Words & Feelings
Words are something we all use to convey a message. How many words do you speak in an hour, a day, a week? How about throughout your lifetime? The things we say have an impact on everyone around us, including to ourselves. I remember always seeing those inspirational posters in school, doctor’s offices, etc. that said something about “potential” or attitude” and kind of moving right past it, thinking “yeah right”. The one that I remember the most is a quote by Maya Angelou,
And this quote has stuck with me. While I believe what Maya Angelou said, there are absolutely certain memories where I remember exactly what someone said to me and how it made me feel.
I was speaking to a friend the other day and I sent them this in a text:
And my friend acknowledged the text, but didn’t really respond to it with any sort of depth. But then the next day, she called me and said “wow Allison, I had a revelation about that picture you sent me. Let me tell you what happened!” What my friend told me is that she was talking to her toddler daughter and made a comment along the lines of “if you keep playing with your peanut butter toast, you’ll get it on your clothes and mommy will be upset.” She told me she then got hit like a ton of bricks, because it clicked in her head, what I had sent her and what she said to her kid. Because her kid is not responsible for her emotions.
We had a long conversation about this, she told me she had fallen down a rabbit hole of thinking about the things she says to her kids and then, of course, to other people around her. Of course, this prompted me to go down my own rabbit hole and think about what I say to others and how I say it. When we talk to kids, they absorb these things. So when my friend told me she had that revelation that other day, she told me that afterwards, her daughter asked her “mommy are you mad at me?” while they were getting ready for school. And my friend goes, “no honey, mommy isn’t mad.” But it made her realize, when she said “if you keep doing playing with your peanut butter toast, you’ll get it on your clothes and mommy will be upset” that her daughter then assumed mommy was mad, because that is what mommy said. (Side note, her daughter did not get peanut butter on herself.) My friend said that she remembers her mom saying some of those same things to her as a child, and actually still today as an adult. She told me how she realized her mom was putting this burden on her, that my friend somehow became responsible for her mom’s emotions, and when this happened, her mom wanted an apology but it had to be up to mom’s standards and if it wasn’t good enough, then you knew it.
When I first got into my practicum while I was in grad school, I was learning play therapy. I was doing a training with Jane Robinson, LMHC, who is the founder of Center for Child Counseling in Palm Beach Gardens, FL. Jane told me something that was honestly so profound and it really hit me like a ton of bricks. She said “sit on your hands and bite your tongue.” This was honestly so hard for me. I worked in law enforcement at the time, I was so accustomed to being direct. I knew how to play with kids, why do I need to sit on my hands and bite my tongue? Because kids will tell you everything you need to know, if you just listen. In learning more about play therapy, I realized that I can make such a difference with just the words I say. Just like this image,
It can be so profound the impact our words have.
My old supervisor, Helya Ortiz, LMHC, who is the founder of Center for Trauma Counseling in Greenacres, FL, told me that “emotions drive behavior.” And this is where the feelings part comes in. Because you do and say things based on your feelings. But what are you saying? And how are you feeling when you say these things?
I kept rabbit hole-ing after I spoke to my friend and I thought about how many times I might have said something where I put that burden on someone else, made them “responsible” for my feelings. I also thought about how many times I didn’t say something because I didn’t want to hurt someone else’s feelings.
At the end of my spiraling, I realized that I could be better about what I say to people and how I say it. We all could, right? It is important that we all advocate for ourselves, not in a mean or hurtful way, but in a way that is best for us. It is also important that we speak to others in a way that doesn’t force them to take responsibilities for our emotions. I can only be responsible for me.