Words are vital to our wellbeing. How we think, what we read and listen to really does shape how we are to a great extent.
Many problems in adulthood actually start in childhood from how we are taught in the homes we grow up in for instance to respond to certain life situations. We often learn at this age too – especially in the first decade of life – whether to focus on gratitude or focus on what we think we lack in life.
The behavior of the caregivers around us teach us this, but so too do the words that are used. The words that are used often go back generations.
It is totally possible to change. But we need to become aware of the words we use in our thought and speech.
In fact treatment such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) challenges negative patterns of thought about the self and the world. This is in order to alter unwanted behavior patterns or treat mood disorders such as depression.
Our choice of words can be very powerful both in a negative and positive way. Thoughts are of course made up of words, our internal dialogue – and as you think so you shall be is an ancient understanding of this.
Then there are self-help recovery books that have literally helped transform millions of lives. In many cases it can be said that they have actually saved lives.
In recovery there are a great many words that are used. Knowing the source of some of these words can help to give a greater understanding of them. That can certainly be advantageous to recovery.
Character – from Greek kharaktēr meaning “a stamping tool”. From the early sense “distinctive mark” arose “token, feature, or trait” by the 16th Century. From this it developed to mean “a description, especially of a person’s qualities”.
Worry – Old English wyrgan “strangle”, of West Germanic origin. In Middle English the original sense of the verb gave rise to the meaning “seize by the throat and tear”, and later “harass”. This is how it feels to be worried: we are harassing ourselves, tearing at and seizing ourselves by the throat – and the more we worry the more we are strangling ourselves.
Anxiety – from Latin anxius from angere “to choke”.
Stress – from Middle English stresse meaning “distress”, so a shortening of distress, and partly from Old French estresse meaning “narrowness, oppression”, based on Latin strictus “drawn tight”.
Distress – meaning “extreme anxiety, sorrow or pain” based on Latin distringere that means “stretch apart”, which is how we feel when we are stressed. Sometimes we are so full of stress we feel stretched apart so much that we feel in pieces. Lots of stress is due to us behaving in a manner that’s driven by an uncertainty for the future.
Anger – from Old Norse angr meaning “grief”, also angra meaning “vex” – and vex is from Latin vexare meaning “shake, disturb”. The words angst, anger and anxiety are connected.
Trauma – derives from Greek words titroskein meaning “to wound”, and tetrainein “to pierce”. It’s connected to the word “throw”. So when traumas come they often hit us as hard as if they’ve been thrown: they pierce into us leaving a wound. Addiction expert Dr Gabor Maté says he has never seen anyone with an addiction who hadn’t suffered trauma, most usually in childhood. It is behind addiction, the addiction being the way someone is attempting to distract from or numb the insufferable pain.
Want – from Old Norse vanta “be lacking”. Many people mistake a want with a need.
Remorse – from Latin re– meaning “expressing intensive force” and mordere “to bite”. (Spanish for “to bite” is morder.) So when we have remorse it is like we are biting away at ourselves, gnawing at our insides.
Resent – from Latin re– “expressing intensive force” and sentir “feel”. The early sense was “experience an emotion or sensation”, later “feel deeply”, giving rise to “feel aggrieved by”. (Spanish for “to feel” is sentir.) So when we have a resentment it is that we re-feel something, usually something painful that creates a poor or angry mood. Often resentments go in increasingly closer on the action or things – real or perceived – that led to the resentment. The resentment gets bigger: it can start as a pebble we carry and end up as a rock that is breaking our back and straining our heart.
Dependent – from Latin dependere, from de- “down” and pendere “hang”. It’s also where the words “pendulum” and “pendant” derive. So anything you’re dependent on – such as a drug or a relationship – hangs you, swinging you about at its will.
Alcohol – from the Arabic term al kuhl meaning “the finer thing” or “the essence”: the intrinsic nature or indispensable quality of something. It was specifically used to denote a very fine powder of black kohl that was used by Arab women as an eye make-up to enhance the sparkle in their eyes in the medieval era.
Spirit & spirits – from Latin spiritus meaning “breath”. A Hebrew word used for “spirit” is ruakh meaning something akin to energy and it includes such as wind and our breath. Alcoholic spirits came from the fact that the vapor given off and collected during an alchemical process, as with the distillation of alcohol, was called a spirit of the original material. Renowned psychiatrist Carl Jung wrote to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) co-founder Bill Wilson in 1961 that he thought that alcoholism was a low-level thirst for God (“the equivalent, on a low level, of the spiritual thirst of our being for wholeness, expressed in medieval language: the union with God”). Jung’s letter went on to say that, “…alcohol in Latin is spiritus and that the same Latin word is used for the highest religious experience as well as the most depraving poison. The helpful formula therefore is: spiritus contra spiritum.” This translates to “spirit against spirit” and it refers to a spiritual experience to counter addiction to the spirits – alcoholism. This is what the Twelve Steps enable in anyone who does them: a spiritual awakening and consequently no desire for alcohol (or whatever was their addiction).
Intoxicate – from Latin in– and toxicum meaning “poison” and poison can mean: “something that has a destructive or corrupting influence”. Connected to “toxic”, which means “very harmful or unpleasant in an insidious way”.
Wealth – Middle English welthe, from “well”, on the pattern of overall health.
Psyche – from Greek psukhe: “breath, soul”.
Psychiatrist – from Greek psukhe “soul” and iatros meaning “healer”. So psychiatrist originally meant “soul healer” when it was first used 170 years ago.
Mind – from Greek menos meaning “spirit” and related to mimneskesthai, meaning “to remember”. It’s from a Latin root anim meaning “mind” or “spirit”.
Nocebo – consider there is also the opposite of the placebo effect: the “nocebo effect”. The word “nocebo” is from Latin, literally “I shall cause harm”, from nocere meaning “to harm”. It’s also connected to the word “noxious” meaning “physically harmful or destructive to living beings; constituting a harmful influence on mind or behavior”. So we have the ability to think ourselves to not being well.
Meditate – from Latin meditatus, related to “to remedy”, connected to “medical”; and from Latin meditat- “contemplated”.
Temptation – from Latin temptare meaning “test” or “handle”. We have temptation put in front of us all the time: to test the response. The bigger the temptation the bigger the test.
Esteem – meaning “the regard in which one is held”, “regard” coming from words meaning “to look”. “Esteem” derives from Middle English estemen meaning “to estimate”, from Latin aestimare. So “self-esteem” really means: how do you look at and value yourself? Then to increase how you value yourself it’s necessary to do estimable things, priceless things, be valuable to people, do loving things for them that have no price tag on.
Forgive – from German vergeben, and ultimately “to for-“ and “give”. So when we forgive we are giving to ourselves. The alternative – holding on to a resentment – is like drinking poison and then waiting for the person we are resentful towards (and who we are not forgiving) to die.
Nature – from Latin natura meaning “birth, nature, quality”.
Rehabilitate – from the 15th/16th Century in the sense “restore to former privileges” or “to bring back to a former condition after decay or damage”. It’s from medieval Latin habilitat- “made able”, connected to the word “ability” and “able” and the word able is from Latin habere meaning “to hold”. Consider it then that rehabilitation means you have the ability and you are able to hold yourself, you can hold life – the word “hold” meaning you can carry, support, sustain, embrace and continue to follow a particular course.
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