The language we use to describe our experiences can reveal a great deal about how we view life, ourselves and others, and words can be powerful forces in and of themselves.
Researchers at the University of Michigan became curious about the use of one rather unremarkable word in particular: ‘you’.
Though most commonly employed in reference to others, the pronoun is also curiously used when people reflect on their most personal and intense experiences. Turns out, ‘you’ is an overlooked word that people use to cope with and make meaning from negative experiences.
According to Ariana Orvell, a doctoral student in the Department of Psychology and the study’s lead author:
“When people use ‘you’ to make meaning from negative experiences, it allows them to ‘normalize’ the experience and reflect on it from a distance.”
For example, using the phrase ‘you win some, you lose some’ expresses a failure in a situation, but using the word ‘you’ instead of ‘I’ allows the person to convey the idea that this failure could happen to anyone. It moves the experience from the personal to the shared or universal.
“Or saying that ‘when you are angry, you say and do things that you will most likely regret’ might actually explain a personal situation, but the individual attempts to make it something many people relate to,” Orvell explained.
This selective use of the word ‘you’ is a wonderful example of a popular technique in NLP which makes use of words, visuals and other senses to allow an individual to deliberately access a more resourceful, bigger-picture state of mind. Its purpose is to provide a feeling of safe distance from an emotionally charged or challenging situation in order to gain insight and perspective.
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