Reframing Negative Experiences Through Role Play

by Stefanie M Smith

When looking at the transformative uses of language we usually focus on the potential for positive changes rather than the negative for obvious reasons. Recently however, I was in a situation when I was unable to avoid watching the negative aspects of language at work.

What was unfolding before me was narcissistic behaviour at play; one party in a relationship using negative language and actions to systematically demolish the other’s self-belief. It was obviously distressing to observe not only because I care deeply about the person being treated this way, but also because it was very triggering for myself as a survivor of psychological abuse.

I was observing the way in which negative speech flows over a person completely, looking for any little chinks or weaknesses, in the way water flows over stone looking for the weakest point to flow through. In a way it is like watching a mosaic being disassembled as tiny fragments that once made up the whole are broken away. At one point I was physically shaking which surprised me as I felt I had dealt with most of my shadow demons.

So how do I relate this to TLA practice? And how can I use language skills to improve my sense of well-being?

It felt almost as if I was watching my own mistreatment from above, and this distance allowed me to examine it more closely. I realised that the reason I had been unable to completely overturn the effects of my own psychological abuse was because they had bedded deeply within me, and whilst I felt that all the work had been done, in effect there was still a small nugget of damage lying within me; much like the Pea in the Princess’s bed and despite all the layers of work I’d done; much as the many mattresses the Princess slept upon; I was still suffering the discomfort.

Once I understood this, I decided the best way forward was to role play some of my past situations, and as I did so subtly change my responses. It’s really like the way that you only think of the smart retort just after the person you wanted to rebuff has walked away, only by role playing and rewinding the situation you can rewrite the experience that is left in your brain. Rather than just thinking ‘what if I’d said/done this’ by role playing you are actually saying/doing that in a way that your brain accepts as a new reality and makes you more able to react positively in similar situations in the future. It is a very similar process to cognitive reframing.

So that is exactly what I did. I first reviewed my past experiences and picked out the ones that still gave me a pang of regret or a bit of a jolt when I thought of them. I then found myself some quiet space and replayed them in my head, watching them unfold like a movie, when the triggering section appeared I watched it in my head, then rewound it to insert a more appropriate and assertive response. For example, when my ex would choose to belittle me just before guests were due to arrive, my usual response was just to hang my head and accept what he was saying rather than to challenge him and disagree; this was because I thought I could just ignore his words and in doing so not cause an atmosphere when our friends were there. In reality though the words had got inside me and begun to chip away at my self confidence. In my replay, rather than just back away from the situation, I chose instead to stand up for myself, look him in the eye and challenge his opinion of me.

It felt so empowering to take this stance as I went through each incidence of damage that had been done and systematically drawing it out and repairing each piece in turn, it was like finally becoming a Master Mason of my own self!

I would really recommend that you take the time to review some of your past interactions that may have left a negative impact on your self belief, and role-play them out to a more positive finale.

(Editor’s Note: This is Stefanie’s fourth blog post in fulfillment of her Transformational Language Arts Certificate.)

stefanieStefanie M Smith, is a 47 year old former nurse and qualified hypnotherapist who has lived in Lincolnshire, UK, since childhood. Unfortunately in 2009 her health took a nosedive, and she now deals with fibromyalgia, depression and other chronic health conditions on a daily basis. During this enforced rest period, Stefanie has been able to re-ignite her love of the written word, especially poetry and will shortly having a selection of her poems published in an anthology. Having noticed a marked benefit to her health through her own writing practice, Stefanie is now re-training in the therapeutic and transformational uses of language with the aim of sharing this phenomenal tool with others.

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