mardi 19 décembre 2006

What do your words say about you?

Monday 2 January, 10.25 a.m.
‘I just don’t want to be standing at the funeral in the front row
with everybody passing judgement on why I didn’t contact my
mother when she was dying.’
Steve was thinking aloud, but Lynn was doing all she could to
ease his troubled mind.
‘They’re more likely to talk about you if you stay away,’ she re-
‘And I’m not having my Aunt Pat lecture me about what a won-
derful man her brother was,’ Steve continued. ‘He may have been
a wonderful brother to her, but he was a lousy father to me.’
‘You need to be there, Steve,’ suggested Lynn. ‘You have to put
your differences behind you, otherwise you’ll be wracked with
guilt for the rest of your life.’
‘And I’ll tell you what else I don’t want to happen,’ began Steve,
but Lynn interrupted.
‘Steve, just concentrate on what you do want to happen.’
Steve stopped in his tracks. He looked perplexed by the chal-
‘You know, Lynn, I really don’t know what I want,’ he finally re-
Steve’s phone lit up with a message:
What do your words say about you?
‘Not helpful,’ said Steve. ‘I’ve got enough on my mind without
thinking about this nonsense.’
‘Well, perhaps it could be helpful, Steve,’ suggested Lynn. ‘Just
think about it for a minute. What do your words say about
‘Well, right now, my words say nothing about me – because I
don’t know what I want to do,’ he answered.
‘But you’re allowed to be unsure,’ replied Lynn. ‘It’s impossible to
know the answer to everything. In fact, I worry about people who
pretend to. So it’s OK if you don’t know.
‘But I would say you have to stop concentrating on what you
don’t want. That’s the problem. The solution can be found in
what you do want.’
‘OK,’ began Steve. ‘I want to have a clear conscience. I want
people to understand why we fell out. I don’t want any further
bad feeling.’
‘Well, two out of three’s OK,’ teased Lynn.
‘’What do you mean?’ asked Steve.
‘Firstly, you want a clear conscience and, secondly, you want peo-
ple to understand. But you don’t want bad feeling – so what do
you want?’
‘I just want to get on with what little family I have left,’ Steve
‘Right,’ said Lynn. ‘That’s three things you do want. So how can
you achieve that?’
‘Well, I’m not phoning Aunt Pat to grovel,’ snarled Steve.
‘You’re being negative again,’ corrected Lynn. ‘Tell me instead
what you will do.’
‘OK, I’ll phone her and say I’ll try to come to the funeral,’ started
Steve, ‘and explain that Mum refused to speak to me for the last
two years.’
‘Wait a minute, Steve,’ replied Lynn. ‘Are you going to the funeral
… or will you try to go?’
‘I’ll see,’ said Steve half-heartedly.
‘Steve, you must make a commitment,’ answered Lynn. ‘Decide
to go … or decide to stay away. But for goodness’ sake, don’t say
you’ll “try”!’
‘Well, that means I can decide at the last minute,’ said Steve.
‘That’s my point,’ fired back Lynn. ‘You’re refusing to commit
– which I have to say you do every time you phone me to say you’ll
“try” to be home by eight.’
‘Well, it’s the traffic, Lynn,’ Steve started. ‘You can never …
But Lynn interrupted. ‘No, it’s the pub Steve. You never know
how long you’ll be in the pub.’
Steve was stunned.
‘I really don’t mind if you stop off for a drink on the way home,
but for God’s sake be honest with me,’ said Lynn. ‘My father
would always hide behind weasel words like “try” and “do my
best” when he was unwilling to commit to me. In the end, I
refused to trust a word he said to me – and I’d hate us to reach
that stage, Steve.’
‘Lynn, I’m sorry,’ began Steve. ‘I’ve really struggled the last few
months and I haven’t really coped very well.’
Steve hesitated, attempting to prevent the tears – but they came
Lynn put her arms round his neck and hugged him tightly.
‘I understand, Steve,’ she said. ‘Really I do. I just want to help you,
rather than be pushed away by you. Let me in to your problems
and we’ll tackle them together.’
Steve just nodded, still unable to find the words.
That evening, 6.30 p.m.
A brisk walk on a cold, sunny afternoon had put the three of them
in good spirits.
Nicky was tired and ready for bed, so Steve looked after his son
while Lynn made dinner.
Over a chicken casserole, Lynn returned to the morning’s con-
‘That was an interesting question: What do your words say about
you?’ she began.
‘Well, I was going to make a point,’ replied Steve, ‘about what
your words say about you, Lynn.’
‘Oh yeah?’ she said apprehensively.
