When I sit with people in a therapeutic capacity, they will say things like ‘My dad was a heavy drinker,’ when in reality their father was an alcoholic. They opt for softer language because saying the ‘a-word’ is too hard. It is easier to say things like ‘heavy drinker,’ or call someone a ‘functional addict,’ rather than just an addict, as though the distinction makes it better. There are so many ways that we dance around our heavy life experiences. When we do this we are hiding our pain through language.
The use of cover words is based on the assumption that they will protect us somehow, and that they will keep us from becoming undone by what has happened to us, but sometimes we need to come undone. A little unpacking is not a bad thing if it can help us acknowledge the truth of what is.
Using real words can be challenging because:
We worry about how we will function once we do. We worry that using real words will cause us to fall apart, and we are unsure how we will recover.
We think naming our pain will expose too much. Softer language places some distance between us and our trauma. Using real words requires vulnerability, and that can feel overwhelming.
These fears are real, but naming is necessary for healing. Consider the terminology you are currently using to describe the difficult points in your life or the stories you find hard to share, and ask yourself these questions:
How can you reshape these narratives to give them more meaning?
If you were to write these stories out would people have some vague understanding of what happened to you, or would it be clear?
How can you use language that tells the whole story?
I love biopics and recently saw the movie Respect about Aretha Franklin. She had a lot of trauma, but rather than call it trauma; her family said she had a demon inside of her. Once she confronted her demon, her life changed. I learned a lot about the Queen of Soul. Respect is out now in theaters.
She’s Come Undone, by Wally Lamb is a book I come back to and read again and again. This is a coming-of-age novel that follows the life of its heroine, Delores Price, from age 4 to 40. It’s a beautiful story of someone breaking themself down and becoming. You can find the book on Amazon and Bookshop.
Where did you learn to use soft language?
Do you feel like using softer language helps you come to terms with what has happened? Does it help you to heal, or does it inhibit you?
Did something in this newsletter speak to you? Leave a comment and let me know. I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Disclaimer: I receive commissions for purchases made through links for Amazon and Bookshop.