LANGUAGE & RECOVERY

LANGUAGE REFLECTS OUR CULTURE
THOUGHT-WORD-DEED
ARE THE CULTURE YOU KEEP AND THE WORDS YOU SPEAK IN LINE WITH RECOVERY?

LANGUAGE

CULTURE & CONTEXTS

To learn a language, you need to know the culture.

To know a culture, you need to know the language.

 
Are you aware of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis: 
    • the limits and structure of language determines their user’s thoughts and actions.
    • Language reflects perception, and it also reflects the history of a culture
    • It explains why certain ideas and beliefs are so prominent
 

What is the culture of success and resilience?

Do you speak it’s language?

 

Did you know:

    • In people who speak more than one language, studies have shown that when they switch languages, they also “switch” their personality to fit the language!
    • That is, they seem to shift their way of thinking to reflect that of the people who speak the respective language.

Talking to yourself (i.e., thought)

VS

Talking to others

   

Are you aware of the BIASES you have in communicating with yourself?

    • Others can bring your attention to something you were not seeing (i.e., different perspective)
    • Being able to do that with yourself is a skill that can be honed
    • You will learn more about this in this article
    • We have discussed this elsewhere also in the context of Socratic Dialogue

It’s not what you say…

It’s how you say it

   

It is more challenging to be aware of non-verbal communication you have with yourself…

    • They say 80% of communication is non-verbal
 

What are you saying to yourself?

    • You probably do less gesturing and things like head nods, but what kinds of non-verbal things are you saying to yourself?
    • Mindfulness helps to start noticing the answer to this question
    • Education will help you recognize subtle ways you redirect your attention towards your biases
    • Some of these things will be introduced in this article

COGNITIVE FLEXIBILITY

IMPROVING METACOGNITION (CREATING DISTANCE FROM THOUGHTS)

Name it to tame it!

Feel it to heal it!

   

EDUCATION WILL ALLOW YOU TO

    • Become mindful of a concept that may have escaped your attention
      • Have you ever learned a new word and then started to hear it all over the place?
    • Develop new skills
    • Interact with the concept in ways that are more mindful
    • Leverage your emotional networks so that their is less fear of the unknown
    • Education, in and of itself, has been found to improve conditions like headaches (Bond et al., 2013)

Try not to think of a Siamese cat for the next minute.

   

   

Were you able to do it?

   

Have you heard of Ironic Process Theory? The physiological and cognitive taxation involved with bottling things up?

  • Think back to the last time you did this.
 

Are you aware that it is more taxing to have unfinished business on your mind?

  • Bluma Zeigarnik (1927) discovered that you are more likely to remember a movie’s details if you don’t finish the ending.
 

Did you know that processing events with language is a psychologically proven tool that can change our impressions of how situations relate to us and our reactions to them?

  • Have you ever thought you knew something but then struggled to explain it to someone?
  • Were you aware that processing events with language is the cornerstone to Cognitive Processing Therapy for PTSD?
    • This is largely done by bringing more attention to contextual factors that escaped our attention the first time around.
 

Acceptance is not condoning the “new normal”, it is a prerequisite for change.

    • It will free up cognitive capacity so that you can focus on the journey ahead.
    • Will you be able to notice the options and opportunities that lay ahead?
   
“Rock bottom became the solid foundation in which I rebuilt my life.” – J.K. Rowling
   

Will you be able to notice the options and opportunities that lay ahead?

 

Will you notice your language and culture change?

How to ask yourself fresh questions…
Without interpreting them in the context of your biases
Socratic Dialogue is a technique used to stimulate critical thinking, and get past habitual ways of thinking.
Read our article on Socratic Dialogue for more information.

Explain it to me like I’m a 6-year-old

– Denzel Washington (Philadelphia, 1993)

   

If you explained your situation to a 6-year-old, what kinds of questions would they ask you…

    • 6-year-olds usually don’t take anything for “granted”
    • They are curious
    • They tend to ASSUME less
      • Which assumptions would they not make
      • Which things would they “not get” automatically?
    • They tend to me open to possibilities rather than a specific outcome
    • What kinds of fresh perspectives may they bring?
 

