Pain-to-Power Vocabulary, Holiday Edition

Adapted from the works of Susan Jeffers, Ph.D.

After having to have subdued holiday celebrations last year, or none at all, this year most of us will be able to scale up our holiday festivities to pre-pandemic proportions—which might be putting some extra pressure on us to create the perfect holiday celebration. Whether it’s outside pressure from family and friends or internal pressure from ourselves, we need to remember not to “should” ourselves and let go of our picture of how things “should” be.

In fact, it is a good time to revisit Susan’s lesson in Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway about “Pain-to-Power Vocabulary.” We all remember Susan’s Pain-to-Power chart and how it can help us to move from a place of anger and fear to one of power and loving. But how many of us remember the following lesson about changing our daily language from “weak” words to “powerful” words?

As Susan describes it, “To help you on your pain-to-power path, it’s important that you begin to develop a Pain-to-Power Vocabulary. The way you use words has a tremendous impact on the quality of your life. Certain words are destructive; others are empowering.”

           I can’t – I won’t
           I should – I could 
           It’s not my fault – I’m totally responsible 
           It’s a problem – it’s an opportunity 
           I hope – I know

When we say “I can’t” we are saying that we have no control over our lives. If we say “I won’t,” we are giving ourselves choice. When we say “I should” we are again implying that we have no choice, only obligation. “Shoulds” make us feel guilty and stressed. Whereas “I could” gives us choice, gives us accountability and power to make our own decisions.

How many of us use “should” far too often during the holidays? I should get a gift for my coworker. I should call my aunt to make sure she’s coming for dinner. We should go to that neighbor’s party. I should get the kids another present.

There is something about the holiday season that makes us forget that we are powerful with the ability to handle anything. We don’t have any time, we need things to be perfect, there are extra demands from family and friends, not to mention all the extra duties for work and home that come at the end of the year.

It is so easy to forget that we do have control, maybe not over what is happening around us, but we do have control over our reactions. As Susan wrote, “You are innately designed to use your personal power. When you don’t, you experience a sense of helplessness, paralysis, and depression—which is your clue that something is not working as it could. You, like all of us, deserve everything that is wonderful and exciting in life. And those feelings emerge only when you get in touch with your powerful self.”

So, let’s work on that! Here are some painful, weak phrases that we all have thought (or are thinking) during the holiday season and phrases that make us feel powerful:

      I don’t have any time – I will prioritize better
      Nothing is going right – 
               These are only small setbacks 
      I want things to be perfect – 
               I want things to be enjoyable 
      I can’t get this done in time – 
               I will do as much as I can
      Everybody wants something from me – 
               There are a lot of needy people and I will do
               what I can to help 
      If I do this maybe they will be happy – 
               I’m not responsible for anyone’s happiness
               but my own 
      I can’t do all of this – I know I can handle it

“Begin eliminating the terribles, can’ts, problems, struggles, and so on from your vocabulary. Maybe these semantic differences seem trivial, but I assure you, they are not. Not only does your sense of yourself change with a more powerful vocabulary, so also does your presence in the world,” wrote Susan.

What vocabulary do you use that leaves you in a place of powerlessness? How can you change those words to become more powerful? Keep this in mind for the next month to understand how the words you choose can change your outlook, can take you from a place of stress and helplessness to a position of calm and control.

Susan said it best, “Whether it feels like it or not, you already have more power than you could ever have imagined. We all have. When I speak of going from pain to power, I am not talking about pulling the power in from any outside source. Inside of you, just waiting to emerge, is an incredible source of energy, which is more than sufficient for you to create a joyful and satisfying life. It isn’t magic. It is only a process of tapping the energy already there, though you are not aware of it.”