About the Aware Blog. Each month we will post an article on a range of topics relating in some way to Depression. A blog post may be the author’s personal experience, a reaction to public events, or views on how better we can support ourselves and others who experience depression or related mood disorders. Each of our posts will be from an individual viewpoint, this means that some blog posts may not reflect official Aware policy.
The Power of Words
Words form the most basic part of our everyday communication. The importance of words in our lives cannot be overestimated. However have you ever stopped to think of how powerful they are? Have you ever thought of the role they might play in depression?
Everyone has heard the saying ‘Sticks and stones can break my bones but names can never hurt me’ but have you ever questioned how true it is? Anyone who has been on the wrong side of a bully can testify to its inaccuracy. Words when used to hurt can be potent. While physical wounds heal in time, damaging words and comments can stay with us for life, eating away at our very being and reducing us to shadows of who we once were.
Taking bullying as an example, the words an aggressor uses towards their target can be as damaging, if not more so than physical abuse. Imagine there was a person who followed you around continually telling you that you were no good! Imagine if this person continually doubted your abilities and was determined to make sure you knew it. Imagine the struggle life would become. Everyday life would surely be close to unbearable and as this torment continued you would probably start to believe such criticisms.
If subjected to such an ordeal you would quickly lose confidence and eventually learn that the only way to stop this bullying would be through avoidance. This avoidance would lessen the chance of those perceived failures being highlighted yet would result in increased loneliness and anxiety. Each day would be approached with fear and restlessness. But such symptoms are comparable to those of depression so maybe there is a connection. Perhaps with depression we need to look at the words we label ourselves with.
As someone who spent many years battling depression I can testify to the power of words. Part of my recovery from depression came through being aware of what language I used to describe myself. During my low times this self-talk was predominantly negative, highlighting my flaws through comparisons with those who I assumed were better than me. I would use words like ‘should’ a lot thus setting up unrealistic expectations for myself. With depression negative self-talk and self-blame are things we do constantly, most of the time without even realising it. It becomes very dangerous when this type of thinking becomes the natural thing to do. With bullies there may be a chance of avoiding or running away from them. With thoughts this can seem a little harder to do.
So what role do words play in depression? Self-talk is something we continually do. It is something that we are so well versed in that it can seem almost automatic. The majority of us will have internal dialogues about things that are happening around us. More often than not these dialogues will be evaluations of how we function in society and with depression these evaluations are most likely to be scathing. The language we use to describe ourselves plays a big part in how we feel and in turn how we interact with the world.
In order to beat depression we need to understand how powerful words can be and the role they play in how we feel. It has been proven that just seeing a list of negative words for a few seconds will make a highly anxious or depressed person feel worse. This is because this list resonates with their beliefs about themselves. So have you ever thought about the words you use to describe yourself?
If you are suffering from depression I’m sure a lot of these words would be negative. To illustrate the power words possess please repeat the following list; dwell on each word for a few seconds, slowly repeating each 3 times. Go through the list and notice how it makes you feel:
How did focusing on them make you feel? This list has connotations of emptiness and coldness so the feelings it brings up may be similar. Now do the same with the following words and see if you notice a difference:
The difference in how you felt after saying both sets of words should be noticeable and will hopefully highlight how damaging continual negative self-talk can be. If you are continually using words like those from the first list then you cannot but feel depressed and anxious. Negative words and feelings are really only useful when there is an immediate danger to your well-being. So you need to ask yourself if your current negative cycle is in response to an immediate threat. If not then it’s imperative that you try and interrupt it.
I recommend readers, that you make it your priority to become aware of what words you are thinking and if you find yourself going down a negative route to try and interrupt it. One method would be that once you become aware of this negative internal monologue to say the word ‘stop’ in your mind. Then clench your right or left hand tightly while taking a deep breath. Count to four and then breath out slowly while unclenching your hand, as if letting go of the negative thoughts. Repeat until you feel a little calmer and then replace the thought with something that makes you happy or that you are grateful for. Using words similar to those in the second list will be helpful in this. With a bit of practice this will become a lot easier to do and you will quickly notice the benefits.
So try to start seeing yourself in a positive light and more importantly remember to be kind to yourself.