What You Say -. What Your Therapist Hears

Google has a cool app that translates languages. I’ve joked for years now that I’m going to create apps that translate codependency, active addiction, early recovery, depression, and anxiety. I pay huge attention to the language people use – the euphemisms we employ and the beautiful lies we tell ourselves. We use language to manipulate ourselves and others. Problematically, nearly all of the ways in which we manipulate occur subconsciously.

We know that the nature of living at any extreme requires some level of self-deceit. Psychology conceptualizes these processes as rationalizing, justifying, and minimizing. In truth, these are nice words for lying to ourselves. We convince ourselves to avoid healthy changes, to perpetuate unhealthy behaviors, and most often, to remain on the fence of ambivalence.

My clients can only be as honest with me as they are with themselves. My job is to challenge what they’ve convinced themselves of. To do this with subtlety is a disservice. I say a lot of things that make people uncomfortable. It took me a long time to appreciate how efficient and effective it is to say to someone, “I think you’re lying to yourself.” For folks in active addiction or early recovery, I’m more likely to say, “I think you’re full of shit.”

In recovery, “shit” is an absurdly overused euphemism. We say that we need to figure our shit out, get our shit together, and do something about our shit. What I know from experience is that as long as we’re not getting down to specifics and naming it for what it is, there’s no accountability and without that, nothing changes.

A very high percentage of the euphemisms we use are simply designed to cover up our vulnerability. There are countless expressions and slang-terms we use to hide fear.

Here’s a brief list:

  • “I’m stubborn”
  • “I have trust issues”
  • “I’m apprehensive”
  • “I’m cautious”
  • “I’m unsure”
  • “I’m confused”
  • “I don’t want to be a burden”
  • “I’m concerned about imposing”
  • “I’m feeling like I already have too much on my plate”

Those of us who are uncomfortable with anger but mad as hell will water down expressing ourselves with:

  • “I’m frustrated”
  • “I’m annoyed”
  • “I’m irritated”
  • “I’m aggravated”
  • “I’m upset”
  • “I’m pissy”
  • “I’m being bitchy”

Dr. Seuss said it best, “Be who you are and say how you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” As your therapist, I promise we don’t mind, but I can also promise that what we’re looking for is:

Does what you’re saying match up to:

  • Your facial expression
  • Your body language
  • What your eyes seem to indicate
  • The person I know you to be

When we know that we need to make a change but are uncomfortable undertaking it, we deflect. The easiest example is realizing we’re in (yet another) unhealthy partnership. We say:

  • “I don’t think I’m what they want (flipping the script)”
  • “I don’t know if they’re ready/I’m ready to take this to the next level”
  • “I’m confused and don’t know what I want.”
  • “I just don’t know that I want to spend the rest of my life with them.”
  • “I think we’ve just grown apart.”

Discomfort is an unavoidable experience in anything that involves healing and/or growth. To be direct and open in our communication is to move away from how we are most comfortable interacting. To be honest and mindful with ourselves often leads to feeling compelled to take external action that we may not be ready for (all or nothing, now or never mindset).

I urge folks to practice getting on the same page with themselves without rushing into action.

Practice being patient with yourself. Practice introspection and rigorous honesty, and to seek feedback before acting. Making life manageable requires that we break the habit of pressuring ourselves, not simply white-knuckling our way through fear, and allowing ourselves greater support.