The importance of language
We use language all the time.
Be it spoken or written, language could literally be considered one of those things that make the world go around. We talk with each other in order to get jobs done. We discuss where we’re going to take that holiday next year. We have a gossip about what other people we know have been up to.
Language and anxiety
If you’re anxious about something, chances are you are having thoughts about some future situation or a past memory that is making you feel uncomfortable in the present. Believe it or not, a big factor that plays in the anxiety you experience is language, particularly self-talk, and the things you say to yourself. For instance you may have an upcoming presentation at work and you begin to worry about it. “There’s just no way I can give that talk in front of all those customers”, you tell yourself.
A lot of people don’t realise the unhelpful things they say to themselves unless they bring these to conscious awareness and monitor what they say. However, once you do, you will uncover a lot of deep self-talk that goes on in your mind.
For example “I really screwed up last time I cooked for the in-laws, I know I’ll mess up again”, you may say. Or you may have been invited to the Christmas party and you tell yourself “I stuttered really badly at the party last year”, and then you avoid going altogether.
Saying such things doesn’t just stop here. It can powerfully impact how you feel in your body and determine if you’re going to end up having a bad day or week.
“You can never solve a problem on the level on which it was created”, is what the great Einstein said.
In this particular case I dare 🙂 (yes I do!) to beg to differ with the ‘Great One’ because the problem of using language unwisely can be solved at the level of language.
Well language was a big part of what got you anxious in the first place. Another way of looking at it is a box. If what you say to yourself makes you feel stuck, it is usually because you have boxed yourself in. For instance “I hate going to the dentist” you say and continue living by this statement, avoiding your annual checkups. This sentence seems so concrete to your current situation, it’s all you see.
“A problem shared is a problem halved”, is a well known English proverb. Most of us have probably experienced this statement to be true at some point in our lives.
But what does it exactly mean when you talk through your anxiety with a therapist? The same thing, but the therapist will ask you questions that will help expand your current perspectives on the way you are seeing your life and the world.
This is what therapists expert are in. Asking the right questions, at the right time to help you open your ‘box’, see what is there, keep what’s worth keeping and give away the rest which doesn’t serve you anymore.
The questions which a therapist can ask you will facilitate you in going to the root causes of the anxiety you are experiencing, uncover the underlying beliefs that may be holding the problem in place, and then at this point you will be in a position to use new language to replace the ‘old stuff’.
Another way of looking at it, is using different language to change unhelpful meanings you may have given about yourself, others and the world, and create new ones. A simple example is changing the statement “I can’t give that interview.” You may have this statement so locked in; you’re completely terrified at the prospect of being asked questions at an interview.
A therapist can help you explore alternatives such as asking you “If there was ever a time when you had an interview and felt good about it after you did it?” If you did, then the sentence you’ve been telling yourself doesn’t hold true anymore! You could then change the way you talk to yourself and say “I will go to the interview!” What a shift in perspective that might make!?
Sometimes talking through anxiety with a therapist who asks you the right questions can create subtle shifts in your attitudes. Other times they may be drastic and blow your anxiety right out the window. Either way you are working on empowering yourself, so that you are able to take charge of your life, and allow your own self-talk to serve you rather than you being a slave to what you tell yourself.
A therapist can facilitate in making these discoveries.