I recently saw a quote that was about how carefully we often choose things in the grocery store. The quote was actually about choosing melons more carefully than choosing words yet as I reflected on it, I could see the truth of the effort invested in choosing our food in general vs. our words in our relationships.
We are at a time of great awareness about where our food comes from and the nutrition we need to fuel our bodies. We read ingredient labels, avoiding all the ones that end in ‘ose’ or other hidden junk while checking for fiber, fat, protein and sugar content. Infinite articles about what is in our food and experts telling us how to modify our diets inundate the media.
Our society has become so conscious about choosing organic, hormone free, non-GMO, dairy-free, gluten-free and ethically raised foods. Many of us will even travel to specialty stores and pay premium prices for these products. Furthermore, we will educate our children about the best foods to choose for both immediate and long-term health.
We go to great lengths to be proactive in our physical health and ensure a minimum of physical disease. This is a good thing. How often, however, do we take the same care with our words?
How much of our awareness and energy goes into ensuring we provide ourselves and our loved ones with emotional nutrition?
It seems like many people feel that they can say whatever they want. They can lash out in anger, say hurtful words or share their criticism and judgment of others. Even when these are unconscious reactions, I am not sure the speaker of them truly understands how they may have landed with the other person. Even more so in this era of social media and online communication, we are detached from the immediate feedback of the person we are speaking to providing even greater opportunities to speak our minds with abandon.
But words matter.
You can’t take them back. As much as we once believed that ‘sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me’ we know better now.
Sticks and stones can break our bones and words can also break our sense of self, our feelings of worth, emotional safety and security etc. This all contributes to a growing number of people who feel less than, shamed, undervalued, and like they just don’t belong. In turn, it can play a role in feeling unable to cope, stressed, unloved and pessimistic about the future.
Just like what we eat, we need to start to understand that there are long-term effects to what we hear and what we digest emotionally.
While not the only source, our personal beliefs about ourselves and others are influenced by external factors. More specifically, what has been communicated (verbally and energetically) about ourselves and what we have experienced watching others treat each other.
Beginning today, start to Observe. Pause. Choose.
Observe how often you think before you speak.
Just for comparison sake, pick an everyday activity and see how much you invest in it. If you are really conscious about food selection, notice how much effort you put into your time at the grocery store, meal planning, preparation, and consumption. Do you spend that much time choosing your words and preparing for your conversations?
Get curious as to why not.
Then, bring some mindfulness to your personal relationships. Notice the language and tone you choose and what is happening in your being at times when you are tempted to share your thoughts and feelings about what someone else is doing or not doing that escalates your emotions. Without judgment or filters, just observe.
This is an opportunity to get clear on your personal triggers, intentions, and patterns. It is important to distinguish between what we want to express for the betterment of our relationships and what we feel compelled to express in an effort to relieve our own feelings.
Pause before you speak.
Take those observations and start to bring in a moment of pause.
In that pause, listen to what is happening in your body. Notice sensations and what feelings are coming up because they will influence what you say. Since how we feel on the inside has a direct effect on how we are on the outside, if you are feeling escalated, it will be harder to do the next step.
Rather than react, see if you can get to a place where you can respond. Take some deep breaths, go for a walk, see if there is a different perspective, maybe some underlying factor like hunger or personal space needs to be addressed first. Explore all the options that help you to find emotional regulation.
Choose nutritious words.
When you are feeling more emotionally balanced, check in with how nutritious your words can be. We are so used to ‘thank you’, ‘good job’, ‘I’m sorry’ etc. but these become like the bag of chips when the body really needs fuel. See if you can find deeper and more meaningful ways to express yourself in a positive way.
It often helps to see another perspective, look beyond the issue to the person and focus on what is going well. Then sink into your heart and let it speak.
In your moment of pause, perhaps you got some clarity about what your feelings were really about. Personal annoyances and issues can sometimes feel like they need to be fixed by someone or something else. Taking time to filter what you need help with can really open us up to finding kind and respectful ways to express that.
No need to overthink every word!! Humans are imperfect and resilient. We cannot always choose the right words and most people can easily rise above the occasional harsh word. If they need help, use these steps to support and re-connect.
Whether in moments of conflict or everyday interactions, the challenge here is to be more aware, intentional and productive with our words. Instead of dishing them out without thinking and wondering why our relationships are not what we would like, understand the power of words and your choice to use that power wisely. Choose emotional nutrition.
By the way, this all applies to our relationship with self as well. Using emotionally nutritious self-talk can really help to nurture our inner world.
The best thing? Unlike our groceries, it is free 🙂
Marny Elliott is a Parent Coach and Relationship Counsellor. She empowers parents, educators and professionals to use the Nurtured Heart Approach®, an effective, heart centred method to transform behaviour, build relationships and grow the Inner Wealth® of children. In addition, she provides holistic counselling to adults seeking to address defeating patterns and improve their relationships with themselves and others. Please visit www.joywithin.ca, email marny@joy