Other techniques:

    • (Standing up for yourself) You can see how you would respond to an enemy who said the same things to you that you say to yourself
    • (Self-compassion) What kinds of questions would your loving grandmother ask you?
    • (Alter-ego with strengths & resources) What would the you from the summer of ’99 coming off that marathon completion have said to the current you?

To keep the body in good health is a duty, otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.

– Buddha

 
Wellness (Sleep, Exercise, Diet, Hydration, Stress management, social connectedness) is very important to proper functioning of the brain.
 
Having balance in lifestyle will put things in perspective, so trials and tribulations do not seem so momentous. 

When we forgive, we say “I forgive you

 

But what does this mean?

    • There is a book on this by McCullough, “Forgiveness: Theory, Research, Practice”
 

A way to summarize forgiveness:

It is finally giving up on a better past

 
    • It is not mean: approval, forgetting, reconciling, giving up on justice
    • “You forgive for you”, to move on, better for health, focus on the future

IMPLICIT VALUE SYSTEM

HOW DO YOU SEE YOURSELF WHEN SPEAKING TO YOURSELF?

Priest: How are you?

 

Doctor: How are you?

 

 

Grandma: How are you?

 

You, to yourself: How are you???

 

DID YOU RECOGNIZE THAT YOU WOULD ANSWER EACH QUESTION ABOVE DIFFERENTLY DESPITE EACH QUESTION BEING EXACTLY THE SAME? 
    • Each context has an implicit value system
      • A value system unique to that situation
      • e.g., you may focus on different topics when talking to your partner than you would with your mother

 

    • Different audiences would take different things differently
      • Does their approval matter to you?
      • Does their disapproval matter to you?

 

 

Can you momentarily think about things in a way free of your own dogma?

 

 

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them”

– Albert Einstein

PRESUPPOSITIONS

READING BETWEEN THE LINES

DOCTOR: “WHAT ARE YOUR BEST HOPES FROM OUR PROGRAM?”

PATIENT: “I WOULD LIKE TO GET RID OF THIS HEADACHE SO I CAN WORK”…OR “THESE HEADACHES ARE KILLING ME”

 
SOUNDS REASONABLE…BUT WHAT IS THE PATIENT’S RESPONSE IMPLYING? 
 
  • That headaches are the status quo now?
    • How many 6-year-olds would state this goal?
 
  • That the headache might not go away?
    • How motivated would you be if you told someone that whatever they did would fail?
 
  • That the absence of a headache is their goal?
    • How will they know when they reached that goal?
    • One day without a headache? two days? a week?
    • What about a little headache, does that count?
    • If the headache has all their attention, how can you practically make its absence your goal?
      • Remember Ironic Process Theory
    • Which goal did you have before the headache took its place in your attention? And before that? And before that?
      • If your goals keep playing this game of broken telephone, where could you end up?
 
  • That they can’t work (at all) with their headache?
  • That the ability to work depends (entirely) on their headache?
    • Does this mean you can’t do any of the tasks of your work?
    • Does your work define you?
    • Does that mean (i.e., are you telling yourself) that you are useless and can’t do any work at all (i.e., even work outside your employment)?
    • Do you have to earn play time through work?
 
  • That every headache is slowly ending my life
    • You don’t have to be a neuroscientist to know that this doesn’t help
    • Are you aware of the neuroscience behind the pain experience of headaches?

COMPUTATIONAL LINGUISTICS

ARE YOU EFFECTIVELY PROCESSING YOUR SITUATION?

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE TELLS THAT YOU ARE…
EFFICIENTLY UNDERSTANDING & SELF-REFLECTING ON YOUR SITUATION?

