Monday, January 9, 2023

On the Words We Say

 Last night, I was helping my oldest with a school project. The centerpiece of his animal habitat, we were molding a Burmese Python out of clay, taking great care to get each curve of its tail and the risen notches of its head perfectly formed before laying it out to dry for the night so he could go back in and paint it this afternoon. 

At one point, he handed me the head of the snake to assess, and as I carefully reviewed his work, we both agreed that once attached to the body, it was a perfect representation of the python he was tring to make. We discussed what else he could build for his habitat - a nest with eggs, some water for the snake to swim in, a couple of jungle trees with branches - and at one point as we were talking through how he could make those elements happen, he misspoke, then quickly recanted with an "Ugh, I'm so dumb!"

I was startled by the sudden exclamation, thrown thoughtlessly into the wind by my (very smart very accomplished) seven-year-old boy. And even though he said it without being upset - it was a throw-away comment to him - it hit me like a ton of bricks. 

I immediately responded with encouragement - "Of course you're not dumb, don't say that" - and he reassured me as his mother that he didn't mean it, it was just something he said because he got it wrong and knew it. We moved on, he was fine, but the comment stuck with me. 

Negative self-talk is something I've struggled with my entire life. The level of intention and grace I try to consistently extend to others has never been something I've cared to extend to myself. If I'm honest - I call myself out for being "dumb" and much much worse on a daily basis, and it's becoming clear to me that the words I say in my head about myself are starting to spill out of my mouth and reflect themselves in how my children - or at least oldest child - talks to himself too. 

As a habitual overthinker, the mom guilt is real, but the conviction to change my habits - if only to ensure they don't become my legacy - is even stronger than the condemnation I feel. 

I think it's important for all of us to recognize the type of language we use with ourselves day-in and day-out and the ways it can begin to permeate our thoughts, actions, habits and perceptions. For me, my tendency is to magnify mistakes I make and translate them into evidence of my own personal failure in whatever area it may be. If I lose my temper with one of my children, I am a terrible mother. If I miss a turn while driving, I'm incompetent. The list goes on, but the pattern is pretty consistent. I've only truly become self-aware to these patterns recently, and the journey to delegitimize my thoughts is certainly ongoing. 

As a communicator by trade, I spend much of my time carefully crafting the right words to say to the right people at the right time. I am nothing if not tactful in my daily work. I'm now trying to turn that intentionality inward, giving myself the same grace I would afford others and reminding myself when those negative thoughts creep in of the truth - the truth about the situation and the truth about myself.

Words matter. They matter when they're said out loud, and they matter when they're a quiet internal whisper. So, I'm choosing my words more carefully and working to do better at breaking the vicious cycle of negative self-talk in my children. 

It's journey but I'm here for the ride.

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