‘Well, you were on at me to be positive instead of negative about
the funeral – but you’re negative about yourself,’ he began. ‘I
mean, when I say I like your new jeans, you tell me they were half
price in Next.’
‘I just like a bargain,’ protested Lynn.
‘Hang on,’ Steve persisted. ‘When I say I like your new bracelet,
you tell me it was £6.99. And when I say I like your hair, you tell
me it needs a cut. What’s that all about?’
Lynn was stumped and simply shrugged her shoulders.
‘Well, I’ll tell you,’ said Steve. ‘It’s about feeling that you’re un-
worthy of the praise.’
Lynn was about to hit back, but instead paused: ‘Well, I get em-
barrassed when people heap praise on me and I feel it’s, well,
‘So when I don’t notice your new dress,’ asked Steve, ‘how do
you feel?’
‘Disappointed,’ she replied. ‘Sometimes hurt.’
‘And when I do notice?’ probed Steve. ‘You reject the compli-
ment. You have to accept sincere compliments. Bank them, as
you would money. Then, when you’re lacking confidence in your
appearance, you can draw on what you’ve banked.’
‘So what am I meant to say when you say, “Nice dress”?’ asked
‘You say, “Thank you”,’ replied Steve.
‘Mmm,’ acknowledged Lynn. ‘So who told you that?’
‘Craig told me the day he was appointed as my boss that when
he paid me a compliment, he meant it to be accepted,’ said Steve.
‘I was rather inclined before then to shrug off his praise. So he
asked me if he handed me a hundred quid for a job well done,
would I throw it back at him? I said that of course I wouldn’t. So
he then asked why I was so quick to throw back his compliments
for a job well done. I couldn’t explain it – but Craig could. He
said it was because, deep down, I still didn’t feel I was “good
enough”. And I reckon that goes for you, too, Lynn.’
‘OK, my turn,’ said Lynn. ‘Every time I ask how you are, you say,
“Not bad”.’
‘And your point is?’ said Steve.
‘”Not bad” is more of your negative thinking,’ said Lynn.
‘So what should I say?’ asked Steve.
‘You could say, “I’m good, thanks. How are you?’’’
‘Oh come on. Don’t go all “Californian” on me,’ said Steve in a
phoney mid-Atlantic accent. ‘Surely we don’t have to pretend
we’re “fantastic” all the time?’
‘Certainly not,’ replied Lynn. ‘When you’re tired, say you’re tired.
When you’re ill, say you’re ill. But when you’re good, for good-
ness’ sake say you’re good!’
‘OK then,’ volunteered Steve, ‘here’s another one for you. You
can never talk about your attributes without qualifying them.’
‘Like what?’ asked Lynn.
‘Well,’ explained Steve, ‘you’ll say you’re “fairly” experienced in
your job – or “relatively” confident when presenting – or “quite”
good on the computer.’
‘Well, I don’t want to appear arrogant,’ protested Lynn.
‘What’s arrogant about saying that you’re experienced in your
job – confident when presenting – and good on the computer?’
asked Steve. ‘You’re just stating fact. It’s as wrong to underplay
your ability as it is to overplay it. Just get rid of all these self-dep-
recating words!’
‘But don’t you think people will see me as a big-head?’ Lynn
‘No, they’ll see you as being capable and confident – which is
surely what any employer wants.’
The power of words
Everything we say is a reflection of our thoughts, feelings and be-
The specific language we use speaks volumes about how we view
ourselves, as well as the world around us.
Words have the power to influence whether we get what we want
from a situation and shape our destiny.
They can be used to wound, criticize and control or to encourage,
support and inspire ourselves and those who hear them.
Therefore, we need to choose our words wisely and with great
care for they are more powerful tools for change than we could
ever imagine.
The tool of talking together
Steve is in conflict over whether to attend his mother’s funeral.
Her sudden death has brought to the surface all sorts of unresolved
family issues.
He’s paralysed by doubt over what to do. As she talks with him,
Lynn realizes he’s struggling to decide what it is that he wants to
achieve out of this difficult family situation.
As they’ve recently started to do, Lynn and Steve engage in a deep-
er and more meaningful dialogue about their lives than the super-
ficial conversations of the past few years. This is great progress
in their relationship and they’re already beginning to reap the ben-
efits as they start to problem-solve together.
At the simplest level, talking things over with people whose views
and opinions we trust and value clarifies thinking and feelings.
Out of this, a plan of action can take shape.
Talking, as a means of conflict resolution, is a basic and essential
life skill.
After talking it through, Steve reaches a conclusion – the first deci-
sion in his new action plan.
