Last night was the second episode of the Ex-Wives Club on ABC featuring Debbie Ford. Last week I gave you the lowdown on why this show applies to LGBT relationships and why this work done Debbie Ford style is the most powerful thing you can ever do for yourself and your relationships. This week I’d like to delve into a very powerful distinction Debbie made during the show which will change your relationship with words forever.
In the show they aired a piece of Debbie’s workshop called “mirroring negative traits”. The purpose of this segment is to illustrate the point that words are just words; it is the meaning we assign to certain words that cause us pain. It really drives home the point of the childish teasing rhyme “sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me”. We all know harsh words spoken can and do hurt us, sometimes deeply. Yet, it is never the words themselves that hurt us — it is what we make them mean.
I don’t want to lose you in philosophical land here, so let me give you an example. Let’s assume that you have blond hair and are a bit overweight and very sensitive about it. Now, if someone comes up to you and says: “your hair is blond”, do you have any emotional reaction? My guess is, not really. You feel neutral because you are indeed blond. Similarly, if someone came up to you and said “your hair is blue”, you’d likely not have any emotional reaction either other than perhaps laughing and wondering if the other person was joking. However, if someone came up to you and called you a “fat pig” or “moo cow” or some other rude, derogatory comment about your weight, my guess is you’d have emotion in a big way. You might not outwardly show it by lashing out, but inside you would feel emotion. You are sensitive about your weight and have assigned a negative meaning to it. It could be anything from self-loathing to being convinced that no one can or will find you attractive because of your weight. Maybe something happened to you in childhood or you got a message from your family that overweight was bad or made you a failure. No matter how you slice it, those words have an emotional charge for you.
The ‘mirroring negative traits’ segment of the show illustrated this beautifully. Participants spoke these “charged words” to the person in the hot seat until the words no longer had a charge for them. It is a brute force method of neutralizing the charge behind the meaning we assign to words. Once we realize that it is just the meaning we assign to the words and that in many ways there is a hint of truth (at the very least a hidden message or gift) to all words, we are free. We are free from the pain of being held hostage by a label.
Think about the pain, fear, or upset that many of us felt when we heard the words gay, lesbian, queer, dyke, or others launched our way. Again, these are just words that triggered in us our own beliefs, meanings, fears, or internal homophobia. Assuming we weren’t in any physical danger at the time, the words were just words spoken by other people. We could be neutral or have an emotional reaction. Both possibilities exist for us. The actual reaction we have is the result of the meaning we assigned to the words.
While the show gets a little heavy on the revenge for entertainment value, there are still a lot of great hidden gems about how mending a broken heart and thriving in your life is an inside-out job. Admittedly I am biased, but the short segments with Debbie Ford and her workshop are powerful enough to carry the whole show and are rich with lessons for us all. Catch the remaining episodes by checking out the schedule at ABC .
How about you? What do you think about words and the meaning we assign to them?