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Mental Health and the Power of Words I: Why Speaking Liberates
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Mental Health and the Power of Words I: Why Speaking Liberates

Nora Hille

Words have power and connect people. Language gives us the opportunity for inner contemplation and reflection as well as for dialogue. An exchange from person to person about what moves us in our innermost being.

Sound of the sea, far away.
Words become waves.
Your gentle whisper.

Nora Hille

This three-liner is written in the style of a haiku, a traditional Japanese poetic form with the syllabic pattern 5-7-5. At times they are gentle, our words, and yet they echo, like a haiku. Words can caress our soul, give healing or comfort a crying child. Can provide clarity or cause misunderstanding. Sometimes they are a passionate appeal – possibly even an attack. Or we have questions upon questions ready, but no answers.

In the context of Mental Health, this time I would like to focus on the power of words using the following aspects:

  • How do we talk to ourselves?
  • Conversation with a familiar person
  • Professional conversation offers

The inner self-talk: How do we actually talk to ourselves?

Have you ever noticed how you talk to yourself in your mind? Evaluate your actions and deeds? And what tone do you strike?

  • What a great new hairstyle, makes me look 10 years younger!
  • How stupid was that? Why does this always happen to me?
  • I just say clever! I’d like someone to copy that first…
  • What an idiot I am! (The latter to be optionally replaced with moron, fool, etc.).

Have you ever thought, “No one will ever know what I’m like inside”? Far from it. There is someone who listens very carefully and is influenced by the power of our words: Our psyche. When we scold ourselves, call ourselves “stupid” or an idiot, we are really beating our soul – and our self-esteem. If we often talk to ourselves in this pejorative way, it can deeply shake our inner well-being. Negative beliefs such as “Nothing ever works out for me” become ingrained – and are permanently confirmed. A quite unhealthy, psychological process, counterproductive to the desire for more Mental Health and inner balance.

Acceptance and self-love instead of self-abuse

But how do we get out of this act of self-flagellation? By actively listening to ourselves when we scold ourselves again (i.e. switching on our bird’s eye view), recognizing the quasi-automatic “act” and interrupting it with a purposeful mental interaction, for example like this:

I have just noticed that I have failed something and think: Oh, how stupid of … – Stop! I don’t want to talk to my soul like that! O.K., I made a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes. There is nothing wrong with that. I can learn from this.

If we consistently succeed in noticing and actively interrupting our self-abuse, our psyche learns that we are on its side and no longer sabotages us. Self-esteem can grow again in this way. We can support this process if we actively work on our self-love. In doing so, we can consciously rely on the power of words and use the inner conversation. It is best to formulate two or three easy-to-remember, positive beliefs as an “I” statement, which we then repeat several times, for example, when going to bed each day shortly before falling asleep.

In my example, it might read like this:

Good evening dear Nora,

good evening dear soul.

Thank you for standing by me so well today.

I am allowed to make mistakes and forgive myself.

I am good and right the way I am.

There are numerous other examples of these positive beliefs (the principle is similar to affirmations or auto-suggestion). It is important to find words that just fit the current situation and the negative beliefs we want to dissolve. And these words must then be practiced consistently, preferably on a daily basis. Because if you continuously “keep at it” a change will show itself with time.

Conversation with a trusted person in a private environment

There is hardly anything that gives us more stability in life and thus supports our mental health better than intimate relationships with other people. If we have a family member or a friend to whom we can confide without reservation with all our worries and needs, these conversations offer us:

  • the opportunity to express ourselves,
  • no longer have to carry our burden alone,
  • to have a supporter at our side,
  • who, in the best case, will work with us to find solutions to our problem.

All the better for both sides if this is a balanced relationship at eye level, where we ourselves can be the part seeking advice one time and the supporting part the next time.

Professional conversation opportunities with strangers: First steps

But what can be done when exactly such a private confidant is missing? Or whose support just isn’t enough anymore because the mental challenge or crisis we’re facing is too big to handle with private conversations and everyday skills?

We humans are social beings and only very few of us are able to exist in absolute solitude. That’s why, in the event of a mental crisis or extreme stress, it can be a good first step to talk to your primary care physician so that the current mental stress doesn’t manifest into a permanent medical condition in the first place. Adult education courses, clubs and self-help groups offer the opportunity to find each other on a human level through common interests. Sure, it costs a lot of effort to approach strangers and talk about one’s own concerns in difficult personal times. But this is exactly how we take responsibility for our Mental Health.

If you have recognized that you need support, but still feel very insecure, low-threshold services such as telephone counselling(www.telefonseelsorge.de) are a good first step for making contact. Since the waiting time for a therapy place often lasts several weeks to months, there are more and more offers to catch people seeking help during this time. In this context, I would like to introduce the project “Redezeit für Dich” as a partner of the Alliance for Mental Health(www.virtualsupporttalks.de). Here you can make free and confidential calls to more than 350 trained professional therapists, psychologists and coaches who offer their know-how and support (some of them in several languages) – combined with the desire to do something meaningful for people. Such conversations give us the feeling “I am not alone”. We feel emotionally caught up and can then, in the best case scenario, “catch up” emotionally again.

