Which words could you ban to improve mental health?

Hi everyone and welcome!!!

For me, words are my livelihood… I listen to my clients words, looking for meaning. I craft my own responses using my professional knowledge, my memories of the client and their history and my response to their particular comment/disclosure. We sometimes forget about the power of language as our selection of words can seem almost automatic.

As human beings we love to develop routines, patterns and we feel secure when we know what a response/reaction will be to any particular action. We develop lovely things called “Schemas” which are basically templates that help us quickly interpret things (ahh yes, I can see a red light coming up, red means stop). We develop these automatic thoughts and responses to things in order to create shortcuts so we don’t have to use a lot of brain power thinking about things.

But what if the words your brain “automatically” selected were undermining and disempowering you. How very rude!!! But very common. Not only do we develop schemas about things in our world, but we also develop them about ourselves. Now this isn’t the only type of negative, automatic thought pattern that people develop (stay tuned to this blog for more info) but the one we are exploring today.

So let’s get to the words I propose we could ban to improve mental health…




Were they the words you were expecting?

Ok, so let’s get to the nitty gritty… why are “should”, “must” and “ought” such terrible words? Well, thinking in such absolutes is called “demand thinking” and simply put, these words place unrealistic and inflexible expectations and demands on yourself and others. By using these words you are using a strict set of rules from which you judge events and the actions of yourself and others. They tend to coincide with schemas/rules/expectations about:

  • How I am (meaning you)

  • How you are (meaning other)

  • How the world is

So let’s give an example of how demand thinking might affect our own wellbeing.

“I must work harder”…although on the surface this seems pleasant enough and seems to be encouraging a good work ethic, it is too inflexible and judgmental. It sets you up to feel as though you know what you “must” be doing, but that you aren’t already doing this behaviour (for whatever reason)…. cue negative thoughts about yourself and a potential dip in self-esteem, confidence and self belief. Usually this negativity arises when we aren’t meeting our own schema surrounding what we expect from ourselves as a person (hard working, kind, empathic, honest etc).

If you catch yourself saying “should”, “must” or “ought” try to counterbalance with much more flexible, forgiving and optimistic words like: could, can, might, would, want, will etc.

Give it a go! Try and think of some demand thinking you are prone to and writing out some alternative thoughts instead. Anytime you catch yourself using a should, must or ought phrase try and replace it with this new, alternative message and see if you can detect the difference in your feelings about yourself, others and the world at large.

Until next time!!!