The smell of freshly brewed coffee and sizzling bacon waft through your open window and instantly you’re transported back to the Sunday mornings of your childhood. Warmth envelopes you. You feel calm, happy, content — and hungry!
You hear a cup crash to the floor, and your entire body automatically tightens. It’s brief, but you notice it, and your mood changes ever so slightly.
Your boss asks to see you in their office, and all of a sudden you feel like a child about to be reprimanded; yet, there is no reason to believe that they are displeased with you.
That song begins to play on the radio, and you can’t help but start moving to the music. Memories come back to you in tiny pictures, but mostly you notice the overwhelming emotions and sensations washing over you.
What do all of these scenarios have in common? We have attached a story to them. We’ve created a meaning for ourselves, and our feelings follow. Driven by these narratives, we react to the people and world around us. Some of these stories we are aware of, and others may surprise us with their existence and significance. These narratives create filters that we use daily in our communication and in our interaction with others and ourselves. Many are helpful and contribute to our success, but some may be outdated and create challenges:
“I can’t do this!”
“I’m not smart enough.”
“How could they love me?”
“Of course I’m wrong.”
“What’s wrong with me?”
Do any of these sound familiar? Filters, stories, beliefs… Call them what you will, but they reside in all of us. It’s part of the human experience, and yet they can be very limiting, affecting our relationships and how we relate to others in our day-to-day lives.
What if you could rewrite the stories that aren’t serving you well? Where, how, and why were these filters formed? How do these filters affect your internal dialogue? What sort of beliefs have you formed based on this dialogue? And most importantly, what do you feel during these moments?
The answers to these questions can help us understand, process, and change our story. Sometimes, it’s a matter of changing one word within our story, and the entire meaning and feeling associated with that narrative can shift.
I want you to take a moment and think about the words you would use to describe how you feel when you are feeling happy. How many words can you come up with? Did any of these make your list — alive, awed, energetic, excited, grateful, invigorated, joyful, thrilled, optimistic, or wonder-filled?
Review the list again. Are there any words that stand out to you? Do you notice a different feeling when you read a specific word? If you were to say you felt thrilled or joyful instead of happy, does that change the feeling for you?
When we think of different words, like events, they can trigger very specific reactions within us. If the words above didn’t create distinct emotions for you, try thinking about the language you use when you’re unhappy. Did any of these make your list — appalled, ashamed, hurt, depleted, withdrawn, vulnerable, insecure, nervous, anxious, or uncomfortable? Do any of them incite a distinct reaction from you? Or, were there any words in particular that fascinated you?
The English language is loaded with words to describe how we feel, and often we only use a small percentage of these. By becoming more familiar with these words, and how we react to them, we can become clearer about how they affect our stories. They can also provide a greater understanding of how we interact with them.
Have you ever said: “I’m so Angry!”? Was there more to that statement than you could express at the time? Can you think of another word to describe how you felt in that moment? Were you hurt? Did someone catch you off-guard? Did someone make you uncomfortable? If you were to change the word “angry” to another word, what would that be? Does this change how you feel about the situation? Sometimes, clarifying our feelings can change our internal narrative, which can then lead to more kindness towards ourselves.
The scenarios described above offers a brief insight into how I work with my clients in our counselling sessions. As we become aware of our inner dialogue and the language we use, we can utilize these skills to create change within ourselves.