Decision for professional accompaniment

Sometimes, however, it becomes clear in these conversations with unfamiliar counselors (just as it does in an exchange with a familiar person) that longer-lasting professional support from a coach or therapist makes sense. Seeking help in this form is not weakness in my eyes, but quite the opposite: a sign of strength. It is not for nothing that there are people who have professionalized themselves on the topics of psyche and mental health and from whose knowledge and methods we can benefit enormously.

When coaching, when psychotherapy?

There are some similarities between coaching and psychotherapy:

  • Coach and therapist are professional discussion partners.
  • They are outside the usual social environment of the client or patient.
  • A trust-based relationship is established.
  • The focus is on individual concerns and the subjective experience of the client or patient.
  • Psychological methods are used.
  • Coach and therapist intervene in a targeted manner to prevent problems or disorders, to remedy them or to contain their negative consequences.

The boundaries between coaching and therapy are clearly defined: The target group of coaching is healthy people who usually seek coaching on a predefined topic. The goal of coaching is to enable the client to solve problems independently in the future and to further develop behaviors and attitudes.[1]

See Also

According to the Deutscher Bundesverband Coaching e.V., the objective of coaching is “the further development of individual or collective learning and performance processes with regard to primarily professional concerns. As a result- and solution-oriented form of consulting, coaching serves to increase and maintain performance.”[2]

Psychotherapy, on the other hand, is aimed at people who are suffering and who feel that their everyday life is significantly restricted by mental stress or symptoms of illness. In contrast to coaching, therapy requires a practitioner with a license to practice, i.e. a state license to practice.

Once the decision for coaching or therapy has been made and a start has been made, you embark on an exciting journey to yourself. Thus, coaching on a job-specific topic can have a tremendously clarifying and strength-releasing effect. Here, timely appointments are more likely, but mostly no cost coverage (in some cases by the employer, asking may be worthwhile).

Bridging the waiting time for a therapy place

In therapies, the “talking cure” developed by Josef Breuer and Sigmund Freud at the end of the 19th century is still used in all its modern variants. But sometimes the waiting time for a therapy place is long; unfortunately, up to twelve months is no longer an exception since Corona. Health apps, such as Selfapy(www.selfapy.com), are now available here. This app, which has already been used by 35,000 users, offers online courses for people with mild to moderate depression, anxiety and panic disorders. The costs are covered by the health insurance. The effectiveness has been scientifically proven, among others by a study of the Charité Berlin[3]. From my point of view, these or similar online services can be an option to bridge gaps in care until the actual start of therapy or, in milder cases, contribute to regaining psychological stability.

However, they cannot replace the spoken word, especially in dialog during therapy. Because much more happens in a therapy session than the old-fashioned term “talking cure” might initially suggest: There is an exchange of words, facial expressions and gestures. We hear the sound of two voices, sometimes cheerfully tidy, recognizing themselves, then again without energy, slowly, desperately or rushed, in between explanatory or soothingly comforting words of the therapist. Look into each other’s eyes. Are both human.

Positive effect of the “speech cure

Speaking out can lift a burden from us. And even more: Through clever questions from a trained counterpart.

we recognize ourselves. Personality development becomes possible. We can let go of what hurts or has affected us and come closer to our inner center, literally freeing ourselves. Gradually becoming more of the person that has always been inside us.

Man you who speak,
reflect yourself, recognize yourself,
Breathe – and live.

Nora Hille

[1] See Michel, Stefanie: “Der feine Unterschied zwischen Coaching und Psychotherapie”. Published in Welt online on 7 Februa 2018. Source: https://www.welt.de/gesundheit/article173289591/Der-Unterschied-zwischen-Coaching-und-Psychotherapie.html and Paulus, Christine: “When Coaching? When therapy? – Similarities and Differences”. Available online at: https://christinepaulus.de/wann-coaching-therapie-unterschiede-gemeinsamkeiten. (both accessed June 18, 2022).

[2] Source: https://www.dbvc.de/der-dbvc/definition-coaching (accessed June 18, 2022).

[3] Charité Berlin study available online at https://formative.jmir.org/2022/4/e34330 (accessed May 18, 2022).


About the author

kontakt@norahille.de | + Articles

Nora Hille was born in 1975, is happily married and has two children. She studied history, literature and media studies, worked in communications/public relations for 12 years and has now retired for health reasons. Today she writes articles on the topics of mental health and mental illness as a sufferer and experience expert. She also writes literary essays, poems (preferably haikus) and short prose. She regularly publishes her mental health column here at FemalExperts Magazine and is Editor of eXperimenta - the magazine for literature, art and society. Anti-stigma work is close to her heart: she is an encourager at Mutmachleute e.V. and is committed to Anti-Stigma-Texts against the stigmatization (exclusion) of the mentally ill in our society for more togetherness, tolerance and equality. In autumn 2023 her book "When Light Defeats Darkness" will be published by Palomaa Publishing. A book of encouragement about how to live a good and rich life despite bipolar illness - and the enormous challenge that this means every day for the inner balance of those affected.

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