 

 

A USEFUL EXERCISE IS TO WRITE ABOUT YOUR SITUATION (A.k.a., JOURNALING)? 
WHAT DO YOU NOTICE?
DO YOU NOTICE THE FOLLOWING?
  • Higher rates of positive emotion words (e.g., happy, love, good, laugh, etc.)
  • A more moderate number of negative emotion (e.g., angry, hurt, ugly)
  • Increasing use of cognitive or thinking words over the course of writing (session-to-session)
  • Causal thinking (e.g., cause, effect, reason)
  • Self-reflection (e.g., understand, realize, know)
  • Using pronouns (I, we , you, she, they)
  • Using the same perspective between sessions is more correlated with negative mood

 

HAVE YOU ACCEPTED YOUR SITUATION?
ARE YOU MOVING FORWARD?
IS IT EXPRESSED IN YOUR LANGUAGE?

FLEXIBLE OPTIMISM

ARE YOU CONFRONTING LIFE? OR IS LIFE CONFRONTING YOU?

HAS A LITTLE BIT OF HELPLESSNESS CREEPED UP IN YOUR LIFE?
WOULD YOU BE ABLE TO RECOGNIZE IT IF IT DID?

 

 

 

DR. SELIGMAN’S STUDIES SHOWED THAT EVENTS CAN “TRAIN” DOGS TO BE HELPLESS…
THE SAME WAS FOUND TO HOLD TRUE IN STUDIES WITH HUMANS!

 

 

SUMMARY OF STUDIES (Seligman et al., 1967; Hiroto et al., 1975):

 

  • The dog experiment consisted of one group that received a shock but could escape from it by pushing a panel with its nose.
  • the second group would receive a shock whenever the first group got a shock.
  • the third group will get no shock at all.
  • Like this, they were trained on how they could help themselves in the face of shocks.
  • In the second part of the experiment, all three groups were put in a box, but this time, there was a small fence, and the dogs could look over the small fence and jump safely over the fence to safety if they so chose
  • What do you think happened?
    • the inescapable shock group would just lay down and take the shock rather than jump over the low barrier to the shock free part of the box.
  • And exception to learning theory was discovered, that learning does not only occur in the face of reward or punishment, but also when one’s actions are deemed to be futile
  • Further studies showed that the researchers were able to:
    • train the learned helplessness dogs to become hopeful again and take action
    •  immunize against helplessness by training action early – Learning to respond matters
  • The experiment was repeated with humans using obnoxious noise in place of shocks. The results were the same as for animals.
    • Of note, 1 out of 3 in the helplessness training group would still help themselves, and one out of 10 in the no shock group was helpless
WHAT DOES YOUR LANGUAGE SAY ABOUT YOUR LIKELIHOOD TO RESPOND TO YOUR SITUATION?

 

This model of explanatory style has been studied for decades and has found use in politics, sports, industry and healthcare.

 

 

How can we increase our chances of success by nurturing optimism?

 

 

And is it reflected in our language?

 

 

Or is our language a flywheel to reprogramming our thoughts? Our culture? Our actions?

 

 

THE ANSWER TO ALL OF THE ABOVE IS “YES

 

 

THREE DIMENSIONS ON WHICH TO EVALUATE WHAT YOU ARE SAYING TO YOURSELF?

 

1. PERVASIVENESS

  • When something happens, are you likely to interpret it (or its causes or consequences) as…
    • Likely to filter into everything you do?
    • Or as only specific to that one niche of life?

 

2. PERMANENCE

  • When something happens, are you likely to interpret it (or its causes or consequences) as…
    • Permanent, likely to always be there?
    • Or temporary, likely to last a while and then go away?

 

3. PERSONALIZATION

  • When something happens, are you likely to interpret it (or its causes or consequences) as…
    • entirely due to your doing (or lack thereof)?
    • due to external factors?

ARE YOU CONSISTENT IN THE WAY YOU EXPLAIN THINGS TO YOURSELF IN GOOD TIMES?

