Mind Your Language!

How your words shape your life

Mind Your Language

Mind your language! Is that an echo from your childhood when you were being told off for using the exciting new swear words you had learned? I can certainly remember moments like that, can you?

But it is not swearing I have on mind as I write this, it is the way language has a much more powerful and pervasive effect than you might realise.

What set me off

It all started when I was talking to a friend who supports women who are experiencing difficulty in conceiving and are realising they may not have children.  She told me about a book on the topic called ‘Complete Without Kids?’ Something about that title really got me thinking about the layers of meaning in simple words.

What do you mean ‘complete’?  Of course you are complete just as you are!  You are born perfect and nothing changes that.  You may add some extras as you go through life, but what an awful implication that if you fail to have kids you will be somehow incomplete!  And the fact that the title is posed as a question suggests that there is some doubt about the matter too.

All this serves to subtly support the idea that a woman without a child has got a bit missing. Not a very helpful message to anyone going through infertility treatment.

Do you mind your language?

OK, so I will get off that hobby horse now and turn back to you and your career.  Why do you need to mind your language?

I have written before about watching out for the ‘shoulds’, ‘musts’ and ‘oughts’ that we use both in our self talk and in how we talk to others about our situation.  This is how we subtly impose rules on ourselves that shape what we feel we can and cannot do.  Trouble is, they are usually someone else’s rules!

But let’s look a bit further at the labels you give yourself.  Here are a few examples:

  • Unemployed
  • Middle aged
  • Stressed
  • Afraid
  • Lucky

The trouble with labels is that they are not neutral.  When you use a label, a whole set of additional layers of meaning quietly settle on your shoulders without you realising it.

What layers of meaning are associated with ‘unemployed’ for you? Sad, depressed, victim, on the scrapheap?  Or just between jobs, in a free space where you can explore opportunities, waiting for the next exciting thing to come along?

What about middle aged? Does that imply over the hill, on the downward stretch, unemployable? Or in your prime, having the advantage of experience, feeling comfortable in your own skin?

And lucky? Are lucky people just in the right place at the right time, or do they play an active part in their luck.  Does luck strike out of the blue or can you do things to make yourself lucky?

Wake up and shake off the layers!

You can probably begin to see how important it is to mind your language.  Take a look at some of the words you commonly use about yourself and your situation and peel away the layers of meaning so you really see how you are ‘branding’ yourself.

Where are you in these meanings? Are you a passive victim of what has happened or been done to you, or are you an active player, using your own resources to move onwards and upwards when you face a challenge?

If you find that your use of words is imposing layers of negativity on how you think and talk about yourself, then it is time to wake up to the subtle power of language, time to change the words.

What do you think?

  • Do you really mind your language? Do you see now how subtle its impact can be?
  • How have you made yourself passive or a victim by your choice of words?
  • What words will you understand and use differently now?

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About the author

Amy Thomas

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