Does this sound familiar?
“I only exercised twice this week.”
“I cleaned only half of the apartment.”
“I didn’t do the other section of that report.”
“I’m just a stay-at-home mom.”
You may be wondering what all of these statements have in common. While on the surface level, these statements don’t seem particularly harmful. In fact, they may be coming from a place of truth and rationality. But if we dig a little deeper into the language and themes used in these statements, we find some common denominators:
A sense of “not enough”
These are common words/phrases that we regularly use in everyday speech. These words are far from profanity, but can unexpectedly have some strong (and even negative) effects depending on how and why we use them in our speech (and especially to how they translate in our minds!).
Choice of language, while times overlooked and habitual (I mean, how many times a day do we think about this really?), can be a strong indicator of how we view the world and, even more crucially, how we view ourselves. Simple words such as just and only seem very harmless. In fact, these words are so common that it is likely many of us are unaware just how many times (and in what context) we use them. Word choice and the way in which we construct our language have the ability to set either a positive or negative tone for how we interpret situations, and even how we identify ourselves and our worth.
Why am I writing about this? Because this is a huge trap that I fall into without recognizing it!
Take for example the woman on a mission to improve her overall health (who might tis be?!) . I step on the scale for my weekly weigh-in, and say to myself, “I only lost .5 pounds this week.” Notice how the word only is being used in this statement. What does this language structure lead me to think, believe, or do? Any of the following might be possible with the choice and use of the word only:
- I may believe that it is not a weight loss to be celebrated, since it is “only” .5 pounds.
- I may then think I am not doing “well” enough, leading me to feel discouraged and disheartened.
- I may lose motivation to continue my health regimen, based on the feeling of not doing “well enough” in my health goals for the previous week.
- I may further lose my sense of self-worth and self-esteem (which would be the ultimate loss that I’m not willing to lead myself back into).
While some of these may seem like drastic responses, the language that we use has a profound effect on our thoughts, feelings, and therefore, actions.
What happens when someone employs a simple word switch, changing “I only lost .5 pounds this week” to “I was able to lose .5 pounds this week!” While the situation itself has not changed, the way in which the situation is viewed can be drastically altered with a simple change of language. Now, instead of the responses we saw previously, we might see any of the following:
- I celebrate the .5-pound weight loss, even if it is smaller than I anticipated.
- I feel proud of my accomplishment for the week.
- I am motivated to keep up with my health regimen and even improve into next week.
- I share this with others while than allow potential shame to keep me in silence
Language is a powerful tool that influences our thoughts, feelings, and reactions, as well as our lifestyle Language even reflects how we frame our self-identity. Without meaning to, we have the power to belittle ourselves and our efforts based upon the language that we use. But we thankfully also have the capability to empower and acknowledge our God-given gifts and accomplishments by how we choose to structure our speech. This speech can include both verbal communication and our own thoughts. We have more power to influence ourselves than we think!
A couple years back, a contestant on the Miss America Pageant composed a personal monologue for the talent portion of the competition. She entered the stage in her nursing scrubs, which seemed a bit unconventional to the audience. The contestant then proceeded to perform the monologue based upon her experience as a nurse. The monologue centered on her experience with a particular patient that changed her entire view of her career and, in turn, her personal identity. Numerous times, the patient would ask for changes in his medication and in his treatment plan, and the contestant would reply, “I’m sorry; I’m only a nurse.” While the contestant was merely trying to explain why she could not perform the tasks for the patient, the statement “I’m only a nurse” began to stick with her and became part of her habitual language.
One day, after the contestant stated again, “I’m sorry; I’m only a nurse,” the patient replied: “You’re not only a nurse: You’re MY nurse, and a nurse that cared for me when it was probably most difficult to care. I appreciate you, and all that you do.” The contestant noted that that was a turning point in her career and in her identity. “Only” was holding her back. Her language inhibited her from reaching a sense of full appreciation for what she was able to do each day, seeing the value in her work, and ultimately, in herself.
My challenge for you (AND for myself) is to be mindful of the language you use this week. Be aware of what message you are sending to others, and yourself, by the way in which you structure your speech to communicate your views of yourself and others. Utilize language to empower and encourage yourself, as this can have a profound and lasting effect. As God created his people and our mission on earth as “one body with many parts” (1 Corinthians 12:12), let us too take pride in the role we play in this life through our accomplishments, characteristics, and strength we find in Him!
Because let’s be real: life is far more fulfilling when we are not the ones placing ourselves in chains that we do not need.