Language is a pretty amazing thing. It is what makes humans unique, and without it, we would not be as advanced as we are now. While animals can communicate, we create syntax and semantics in ways that can totally alter how information is received. What many of us fail to realise, however, is that we don’t only use language to communicate with others. We also use it to communicate with ourselves.
At SKATTLE, our counselling work has a keen focus on the ways in which we communicate with ourselves.
The little voice in our head that commentates our daily life is often affected by the social constructs in which we live.
These constructs are ideas or perceptions that culture and society give us about ourselves as individuals or members of groups. While these constructs can be beneficial in some circumstances, we often take them as rigid fact, and fail to consider differences and exceptions.
When we think about how constructs might apply to us, our thoughts might encourage us to internalise or identify with them. We might identify as a male, a parent, a teacher, or a twenty-something. While internalising such constructs can be helpful in understanding ourselves, we can also often internalise unhelpful constructs.
We might tell ourselves that we are ‘widows’, ‘bullies’, or inherently ‘bad’. We might experience a loss or change, and attribute it to being ‘our fault’.
When we internalise the issues we face, they become as rigid as the constructs that surround them.
If we identify with these negative ideas, they become an unmoving, all-consuming part of us.
We say “I am a widow”, “I am a bully”, or “I am bad”, and fail to recognise instances in which we are not. If the problem saturates everything about us, it can be incredibly overwhelming and make overcoming it seem impossible. It can be a totalising idea that neglects to recognise the parts of ourselves that aren’t defined by the problem.
However, internalisation isn’t the only way we can communicate with ourselves. Externalisation is the process of removing ourselves from the issue or construct. By removing our identification with the issue, we change our relationship with it in a way that makes it easier to act upon. We can view them more objectively, and thus consider new possibilities for action.
So how do we go about externalising?
We change the language we use in communicating with ourselves and each other. Rather than saying “my problem”, we’ll say “the problem”. “The bullying”, rather than “I’m a bully”. We give it a name, or a character.
We treat the issue as the separate entity that it is, rather than talking about it as a part of ourselves.By changing our language around the issue, we can change the power we have over it.