In my last post we looked at the difference between rules and guidelines and how approaching rewiring the brain and healing with rules can be counter-productive. On the other hand, replacing that approach with flexible guidelines can be very supportive. I see this concept come into play in so many different ways with clients, especially when it comes to language.
We of course want to become aware of the language we use and the conversations we
entertain when actively working to calm the limbic system down. Our brain is always listening and when we talk about symptoms and illness it does not send a message of safety to the brain. So far, so good. Where this veers off course is when we turn it into a
rule and are so strict with it that we become afraid of ever hearing a symptom mentioned. This approach can very quickly turn into “Oh no, she mentioned a symptom”, “He talked about a diagnosis and that is going to affect my recovery”, “My practice for the day is ruined because I heard a word that I’m not supposed to”, etc.
We often become very rigid and strict about the language other people use in an attempt to “get it right”. This comes from a good place of wanting to heal, but it often just gives the limbic system one more thing to be hypervigilant about. The limbic system then turns into what I like to call The Language Police, scanning every conversation for any mention of symptoms or illness and ringing alarm bells if someone says a “naughty” word.
So how can we make this a guideline instead? We can choose our words and what we want to talk about without becoming fearful of other people not doing the same. Of course, we want to ask close friends and family to us to support us in changing our language, but it’s ok if people slip up from time to time. It’s ok if we overhear someone mention a symptom in line at the grocery store, it’s ok if our aunt mentions a diagnosis, etc. Instead of being vigilant, fearful and letting the limbic system pull us down a rabbit hole, we can remember that we get to choose what we focus on and what’s a big deal, not our limbic system. We can step into “That’s just a word and I’m safe", “I can focus on how much I love her instead of what she just said”, “I don’t need you to protect me from words limbic system”, etc.
Seeing positive language as a guideline allows us to be around the people we love, instead of avoiding them out of fear of hearing a “naughty” word or a negative conversation. By embracing this as a guideline we make space for other people to be
human and we don’t give the limbic system one more thing to be afraid of. It supports us in connecting with others with a sense of safety, instead of entering into every conversation crossing our fingers, holding our breath and desperately hoping we won’t hear something that we "shouldn’t".
Stayed tuned for part 3 of Rules vs Guidelines where I’ll discuss a specific word that often gets tangled up in rules.
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