Yesterday we had a new car delivered, not on a large flatbed, like I had expected, but driven to our door by a 75 year old man. When he arrived I asked him how he was getting home, to which he happily replied,
“Oh, I’ll just get on the train.”
I insisted he come in and have a cup of tea and that rather than walk, once my partner returned he could drop him off at the nearest station.
As we chatted he told me he had driven down from Devon where he currently lives.
“Do you like it there?” I asked.
“Yes, its lovely,” he said, “we used to live in the Lake District, but in Devon it’s much easier to get around.”
One topic led to another, until he lighted upon ‘the accident’.
“I used to be about 3 inches taller, but I had to have my discs fused together, so I’m quite a bit shorter than I was,” he told me.
As it turned out 15 years ago, Trevor, a Prison Warden, was held hostage during an outbreak, his spine smashed by rioting inmates.
“But I’m fine now” he added, “still smiling” and he flashed me a grin.
And he was.
Beyond the mind-bogglingly, horrific nature of his experience, the thing that caught my interest was not only Trevor’s positive attitude, but his use of the term ‘the’ accident to describe his experience; not ‘my’ accident, but a distanced ‘the’. The notoriety of the incident could have easily become self-defining (also known as a secondary gain), but clearly it hadn’t.
In contrast, I recently met a woman whose diagnosis of a vertigo producing illness had the same effect on her as being star of a reality TV show. Similarly, I listened to her use of language and it soon became apparent that no self-respecting illness would ever abandon such a welcoming home.
How we choose to perceive our experiences is at the cornerstone of their impact and crucial to our wellbeing. Each of us has within ourselves the ability to re-frame, either verbally or visually, the negative impact of personal challenges and to subsequently diffuse their power. That is…if we can evade the seductive notoriety of ‘being ill’ or ‘mistreated’.
Asking ourselves ‘what is our relationship with personal negative experiences’ and listening to our own use of language can be both interesting and enlightening. I’m certainly not advocating denial but it seems clear that the simple use of the term ‘my cancer’ versus ‘the cancer’ for example, establishes our sense of empowerment, ownership and position in relation to the disease.
Where we catch ourselves embracing negative experiences, a simple visual exercise can also be used to re-frame habitual language. Rendering a symbol of an issue, anything from an illness to a challenge in the workplace and drawing smaller and smaller versions of it (until it diffuses to nothingness) can have a deep and profound impact on our perception; dictating to our unconscious mind how we choose to view our relationships with personal challenges.
It is an empowering visual strategy.