A woman sitting alone outside with her back to a stone wall
Coping Skills / Mental Illness

Introspection 101

A while ago, I learned a very clever strategy to apply to my recovery. My therapist at the time encouraged me to pay attention to how every individual word I say affects me emotionally. I learned to be extremely close attention to the slightest changes in my emotional state or mood as I go through the words of a sentence. Allow me to give some examples. In the first, I will discuss my struggles in learning the Russian Language.

Sentence 1

I’m terrible at learning Russian; I can’t even remember how to say “Hello” for more than a few minutes!

When I say this, I feel a continuing downward spiral in my mood. I feel defeated. I feel like a failure. I might not feel these things extremely strongly, but the minor thought in the background in there, and I learned to pick up on it. Now let’s try again:

Sentence 2

I’m really struggling with learning Russian; even the word for “Hello” doesn’t seem to stick in my brain!

This hurts a bit, but less than the first one. If I had to choose between these two sentences, I might go with the second. Keep in mind that neither is a lie. They are merely different ways of describing the same fact. But rephrasing has made it easier on my psyche and less self-destructive. The true difference, if you look closely is that the first sentence basically judges me as defective or bad in a way, but the second is non-judgemental, even if it’s not positive. But maybe we can do better.

Sentence 3

Learning Russian is difficult; remembering even a single word is tricky, but I just remind myself that it’s in a completely different language family than Latin or Greek, the other two languages I’ve studied.*

Now this sentence isn’t just non-judgemental. It’s downright affirming. While acknowledging the true struggle I’ve encountered in learning Russian, I give myself an out. Better still, the out I give myself doesn’t trash anything either. It just comments on the truth that learning languages like Latin or Greek are easier for a native English speaker than Slavic languages are. When I say this sentence, I feel emotions of validation and even some determination. I feel good about this sentence.

I think you get the point. I could continue to modify this sentence further and further. I could even discuss how neat it is that I keep trying despite setbacks. This builds into an internal culture of self-affirmation. When I talk of this practice, I encourage my listener to take many sentences they speak, even at random, and pay attention to how they feel about them. If nothing else, the practice gets one more in touch with how their emotions range from word to word and sentence to sentence. This knowledge can be applied in myriad ways, making it very useful to obtain.

*It’s getting harder and harder to keep these to one sentence, but I’m good with grammar and I’m still pulling it off. Semicolons for the win!

Photo by Igor Cancarevic on Unsplash

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