Not long ago a new client, who had grown frustrated with her career progress, told me, “Things work out for other people, but they never work out for me.”
That vague, generalized statement led me to gently ask some questions: “What types of things work out for others? Which people? Can you think of a time something did work out for you? Can you focus more attention on that?”
My client who made the vague statement about things never working out was employing a type of generalized language pattern commonly used by all of us at times.
Generalizations, Distortions & Deletions
Such vague language patterns are called Generalizations, Deletions, and Distortions in Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) – an approach to personal development that addresses the connection of neurological processes, language, and behavioral patterns learned through our experiences.
When I catch clients making blanket generalizations like “Nobody cares about me,” I can employ NLP and other techniques to help them step out of their self-limiting stories and move into the vibration of attracting more of what they want into their life (to be more specific and to build upon what’s already working in their lives).
These Generalizations, Deletions and Distortions are a natural result of our limited ability to process vast amounts of information through our five senses.
As a result, we might generalize, drawing universal inferences based on one or two experiences (“You can never trust building contractors to do a good job”). We might distort information to mean something it may really not in a cause-effect way (“He never buys me flowers, so he doesn’t really love me”). And we might delete information that seems insignificant or conflicts with our existing frame of reference.
An example of Deletion would be saying “I’m a failure.” Instead of using the verb “failing” (and specifying the area of perceived underachievement), the noun “failure” serves as an overarching judgment. If you ever catch yourself talking to yourself along these lines, you could ask yourself some questions to fill in the deleted details, “How did I fail exactly? At what? Who says so? What am I good at? When have I been successful?”
Someone might have failed at starting their own restaurant, but been regularly successful in other areas of their life, such as school or parenting or physical fitness. It’s so unfair to ourselves to judge our self-worth (or that of others) through one facet of existence.
We all influence how we think, feel and behave through our self-talk, including the generalizations we make (“Politicians are corrupt” – Always? Everywhere?), the details we leave out (“He never listens to me” – About what? Never ever?), or the way we distort (“My boss yelled at me this morning, so she hates me” – Have you ever yelled at someone you didn’t hate?).
Out of linguistic necessity (not driving ourselves crazy with every nuance of meaning), we will continue to make Generalizations, Deletions, and Distortions. But we can become more aware of those that negatively impact our lives and begin using more vague language patterns (in the form of positive affirmations) that serve us well.
Vague language can actually be used in very empowering ways (i.e. “The Universe always supports me,” “My intuition is always on my side,” or “All animals love me”). But when you catch yourself engaging in language that is self-limiting, it’s likely time for some self-reflection.
Even what sounds empowering on the surface may be rooted in limitation. For example, another client, who had spent most of her life more focused on pleasing others than meeting her own needs, once shared her personal philosophy that “It’s so important to be good.”
While that sounds like a lovely idea, my intuition nudged me ask some follow-up questions about what being “good” meant to her. It turned out she’d associated goodness with things like taking up as little room in the world as possible and adjusting her personality to fit into jobs and situations that weren’t comfortable for her.
As the child of a single parent, the idea of being “the good girl” (causing as little grief as possible to a burdened mother) had led her to play small in a lot of areas of her life as an adult and actually disconnect from attracting what she wanted into her life.
In this client’s case, that statement that “It’s so important to be good” wasn’t so beneficial upon reflection, because for her it partly meant being boxed in by others’ needs and expectations, pleasing others much more than herself.
A much more helpful generalization for her as she progressed was to say, “It’s so important to be good, and I am also worthy of attracting great good into my life.”
You could empower yourself with thoughts and statements like: “I have unlimited potential. I am a natural winner. I allow others to be themselves. Everything I need comes to me at the right time.”
Your words have tremendous power in your life (including the ones you just say inside your head). So consider them carefully.
The Generalizations, Distortions, and Deletions we make can manifest in our belief systems. A few bad experiences in relationships, for example, could lead to the belief that “You can never depend on man.” These language patterns could also contribute to phobias (for example, “Dogs are dangerous”), if you regularly revisit the memory of a dog bite with a mental generalization.
What we focus on tends to flourish, manifesting in our experience. So next time you hear yourself saying or thinking a generalized negative statement, you can check in with yourself and ask, “Is this always the case? Does this idea really serve me well? Do I want this to continue to be true about my life?” Then you can reframe the thought with more specific language.
Now that you have enhanced awareness of these vague language patterns, you will likely be surprised how often you hear them used. I sometimes still catch myself saying them. But awareness is key to prevent them from becoming self-fulfilling prophesies.
Copyright, 2014, Wellspring Rejuvenation Center