If you’re in recovery, you probably know what I mean by that. If you aren’t, it’s likely that you’ve made a comment that falls under this category.
It’s very hard to talk to someone about an experience you haven’t gone through. I struggle to talk to people who have experiences outside of my own, it’s natural. In that situation, I result to using active listening skills and reflection, so honestly what I’m saying is that I hear what they’re saying, and I am there for them.
It took a whole lot of training my own language to get to that point. I had a very bad, very deeply established habit of not actually listening to people, but just waiting for my turn to talk. Sometimes, this resulted in my being invalidating, or sometimes my coming off as a giant jerk.
I’ve noticed that, in my experience as a recovering person, people say what they think disarms fear/worry/etc. This doesn’t always lead in a positive direction.
“Wow, you look so much better now. So much more feminine and pretty.”
“I can’t believe you ever did drugs! That’s so insane, your life is so good.”
“You do realize that self-harm leaves scars, right? How will you explain that to your children someday?”
All of these statements were said to me at one point in time or another during the course of the last 6 years. They may seem kind and concerned from the perspective of someone who isn’t me, but to me they were really poorly constructed.
The first one sounded to me as though gaining weight = being feminine. As that was one of the biggest contributing factors to my eating disorder, it really wasn’t something I wanted to hear. It also associated my body at its recovering weight was “pretty,” a concept I had actively tried to break myself off of for many years. My thought process went something like this: oh, they think I’m pretty > this is because I’m in recovery > If I’m pretty, then I am what I don’t want to be > screw it.
The second one implied that, because my life appeared good, there was no need to do drugs. It also implied that my outward appearance of existence showed everything about how I struggled internally.
The third one assumed that I want children in the future, which is completely inaccurate to begin with. It also assumed that I had no idea what I was doing, and there was no reason for me to be doing it.
I’m not saying you need to walk on egg shells around the people you care about. So frequently I have needed tough love to get me to realize what I am doing is, in fact, dangerous.
But there is definitely a way to phrase everything in a manner that would be more likely to be taken well.
“Wow, your smile is so full of life now. You look energetic and more alive.”
“I’m sorry you dealt with addiction issues. I’m happy you’re still here.”
“Do you want to talk about what’s bothering you? I see that you’re struggling through your behavior, but I want you to know that I will listen if you’d like to talk.”
Obviously these aren’t the only ways to adjust the statements from the first part into better statements. But these adjusted statements avoid commenting on body shape, avoid commenting on life status, and avoid shaming language.
If you don’t really know what to say to someone, mirroring their experience and showing them that they have a friend in you can be beyond helpful.
It isn’t easy to adjust your language. However, in adjusting my language and the way I relate to people, I have found that my connections are much more solid, and there is an understanding that I care for the person talking to me.
What I’m saying is change is hard, but most of the time it’s worth it.