wordplay, depression

Wordplay might seem a bit lighthearted to be associated with depression, but it’s not. If you suffer from depression, think about the words ‘suffer’ and ‘depression’, for example.

Language doesn’t cause depression, but how you think about life and your experience does. Change the thought and you change the feeling.

We use these words without thinking. That’s careless, but more importantly, it can limit you in subtle yet powerful ways. Words have meanings and they influence you ‘behind the scenes’. When you change the words you can begin to change your experience. Although I have used the term ‘wordplay’, this is not ‘play’ at all; it goes to the heart of how we experience our lives.

(Warning: Some people get twitchy about this idea. They say it’s ‘just semantics’ or ‘playing with words’ in an effort to invalidate the well-proven concept that words affect how we think and feel.

That’s like saying that Beethoven is ‘just music’ or ‘playing with notes’ as a reason for not listening. It gives an opinion, but not a reason to reject Beethoven).

As I was saying… There’s no doubt that depression can make you suffer. I’m very aware of this. I’ve been helping people overcome depression for many years. as one of my clients, Cally, recently said:

“I began to notice that I could get some control over my suffering by experimenting with the words I used to describe my experience. How I talked about my situation affected how I was feeling. Now, when I use different words with a more positive meaning, I can dispel my fears and negativity, and paint a brighter picture.”

A powerful phenomenon

There’s no denying the depression is a powerful phenomenon. It blights the lives of millions of people, and studies from around the world show that it’s becoming more common; a trend which looks set to continue.

But, changing the way you think and the way you describe your experience to yourself is also a powerful phenomenon.

The language you use shapes your reality. Language doesn’t cause depression, but how you think about life and your experience does (it’s called explanatory style). Change the thought and you change the feeling, and thoughts – when they are consciously chosen – are made up of words!

Making choices

Choosing to be “inconvenienced by…”, “distressed”, or “annoyed by”… is, in all probability, less powerful than ‘suffering’ (this has to do with what are called ‘affective connotations’, trust me).

Likewise, ‘depression’ is a powerful term but one that doesn’t mean much. It’s a concept that has different ways of appearing in different people. It’s handy shorthand, but that’s all. No two examples are the same; some experts talk about ‘depressions’ for this reason.

That’s why it’s a good idea to find different words for your depression, ones which describe the experience more accurately but also in a less damaging way. Once you’ve done that, start experimenting with other words which are even more benign, and see how you feel.

PS: If you get stuck with this wordplay, refer to a theasaurus:

Ideas for words to replace ‘depression’.
Ideas for words to replace ‘suffering’.

I’m a psychologist, coach, and therapist. All my work is aimed at enabling people to improve personal aspects of their lives and work.


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