June 12, 2023


Can we truly “speak” something into existence? Before addiction and recovery, I would have said, “No way!” but studying for the past 8 years on how language shapes our world I now must change that assumption. In recovery I was doing all the “right” things and reading all the right books that should have fixed my problem……but they didn’t. This book told me to do something different, so I did for a while, and things seemed to be going better but then something would happen, and I was right back to old feelings where I started. This article said to change behaviors and habits and I did, for a while, and it seemed to be working but then, again, something would happen, and I was right back to square one with my emotions.

In recovery I had to be very careful of the words and language I used. If an event happened that would normally cause some degree of uneasiness or discomfort my EXAGGERATED thinking would say it was “pure hell” or “unbearable” and….POOF!…..the event became exactly that; pure unbearable hell. For some reason I had to name the event as impactfully as I could to make it seem important. I used whatever words delivered the biggest punch.   

Some days life seems as if it exists on only 2 planes; Skittles & Rainbows or SUDDEN DEATH!!! There seems to be no middle ground and it very well could be the words and language we use that makes it seem that way.  When I stumbled across Brene’ Brown and her Atlas of the Heart it opened up my thinking on how we can actually speak stuff into existence just with the words we choose.  Something that we are quick to call “anxiousness” could truly be feelings of insecurity or confusion but just the mere word, “anxious”, packs a punch where those other 2 do not. And just because I’m feeling a little anxious about something doesn’t mean I am suffering with anxiety. (Those are 2 very different things).

Words and language carry power. For that reason, I work with clients for quite some time on correctly identifying emotions and feelings. I may be feeling frustrated or powerless but I’m quick to toss it in the “pissed off” bucket rather than identifying the true root ingredients of the emotion. If it walks like a duck and talks like a duck we should call it a duck but a duck just really doesn’t carry that much power or weight. Now, if I can convince you it’s a horse…..well THAT carries some weight. My little duck doesn’t get the big reaction I want but the horse gets reactions of awe and wonder. (big stuff)

We need language to convey how we feel but we need proper language, the correct words, so we aren’t mislabeling something and addressing the wrong things. We need the proper words to identify how we are feeling so we aren’t working ourselves into an emotional state that is unnecessary. So, the next time you are feeling “angry” search up an image of a feeling wheel and see just exactly what’s going on. I would bet you might not be angry at all but possibly one or two of the other 11 feelings that present themselves, and we label, as “anger”.

Mind, Body, Spirit…Balance!

Laura Green Zalkovsky, LMFT-Associate, LCDC, ESMHL
Clinical Director