“Sticks and stones will break your bones, but words will never hurt you”
Anyone who has been around awhile, in any relationship with another person, knows that this childhood saying is a simplification and knows that words can hurt. Words can be tremendously powerful for harm or for help…if we let them have the power. If we accept words, whether from our own mind or someone else’s, without question or examination and take those words as The Truth, then words can have power to bring about anything, including broken bones. The beauty of this saying is the reminder that words do not automatically have the power to hurt you, and if they do carry an initial sting you can examine and question, or even ignore them, to take away their power.
“I think I can, I think I can, I think I can”
– The Little Engine that Could
Another childhood quotation. This one owns up to the power of words and demonstrates that words/thoughts can create outcomes that are regarded as impossible or, if possible then extremely difficult and rather unlikely. Focused determination and cheerleading blocks out the words of others and self which are saying things like “you can’t”, “its too hard for you”, “you’ll never make it”. The words that we choose to focus are the ones that we choose to give power to.
Words and thoughts are intangible and they come and go through our mind, often without awareness. Because of the powerful impact thoughts can have it is important to open our awareness to our thoughts and to the ripple effects they have on the rest of our experience. The ripple effects of thoughts include emotions and behaviors which are the palpable, visible power that thoughts will create (if we let them). Thoughts can create feelings/emotions of “hurt” as discussed above, as well as the whole range of emotions from happiness and hope to humiliation and heartbreak. Thoughts can also create a whole range of actions, such as the dogged determination of the Little Engine and through the gamut to the inert immobility brought on by depression thoughts.
Emotions and actions are the parts of our experience that really stand out. Emotions feel a certain way in our bodies: we notice the deep jab of disappointment and rising lightness of accomplishment, and our actions have some sort of tangible result no matter how slight or impermanent. It is for these reasons that the thoughts causing the emotions and actions often get overshadowed and overlooked. And yet if we want to change the way we are feeling or acting, we must turn our attention to our thoughts.
As mentioned above thoughts are not always truth. Some thoughts come about through a tangled line of logic or from a faulty source. Some thoughts take root after being repeated again and again by abusive or unhealthy people. Some thoughts are fueled by emotion and become dramatized and distorted. Some thoughts are colored by urges and habits. With some many thoughts possibly being untrue the mind can really start to swirl trying to figure out what to believe. It is valuable to know and be able to recognize some common thought distortions. It is also valuable to know one’s self.
Check out the features of your life: your day to day functioning, your relationships, your mood. Ask yourself if your mood is generally stable enough for effective day to day functioning or do you often feel too depressed to give anything much energy, or too angry to give anything much time, or to anxious to try anything too challenging. If your mood is getting in the way then your thoughts are ineffective or unhealthy and very likely fall into one or more categories of thought distortions.
The good news is you can change the thoughts that are bring on ineffective or unhealthy outcomes. It is not easy or automatic to replace old thoughts, especially those thoughts that have a long history. Like building a new trail through the wilderness takes hard work to clear plants, trees and rocks, establish an even grade and break in a smooth surface; establishing new thought patterns takes work and time and consistent use. The old, established thought trails will draw you back in with its familiarity, but now that you know exactly where the old thought trails lead you can step off when you recognize you are back on it and can step on to the new thought trail and continue the work of making it your regular path.
The next blog has more information about common thought distortions and how to work on replacing distorted thoughts with more effective thoughts.