partner, based on these past painful and chaotic encounters. However, if the top item on their list is "no mentally ill chaosmongers," it's a good bet the relationship pattern will not change... and a couple of years hence, our fictional person will once again be lamenting the "mentally ill chaosmongers" dominating his or her life.
As an example, consider that old psychological party trick: If I ask you to "NOT think of a pink elephant," what happens? The first thing you think of is a pink elephant!
By extension-- no matter how evolved you may be and how positive your intent may be-- if you focus on not attracting "mentally ill chaosmongers" what is the key phrase you are going to be honing in on? Your "spiritual keywords"-- like a Google search-- is going to be "mentally ill chaosmongers." The "no" just sort of vanishes. What you truly want-- let's call it "healthy and well-adjusted"-- is never part of your search!
Because HSPs are exceptionally good at "paying attention," this particular language trap can keep us stuck in negative patterns without our really understanding why.
As an exercise, take a couple of weeks to truly examine your language:
Do you feel "happy" or "not unhappy?"
Are you trying to "succeed" or "avoiding failure?"
Do you feel "well" or "not bad?"
Do you desire "quiet" or "not a lot of noise?"
Even if you think of yourself as a positive person, you may be surprised!
The above suggestions for "minding your language" is merely a partial list of the "language traps" we use-- there are many more, but they are too numerous to cover in full-- so this article is merely intended as an introduction to being mindful and conscious with your language. Although these words were written mainly with HSPs in mind (If you’re not entirely sure what an HSP is, please refer to my introductory article on this topic), they could certainly be relevant for anyone on a path of personal understanding and healing.
Peter Messerschmidt is a writer, beach comber, rare stamp dealer and eternal seeker. When he’s not wandering the beach or the Internet, he facilitates groups & retreats for HSPs, and shares his musings at “HSP Notes,” the web’s oldest HSP-specific blog, at http://hspnotes.com. He lives in Port Townsend, WA with the great love of his life and several furry “kids.”