WHAT ABOUT DURING CHALLENGING TIMES?

 

BELIEVE IT OR NOT, PESSIMISM HAS ITS TIME AND PLACE, BUT SEVERE PESSIMISM IS NEVER HELPFUL.

 

WE WILL LIMIT THIS SECTION TO DESCRIBING HOW PESSIMISM AND OPTIMISM SHOW UP DIFFERENTLY DEPENDING ON THE CONTEXT, i.e., GOOD VS BAD EVENTS.

  • This is a large model that we explain in a lot more detail in our group counselling sessions on positive psychology, but we will introduce the model so we can explain how it relates to language in the next section.
  • Please don’t take the presentation below as the complete model as we don’t want to oversimplify it.
  • Keep in mind, the same person can think optimistically and pessimistically in different contexts (i.e., their situations, moods, etc. )
     
  • This basically shows that to be optimistic in the face of “good” events means:
    • that you say to yourself that the reason and/or consequences of an event are here to stay (permanent) and will likely filter into all other aspects of your life (pervasiveness), e.g., personal life, professional life, health, etc.
    • e.g., I got a job promotion…it’s going to improve my health and this is the beginning of great things
 
  • To be optimistic in the face of “bad” events means:
    • that you say to yourself that the reason and/or consequences of an event are fleeting (temporary) and will likely be confined to only that aspect of your life (specific), i.e., the belief that the loss of a job won’t affect your relationship or your health, etc.
    • e.g., I lost my job…it’s just a job, and things will turn around soon
 
  • To be pessimistic in the face of “good” events means:
    • that you say to yourself that the reason and/or consequences of an event are fleeting (temporary) and will likely be confined to only that aspect of your life (specific), i.e., the belief that the job promotion won’t (positively) affect your relationship or your health, etc.
    • e.g., I got a job promotion…it’s just a job (it won’t make a difference to my health), enjoy it while it lasts
 
  • To be pessimistic in the face of “bad” events means:
    • that you say to yourself that the reason and/or consequences of an event are here to stay (permanent) and will likely filter into all other aspects of your life (pervasiveness), e.g., personal life, professional life, health, etc.
    • e.g., I lost my job…this will ruin everything (my relationship, my health) and I’ll never get another job
 
  • Together, your belief about a situation’s pervasiveness and permanence estimates your level of hope:
    • if your hope is high, you will be motivated to respond/act
    • if your hope is low, you won’t
       
  • This basically shows that to be optimistic in the face of “good” events means:
    • that you say to yourself that the reason and/or consequences of an event are due entirely to you (internal), e.g., you had a good time at the party because you came with a good attitude
 
  • To be optimistic in the face of “bad” events means:
    • that you say to yourself that the reason and/or consequences of an event are due to other factors (external) that didn’t have to do with you, e.g., a party was not good because everyone else was uptight
 
  • To be pessimistic in the face of “good” events means:
    • that you say to yourself that the reason and/or consequences of an event are due to others (external), e.g., a party was good because everyone was really nice
 
  • To be pessimistic in the face of “bad” events means:
    • that you say to yourself that the reason and/or consequences of an event are due to you (internal), e.g., a party was bad because you didn’t act properly
CAN YOU BE A BIT MORE HELPFUL TO YOURSELF?
WHAT DOES THE WAY YOU EXPLAIN EVENTS TO YOURSELF SAY?
 
 
 
WHAT DOES YOUR LANGUAGE SAY ABOUT YOUR LIKELIHOOD TO RESPOND TO A SITUATION?
 
WHAT DO YOU SAY TO YOURSELF IN THE FACE OF PLEASANT THINGS? IS IT:
  • TEMPORARY OR PERMANENT?
  • PERVASIVE OR SPECIFIC?
  • PERSONAL OR EXTERNAL?

