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  • Matt Breton

Words Matter

Updated: Jun 22, 2020

"Words matter."

I say that a lot to my colleagues at work.

In the world of physical therapy, the word 'fix' comes up a lot. It just doesn't happen. I might help your body along, elicit a response that encourages healing, or give your nervous system some input that helps you feel better....but never fix. I listen and hear things that give me clues, too. When someone wants me to 'fix' them, quite literally asking for that, they are often out of hope, have no plan, feel like a victim. A tough spot, to be sure. So we begin, together, the process of healing.

The especially tough cases have little obvious anatomically wrong - old bodily injuries have healed and yet the pain remains. In these cases there are often deeper things going on - past traumas, sensitized nervous systems, fears, habits and patterns that exist on such an unconscious level that the person is often unaware of the role that these things play. And while the issues of the past are rarely the fault of the patient, addressing the fallout is entirely on them. Dealing with these underlying issues requires safety and trust, over a long time, exposure and caring, and a willingness to change. I often talk about scars, physical and psychological, and that while those marks are evidence of trauma, they also become part of what makes us who we are, part of our story, which we are ever in the process of writing.

When I zoom out and look at our country right now, I start to consider its peopleness - that we, Americans, collectively have a body, a consciousness, and subconscious. I feel like we are dealing now with the realization of past trauma informing how we currently feel, and that we are wrestling with it. The current challenges have brought up the old, unresolved issues. All the stages of grief associated with that process apply. Watch the news and you'll see and hear them - Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression. Maybe someday, Acceptance.

And like any good patient, different parts of our mind play different roles at different times with different goals. None of the parts are necessarily better or worse, or right or wrong, because what is being said reflects the truth of the moment for that part and that particular trauma. When viewed from another part, with different goals in mind, it can come across as callused, weak, silly, or simply wrong. In that moment, the conversation around the traumas and feelings breaks down. We are speaking different languages, using words that sound the same, expecting someone outside to 'fix' what can only be addressed inside. Without looking inward, the trauma goes unaddressed. And the pain persists.

The words around everything going on are fraught with danger and missteps that, as someone who thinks words matter, trying to get them right leaves my tongue tied. So I'll look inward and try to figure out how I can address the old traumas that weren't my fault, but that are now my, and our, responsibility. It will be a slow process. I'll try to listen to the voices on the many sides of the issues, with caring and compassion, to maybe reach some new level of healing.

The scars make us who we are...

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Rick Reed
Jun 21, 2020

Thanks for a very thoughtful reflection, relating your profession to the challenging times we all face. We're all in this together, with very different life experiences. I think each of us, ultimately, is responsible for what we do based upon what we know. Personal responsibility is the big difference maker. Reading pieces such as this helps my "knowing". Thank You.

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