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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Who Am I – Unravelling Myself with Words

by Stefanie M Smith

Since I discovered the TLA Network and taken some classes I have begun to use journaling and creative writing more consistently, and one of the biggest issues that it is helping me to unpick is the jumbled knot within my mind shaped in part by the perennial question – Who Am I?

Like most people there have been many names, roles and titles that can, and have, been applied to me over the years, and like most people (I suspect) I have gotten tied up in knots over the presumptions and expectations titles can place on us or that they help us to place on ourselves. These expectations can have a big impact on our mental wellbeing.

In my professional life I have been many things: legal secretary, bank clerk, PA, project co-ordinator, nurse, hypnotherapist, reiki therapist, whilst in my personal life the various roles I experienced are sadly not all as positive and sometimes the edges between them blur a little too.

In my early life I was a great adventurer travelling with my father behind the Iron Curtain into the then Communist Czechoslovakia, and later to the Netherlands. Sadly my role of adventurer was to end when my father was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, passing away when I was 10; the remainder of my childhood became unrecognisable as I became the daughter of an alcoholic mother and the victim of incestuous sexual abuse. I left home as soon as I could and rushed headlong away from this into becoming girlfriend, wife, mother, victim of psychological abuse which inevitably led to new roles: divorcee and depressive single mother.

Being the mother of two small children who needed me, I did what people do; I picked myself up and started again, trying to pretend this blip never happened, ignoring the push to look inwards and heal. I managed to keep my life on a very basic level: work, pay bills, feed the kids, repeat. I found a new partner and a new career, retraining as a nurse, and everything seemed to muddle along nicely.
Then I got ill.

Yet again I found myself grieving the loss of a career. One I truly loved and was heavily invested in. It was part of me I was part of it. I was a nurse but then suddenly I wasn’t. It was really difficult to separate the two and I found depression striking me down again, but this time my mental health issues came on top of my physical difficulties, lengthening my recovery considerably. Yet again I realise, in hindsight, that I had allowed the role of nurse to merge into my identity, if it was part of me rather than just something I did, how could I leave it behind?

So there I was aged 40 and living with fibromyalgia, a chronic health condition comprising elements of pain, fatigue and depression. At first I allowed myself to sink to new depths of despair, wondering what to do with my life, what had brought me to this point. I was initially ready to blame any external sources I could find. Then I realised I wanted out of those depths; despite several attempts at rising from the ashes with the help of my friends and partner, talking therapies and anti-depressants, I always had seemed to stumble back down at some point, never quite escaping the roles that seemed to taunt me; Victim, Failure.

I needed to find a new route, one I could walk by myself.

There are many theories behind the causes of Fibromyalgia but some recent studies seem to highlight a link to childhood trauma, which in my case could explain a lot. I hadn’t realised that by blocking out the traumatic events of my later childhood I had built a barrier in my mind that also blocked out earlier, presumably happier memories. I had cancelled out a large portion of my life; giving me very shaky foundations to build upon. It was what I had needed to do to survive at that time, but now I recognised that I needed to go back into my past root out and explore those traumas, finally laying them to rest in order that I could begin to move forwards.

When I first went in search of those memories all I found was a tangled mess of abuse, neglect and trauma. Slowly though, with the support of my partner and by working through some TLAN classes I managed to begin to unravel some of the snarled up threads, gaining glimpses of new memories, insights into my story, and the more I explore, the more I see. I had rediscovered my love of writing and I realised it was providing me with a coping mechanism, and helping me to finally reject the roles of Victim and Failure. I had unintentionally discovered the growing field looking at the therapeutic benefits of writing.

And now: I journal; when I get upset, I unravel my emotions in words; I recall some small snippet – I jot it down; I read my words back, I write poetry; if I get stuck, I journal about being stuck ……. and so it goes on, each word written, either on its own or in conjunction with many, uncovers another piece of my mystery. So for me journaling has most definitely been the way forward in discovering Who I Am.

Editor’s note: This is Stefanie’s third 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.

Unpicking The Wound With Words

by Stefanie M Smith

It’s over a year since I first discovered the Transformative Language Arts Network. I’d been looking for a class I could take online fore self-development, and having always had a love of language; it was only natural that I decided to look at some language classes. Little did I know what an amazing transformative tool I had discovered.

Now as the current class I am taking comes to a close, I have decided to take some time to reflect on just how far I have come.

I previously saw myself as a failure; I was 46, disabled – in pain both mentally and physically, and I was mourning my nursing career. I felt totally overlooked by society as a whole and that my voice was no longer relevant or important.

I realise now that some of my insecurities and lack of self-belief were due to the abuse I had been a victim of whilst I was growing up, combined with my mother’s lack of belief about the abuse when I tried to tell her about it. I had had no real validation throughout much of my childhood, however this realisation only truly came to me during my second TLA class – Wound Dwelling: Writing the Survivor Bodies with Jennifer Patterson. The class description had called out to me so strongly that I just had to take it, and I am so glad that I did.

One of the writing prompts from the first week asked us to do a free write based on a piece by Leslie Jamison – beginning from: “here is a [person] who is almost entirely wound…” It was an uncomfortable prompt for me but I decided it was something I needed to tackle head on, and this is an extract from what I wrote.

If I describe myself as Wound – what does that look like – what do I look like as Wound? If I close my eyes and think about how deeply I am wounded I can see a deep deep pressure sore – there at my base – on first look it seems small and neat but then on closer examination I can see that it goes Waaayyyy deep – right around and behind my spine – I could pack it with fibres to try and draw out the stinking pus and allow the edges of the wound begin to close in – but what I choose to do time after time – even though I know it won’t help me heal – is to patch it over & cover it with a sticking plaster – let the surface heal – and try to ignore the deep set rotting that carries on underneath – it looks pretty like that – in the same way that I choose to use a smile to hide my pain- but time and again without warning the rot – the pain – rises to the surface and breaks back through – a slimy ooze trickles through the flesh and releases my secret again. The stench a nose wrinkling smell that drags me back down to the depths.

This is not the story I want my wound to tell – I want to heal it properly from the inside out – not just allow the surface to heal – then break – then heal again in a never ending cycle.

My Wound – its’ story should follow a more linear path – the edges growing granulation – slowly steadily safely – letting new tissue – healed flesh working its’ way up – replacing the stinking pus – growing the pain and hurt out – yes there will be a scar – but scar tissue has its’ own strength – and once this Wound is closed properly – with honesty and revelations – it will not be broken down again – of this I am sure……….

It felt like I had gained a powerful new insight into my inner turmoil with just this one small piece of writing. I was amazed both at myself and at the process and it led me to challenge myself more over the duration of the class, each week coming to a new understanding of myself and my healing journey. This was just the first step of many along the path to a newly healed soul.


Editor’s note: This is Stefanie’s first blog in fulfillment of her Transformational Language 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.