 

WHAT DO YOU SAY TO YOURSELF IN THE FACE OF UNPLEASANT THINGS? IS IT:
  • TEMPORARY OR PERMANENT?
  • PERVASIVE OR SPECIFIC?
  • PERSONAL OR EXTERNAL?

 

cognitive behvioural therapy (CBT) is often used as a mode to strengthen one’s internal dialogue in a way that increases their chances to respond to life in a way that is adaptive.

ASSERTIVENESS

TAKING STEPS TO BALANCING THE SCALE

Assertive self-expression is direct, firm, positive – and, when necessary, persistent – action intended to promote equality in person-to-person relationships. Assertiveness enables us to act in our own best interests, to stand up for ourselves without undue anxiety, to exercise personal rights without denying the rights of others and to express our feelings and needs (affection, love, friendship, disappointment, annoyance, anger, regret, sorrow) honestly and comfortably (Alberti & Emmons, 2008).

 

 

READ MORE IN OUR ARTICLE TITLED ASSERTIVENESS.

 

A SUMMARY OF ASSERTIVENESS: 11 KEY POINTS
  1. Self-expressive
  2. Respectful of the rights of others
  3. Honest
  4. Direct and firm
  5. Equalizing, benefiting both parties in a relationship
  6. Assertive language & nonverbal style to communication
  7. Applicable to positive & negative situations
  8. Person and situation-dependent to some extent
  9. Socially responsible
  10. Both inborn & learned
  11. As persistent as is necessary to achieve one’s goals

“You’re right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins!”

 

President Abraham Lincoln

 

 

SOME TIPS ON ASSERTIVE LANGUAGE
  1. Use “I” statements.
  2. Acknowledge any truth in someone’s complaint about you, & at the same time stand up for your own rights.
  3. Make clear and simple statements of your wants & needs, rather than expecting other people to read your mind or anticipate what you want.
  4. Focus on the process of assertion rather than results.

COMMON (IL)LOGIC THEMES IN ILLNESS/INJURY

DOES THAT REALLY MAKE SENSE TO YOU?

Unbroken string of sour musings with no action statements (vs. action oriented)  

Often leads to a paralysis of analysis

It is not fun

 

I’m a gambler and love slot machines.

-La La Anthony

   

SO WHY DO WE RUMINATE?

 

CAN YOU RUMINATE YOUR WAY OUT OF RUMINATING?

  • FEEL BETTER ⇒ STOP RUMINATING
  • DON’T FEEL BETTER ⇒ KEEP RUMINATING
 

ARE YOU WAITING FOR THAT A-HA MOMENT?

 

DO YOU HANG OUT WITH OTHER RUMINATORS? DO YOU CO-RUMINATE?

 

YOU CAN’T JUST WALK AWAY FROM RUMINATION…OR CAN YOU?

   

COMMON THEMES IN RUMINATION

  1. WHY? WHY ME?
  • Maybe there is no reason
  • Computational linguistics shows that if you drop down the why your mood will get better
  • Can you budget your whys to just 5/day?
  • Why-ing can be good if it’s constructive and productive.
  2. FAIRNESS
  • The Just-World Belief; i.e., good things happen to good people.
  • If something bad happens to me, does that mean I’m bad?
    • Many patients tell this to themselves (and aren’t even aware of it)
  • Post hoc fallacy: post hoc ergo propter hoc
    • e.g., my baby is crying so I must be a bad mom
    • Can you take losses “well”
    • Work on solutions, avoiding beating yourself up
  3. REGRET

“Repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth”

-law of propaganda (illusion of truth effect) often attributed to the Nazi Joseph Goebbels

     

ARE YOU A SELF-PROPAGANDIST AT TIMES?

WE ALL ARE…IT’S NOT A PROBLEM UNTIL IT IS

   

WOULD YOU BE ABLE TO RECOGNIZE YOUR SHORT-CUTS IN LOGIC (OR ILLOGICAL LEAPS, OR “COGNITIVE DISORTIONS”) WHEN THEY NO LONGER ARE USEFUL (i.e., WHEN YOU’RE IN A RUT)?