To make lasting progress, they’ll need to make ‘talking things
through’ a habit.
Already, this process of improved communication at a deeper level
is helping them both to cope better and is building their self-con-
The importance of positive self-talk
The words we habitually use impact profoundly on our communi-
cation with ourselves.
They have the power to affect us positively or negatively. They
change the way we feel, make us feel good or bad, lower or raise
our mood, discourage or inspire us, build our self-confidence or
undermine it.
We must choose our words with great care as they have the ability
to empower or to disable us.
This principle holds true in all situations and operates constantly.
But it becomes particularly relevant when we are faced with a
problem to solve.
And Steve has one now.
The difficulty is that Steve is currently talking to himself – and to
Lynn – about the problem situation confronting them, using nega-
tive words and language.
He repeatedly uses negative talk:
‘I don’t want to …’
‘I’m not having …’
‘I’m not phoning …’
‘You can never …’
By talking in this way, Steve is sending his mind unhelpful mes-
Without realizing it, he’s downloading inferior software into his
mind’s computer.
The result is that he’s more likely to bring about the results he
wants to avoid and less likely to help him find the right solutions.
Empowering words
Steve needs to load the quality software of positive self-talk into
his mind’s computer.
Positive programming produces positive results.
Using positive words and language are part of the quality software
needed to help Steve reach clear decisions about what he wants to
achieve. It also helps him bring about the eventual fulfilment of his
wishes and contributes towards a successful outcome.
Focusing his mind on what he wants to happen and talking to
himself in language that supports his goals increases the chances
of success.
It will transform his thinking, feelings and behaviour by turning
Fear into anticipation;
Negative thoughts into positive thinking;
Disabling behaviour into empowering action.
Conquering the inner critic
Lynn’s inability to take a compliment is a reflection of her negative
self-talk and poor self-worth.
When Steve compliments her on her looks or on what she is wear-
ing or on her ability at work, she responds in a self-effacing man-
ner. Compliments just seem to make her feel even more uncom-
fortable about herself.
Sometimes she convinces herself that he’s just complimenting her
to be kind.
But why, when Steve is simply telling her the truth?
This is because praise from others clashes with her own negative
It does not ‘fit’ with the way in which she speaks to herself in-
wardly and with the poor image of herself she clings on to, because
her inner critic – or green goblin – talks to her in language that
constantly puts her down.
When she receives a compliment from the external world, her
goblin responds immediately, strongly and harshly sometimes, to
rubbish, negate and minimize the praise as quickly as possible.
As a consequence, the compliments have no time to take root and
allow self-worth to grow!
Lynn’s goblin causes her to underplay her abilities, misrepresent
herself, undersell herself, to constantly qualify, minimize and even
to dismiss her accomplishments altogether.
In addition, it plays a significant part in her dislike of and ongoing
dissatisfaction with her own body. It fuels her misperception of it
as being ‘unattractive’ – something Steve most certainly disagrees
Believing and banking
The way forward for Lynn and Steve is to become more aware of
the type of language they use when they communicate inwardly
with themselves, talk together or when they speak to others.
As Steve rightly suggests, they need to start believing and banking
positive self-talk, genuine compliments and praise.
This can be achieved by them:
Becoming more aware of their choice and use of negative words
Substituting them with positive alternatives
Replacing self-deprecating talk with life-affirming self-talk, and
Transforming disabling thinking into life-enhancing communica-
Lynn and Steve can start to use language that supports the positive
life-enhancing beliefs and confident behaviour that they want to
create in order to do this.
With Steve and Lynn both due to return to work the next day after
their New Year break – and tired from their long afternoon walk
– they decided to turn in early.
Steve felt he had resolved some key issues. He would go to his
mum’s funeral – and he would be happy to tell anybody that it
had been her decision to stop speaking to him.
There was, however, one piece of unfinished business.
‘Lynn, I’m sorry that I’ve been less than honest about going to the
pub,’ he began.
‘Steve …’ Lynn started.
‘No, hear me out,’ he continued. ‘It started as just a quick pint
to relax after a hard day, but it’s become a habit as the Bulldog’s
been snarling at me for months. But I’ve been thinking about
it this evening and I’m going to come straight home from now
on and stop making excuses. Quite frankly, if we can talk about
these things like we have been the last few weeks, then that’ll
do me much more good than drowning my sorrows. Hopefully,
I’ll try to play five-a-side more often instead of just slumping in
front of the TV.’
‘Hopefully you’ll try to play?’ teased Lynn. ‘Go on – make a com-
‘OK, I will play five-a-side more often.’ Steve smiled.
‘Then it’s a plan,’ concluded Lynn.

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