Would I still be me? Language and Difficult experiences

Recently one of the young people I see here at Headspace Guildford asked me ‘Would I still be me if I grew up speaking a different language?”

It’s a really good question. What is the essence of us? What makes us who we are, with all the joys and struggles we experience on a daily/weekly/monthly/yearly basis. This young person was wondering if his life would be different and if he would have got so miserable if he’d been speaking another language. We do know that many things are not translatable – there are often words in one language that have no allegory in another language (There are many words for ‘snow’ in some countries where snow is quite prevalent). Feelings and pain are obviously already so emotive – is it really possible to accurately translate these?

It led us to a conversation about Social Constructivism and how what we say and how we say it constructs our world. It links to the ideas of narratives and how the stories we tell about ourselves and experiences shape our past and our future. Its a fascinating area. If we talk positively about a difficult experience, like struggling to make it through exams or deal with getting less than ideal results, does that make it a better experience? How can we process when things didn’t go our way.

We do know that sometimes talking to lots of people about a difficult experience can just end up with us feeling really stuck in difficulty with a thousand opinions and no idea which is the right way to go. We also know that talking about things – like in therapy – can actually change our brains (more on that another time!). Finally actionforhappiness.org and similar work tells us that counting our blessings – or thinking about what’s gone right/well/ok in the day can actually make a difference to our overall happiness.

So, if this was a tough week for you – maybe you got your A level results and they weren’t what you were expecting/hoping for, or maybe you got what you needed and are now processing the next steps for you, or maybe you’re deep into the summer holidays and bored/lonely/fed up? Or maybe you’re wallowing through work whilst others are enjoying the sun? Speaking a different language can’t change what’s happened but talking about it with someone who wants to listen can help you to process where you are and where you are heading. And thinking about what’s going well (The sun is shining? I’ve got a cold lemonade in the fridge? Bake off is on the TV tonight?) might just help you feel like today is managable. And hang in there if it doesn’t, because it will someday soon.

Take care x

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