Recently, I was working with a client who was experiencing some anxiety in a new relationship and they said,
“I’m just an anxious person in a relationship.”
That statement almost slipped by me.
I mean, it very well could be true from their perspective, couldn’t it?
However, as a coach, part of my role working with clients is to pay close attention to the language they use to create their experience.
Because, oftentimes, how you talk about things determines what you experience.
Now let’s pause for a moment…
Most people operate in life thinking the exact opposite is true.
First, an event happens, and then there is the language that describes that experience.
Sound about right?
However, if we for a moment try to think that it’s actually the reverse, that how we speak about an issue is what largely determines our experiences of it, we suddenly access a tremendous amount of power.
When we describe what’s going on in our lives— our problems, experiences, the people we encounter— we are not actually describing what’s “out there”.
What we are doing is using language to CREATE how we experience what’s “out there”.
So for example… back to my client.
“I’m just an anxious person in a relationship.”
When we look at this statement through the new lens of our language creating our experience, that’s quite a declaration to make about oneself.
And there isn’t much room for that person to feel anything other than “anxious” when the connection gets real, as they have just declared that is who they are when in relationship.
If language creates our experience rather than describing it, we must learn to take greater responsibility for the words that come out of our mouths when we talk about our lives, and especially ourselves.
Imagine language as a “code” — the building blocks of our reality. What we speak, we speak into existence.
What we say, we start to see.
This is a magical principle that the ancients used to know as true: to name something is to know its inner nature and have power over it.
When we can name something, it comes into being for us: we begin to conceptualize it clearly and therefore can better understand it.
So how did I work with this client to help them with their experience of themselves?
Our conversation began with questioning the statement, “I’m just an anxious person in relationship”.
Me: “In every relationship you’re anxious?”
Client: “No. Not every relationship. Mainly romantic relationships.”
Me: “And are you always anxious when you’re in romantic relationships?”
Client: “No, sometimes I get anxious when they pull away.”
Me: “Okay. So a more accurate statement might be, ‘Sometimes I feel anxious when I perceive that my partner is pulling away.’”
Client: “Huh…Yeah, that’s right.”
So notice we’ve got two very different statements now with two very different implications.
Feel the difference.
“I’m just an anxious person in relationship”
“Sometimes I get anxious in relationship when I think my partner is pulling away.”
There is a very different gravity to each of these.
The first one for my client carried far more shame and the belief that there was something wrong with them.
The second was much more normalizing and accurate to what they really thought, and allowed for them to be more than just anxious in relationship.
The key words “sometimes” and “when I think” are important to note because these give context to the anxiety my client felt.
They turn an emotion that feels at first eclipsing, into something that is containable and manageable.
There is another modification we can make for some bonus points by adding,
“Up until now, I’ve been…” This statement recognizes that in the past, this may have been true, but it leaves room for something new to take its place in the present and going forward.
So the new statement would be…“Up until now, I have sometimes been anxious in a relationship when I think my partner is pulling away.”
Do you see that?
In summary, through redefining this anxious experience with intentional language, we’ve –
- Put it in the past (I have sometimes been)
- Leave room for a new experience NOW and in the FUTURE (Up until now…)
- Eliminated it as an all encompassing feeling (sometimes, when I think my partner is pulling away)
- Identified it as one interpretation and NOT the truth (when I think my partner is pulling away)
If for the next week you were to take full responsibility for your language as an act of creation rather than description, how would that shift what you say?
How would that impact the way you talk about your problems or describe yourself?
What if one major key to unlocking the life that you wanted was in simply shifting the way you were creating your experience through language?
When people step into a transformative coaching engagement with me, they begin to master two fundamental skills.
- You discover how to ask yourself and others more powerful questions.
- You learn to use language in a way that casts the spells that empower you rather than ones that rob you of life.
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