 

COMMON COGNITIVE DISTORTIONS

1. All-or-Nothing Thinking
  • Seeing things in terms of black-and-white
  • E.g., “If you ain’t with us, you’re against us” 🙂
  2. Overgeneralization
  • You extrapolate one negative event to everything being negative
  • E.g., “I was late for my appointment, I can’t do anything right”
  3. Labelling and Mislabelling
  • An extreme form of overgeneralization where you label yourself negatively
  • E.g., “I’m a useless piece of #@$%”
  4. Mental Filter
  • You sift through everything to be noticed and cling onto a negative detail to the exclusion of everything else, like a drop of blood can make a whole sink of water look red.
  • E.g., “Why didn’t she say thank you in her email? I can’t stand that clinic”
  5. Disqualifying the Positive
  • Rejecting positive experiences with some excuse or another
  • Usually these relate to negative core beliefs
  • Learning to accept the positives and receive positive feedback is one of the tenets of assertiveness
  • E.g., “It’s nothing, anyone could have done that”
  6. Jumping to Conclusions
  • negative interpretation even though there are no facts to back up your hunch
  • There is a saying “What you see in others, you see in yourself”
  • hunches often have more to do with you than they have to do with the situation
  • E.g., “They don’t care about you, they just care about the money”
  7. Mind reading
  • Presuming to know what someone else is thinking
  • E.g., I know you’re just mad because I didn’t put your stability ball back in the basement (when the person was just tired).
  8. Fortune-telling
  • Presuming to know the future
  • E.g., You’ll see, it’s no use, you’ll never get over it
  9. Magnification (Catastrophizing) or Minimization
  • Exaggerating the effects of something
  • Look out for “always, forever, never, need, should, must, can’t, every time”
  • Often, it is about things that haven’t happened yet, i.e., If ‘X’ were to happen, then ‘Disastrous Consequence’
  • E.g., It’s terrible, I missed my appointment, and now I will forget everything I learned, and my condition will just et worse, and I’ll never get better, and my partner will leave me and I won’t be able to support myself and…
 
I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.

– Mark Twain

    10. Emotional Reasoning
  • Jumping to conclusions based on your feels
  • Post hoc fallacy: post hoc ergo propter hoc
  • e.g., “I feel bad, therefore I must be bad”; “my baby is crying so I must be a bad mom”
  11. Should(ing) Statements
  • Implying that an issue is a moral issue or one of duty, when it’s not
  • Employing excessive self-criticism
  • Dr. Albert Ellis used to tell patients to stop “should-ing all over themselves”
  • Other words that are similar are “ought to”, “must”, “need”
  • E.g., “I really should be back to work by now, this is too long off work”
  12. Personalization
  • Taking things too personally
  • E.g., That nurse really doesn’t want to help me.
Check out this list of strategies by clicking here.
Alberti, Robert; Emmons, Michael. Your Perfect Right: Assertiveness and Equality in Your Life and Relationships. Impact; 9th Edition (May 21, 2008). Bond DS, O’Leary KC, Thomas JG, Lipton RB, Papandonatos GD, Roth J, Rathier L, Daniello R, Wing RR. Can weight loss improve migraine headaches in obese women? Rationale and design of the Women’s Health and Migraine (WHAM) randomized controlled trial. Contemp Clin Trials. 2013 May;35(1):133-44. doi: 10.1016/j.cct.2013.03.004. Epub 2013 Mar 22. PMID: 23524340; PMCID: PMC3640582. Hiroto, Donald & Seligman, Martin. (1975). Generality of Learned Helplessness in Man. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 31. 311-327. 10.1037/h0076270. Seligman MEP, Maier SF. Failure to escape traumatic shock. Journal of Experimental Psychology. 1967;74:1–9. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/h0024514. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]

Research & writing: Dr. Taher Chugh

Last update: March 2021