I’ve been spending a lot of time lately reflecting on the power of words. I’ve often explored this aspect of life, as I have been both deeply wounded and endlessly encouraged by words. I would bet you have too. Human beings are unique. We are the only species that can think beyond basic needs and primal instincts. We have the capacity to feel more complex emotions: things like jealousy, envy, empathy, and introspection. But of course, with great power, comes great responsibility. (Spider Man is the only comic book character I actually like, for the record.)
I’ve struggled over the years to understand why almost everybody feels the need to put out someone else’s flame, at one time or another. Regardless of ethnicity, religion, background, or geographic location. Hate runs rampant in our world. It always has, but more so with each passing year. Why? We can blame things like computers and cellphones; After all, it’s much easier to be hateful while hiding behind a screen. But I don’t think that’s it. Technology just provides an outlet for the hate… it isn’t the cause. Is it because we are more connected and advanced than ever, now? Maybe. I often wonder if my OCD would have ever surfaced, had I not known what I now know. Becoming a nurse, I learned too much about germs and their transmission. If you think about anything too much, it will take root… and grow. So in part, I think connectedness plays a role in the discontent, and outward displays of hate, in our society. We know too much, we are too informed, and we are too able to insert our opinions where they are not necessary.
Now, if you’ve ever read my writing, you know I have a tendency to get off topic. The entire rant above was a bit of a rabbit hole, but it lead me to the central issue. Hurtful words come from areas of brokenness. Essentially, “hurt people, hurt people.” I want to take that a step further though. As a I wrote on my Instagram this week, we are all born with the question “who am I?” deeply rooted into our soul. A question of identity. And many, many times we accept false identities as truth. A long time ago, I accepted words like bossy, annoying, dramatic, and cold-hearted as answers to my question. Isn’t it funny how we can hear a thousand kind, encouraging words… but the one lie will take root. That is no accident. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the enemy is very much alive today, and would love nothing more than to rob you of the joy and purpose you were made for. So, once you have adopted these lies for long enough, they make for a very jaded soul. The turmoil and contempt that is manifesting itself inside, will eventually spill over. All the good deeds and intentions in the world are futile if you haven’t ripped those soul lies out by the roots, and replaced the negative thinking.
Let’s talk about some of the negative thought patterns that I succumb to most.
Have you heard of all or nothing thinking? It’s a really great way to buy yourself a one-way ticket to meltdown town. I’m particularly good at this type of wordplay, actually. It sounds something like this:
” You never listen to me. You always say that. You only care about yourself.”
Sound familiar? While in treatment for OCD, I was able to identify some of this exact thinking as the culprit causing many of my panic attacks. Suddenly, one incident defines your feelings towards someone or something. One event, no matter how small, has become everything. Let me give you an example. I’m at work, and I have a difficult patient. Maybe they are unkind, or maybe it’s just a difficult case. Regardless, the thought emerges: “This always happens to me.” That isn’t true, of course. For every difficult case I have, there are a handful of very pleasant, smooth ones to counter it. But if I adopt the thought that this always happens, then that implies there is something wrong with me. I am the common denominator, and must be a bad nurse if this always happens to me. And if that’s true, then I don’t deserve to be a nurse at all. I should just give up, because clearly I am not good enough. Now, do you see how that can be a problem? Let a bad day be just a bad day, not a bad life.
Another dark pattern of thought? Negative self talk. I know you’ve heard of this one, as it shows up in most self help books. What I didn’t realize? Trying to take these thoughts captive is a pain in the ass. I’m not sorry for the language, because it really is the best way to describe such a difficult task. How do you look at someone (in this case yourself) that you’ve known your whole life, and just change your opinion of them? Just suddenly view them as beautifully and wonderfully made, when you have seen them as a mistake and a burden for so long? And another thing: I don’t know about you, but my brain has a way of sneaking in negative words when I’m not looking. Kicking me while I’m down.
” You won’t succeed, and it’s going to be pretty embarrassing when you fail. Just stick with what you know you can do.”
Or my own personal vice,
“She is doing so well, you should be that successful/pretty/creative/put together.”
Did you know that if you really want to change a behavior, you aren’t supposed to use the word “should”? It has such negative connotations, reminding you of all the things that you are not or have not done. Should may be one of the enemy’s favorite words. Not many people go up against “should”, and if you do, you tend to walk away when you don’t instantly succeed. Okay, so how do we reverse negative self talk? Examining each thought, and replacing it. It sounds tedious…because it is. Should I really be as successful as her? Nope. Not my story. I am going to be successful in the exact space God designed me for, and that may or not be the dream I’m chasing at the moment. “I’m going to fail.” Yes, you sure are. I do. But what if I choose to look at how strong I was for making the leap, and how many more opportunities I have to get it right? Change your thinking. Write the thoughts down if you have to, read them out loud, and test them against what you know your Father says about you. Catch the lies and rebuke them, one by one.
Lastly, I want to talk about Rumination. Fancy word for a simple concept: thinking about the past. I do not like who I was as a child. I am embarrassed of the stories told about me, and I carried that shame into my adult life. I don’t choose to blame anyone or anything for my past, but I often dream about what life would be like if I could change it. Shut that thinking down. You guys, you will rob your future of any and all joy if you are constantly overcome with regret. I would even brave to say that the excuses have to stop as well. Your past plays a part in how you behave today, but it does not define who you are capable of becoming. Only you decide your next move. So, grieve the past if you haven’t yet. Spend time feeling the anger, sorrow, and pain. Then stand up, and move. You don’t have to make grand gestures and lofty, life altering goals… just start with your thinking. When your mind is wandering, let it wander forward. Who you want to be, how you get there, and what a privilege it is to be able to change your trajectory. Free will is a beautiful thing, and want to know something even better? A fresh start. You have as many of these as you need. A lifetime supply. His mercies are new every morning, friend.
This list isn’t all inclusive, but I feel like its a really good place to start. The sad truth is that many of us could never imagine talking to someone the way we talk to ourselves. Its a vicious cycle. My prayer for you, and for myself, is that negative thoughts would have no place in our hearts. My prayer is that we would be so full of gratitude, hope, and organic joy, that there simply wouldn’t be room for the negative. Its all about the Wordplay.