A recent blog post caught my eye. It asked: if you speak multiple languages, do you need multiple therapists?
Language Is Cultural
The conclusion was that there are some things which can only be said and understood in a particular language with a cultural background to match. Therefore, only someone who speaks the same language can fully understand you.
This idea that some words just don’t translate goes part way to explaining why English has adopted certain foreign words outright. For example, Zeitgeist is ‘the defining spirit or mood of a particular period of history as shown by the ideas and beliefs of the time’. Or Schadenfreude: ‘pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune’.
Now, you may be saying that, given we adopted these words, we have the same experience. Is that true, though?
Let’s take the example of hospitality. Yes, English has the word, as do most languages. What do you mean by it, though?
In certain cultures and times, hospitality has meant that you should offer to wash your guest’s feet, or allow them to sleep with one of your wives. At other times, in other cultures, it includes allowing a stranger to camp in your garden, or offering tea and sandwiches in the parlor to people you have already been introduced to while strangers may get some broth in the kitchen with the servants.
These kind of cultural differences can even be seen within a single country. Hospitality in London is surely a different beast to hospitality in the Outer Hebrides.
I would argue that it goes further than this, though.
Imagine a close friend who considers loyalty a paramount value. To him, this means always supporting friends and family.
While you may respect loyalty, what if independence is a more important value to you? That might mean following the dictates of your beliefs, whether those agree with your friend’s or not.
If your friend ran for an election, he would consider that you must vote for him out of loyalty. However, if you believed another candidate would be better for the job, you would vote for them and consider this good sense, rather than disloyalty.
What you mean by loyalty and what your friend means by loyalty are different, even though you come from the same culture.
The point is this: even if you speak the same language as someone else, you still may not mean the same thing with the words that you use. A lot of misunderstandings come from this.
Whether this is two partners who mean different things when they say I love you, or a work colleague whose notion of ‘soon’ doesn’t match your expectations, language can be a strange barrier.
Getting clear about how and where misunderstandings are happening can be really liberating. Realising that you can work things out by changing your language, or explaining what you mean by a particular word, can seem silly and simple. Yet, sometimes simple is the best way to go.
It can be interesting to have a coach or therapist whose first language is not the same as your own, precisely because you become more aware of this potential for misunderstanding. Still, you don’t need to find someone from another country to benefit from coaching.
The Meta-Model is a theory of language used as a coaching tool, and a way of exploring what is really going on for you. Digging into what words mean, for you and for others, can help you find a better way to move forward. It can also be extremely powerful to help you understand what your core values are: so that you can then get them met.
After all, if you don’t truly understand what you want, you don’t know how to go about it, and may not even recognise when you find it.
Another factor is actually being able to communicate without unhelpful emotions or inner dialogues getting in the way.
Hypnosis is a wonderful way to tame your inner demons so that you don’t sabotage yourself. For example, it can help you to change a belief like “I have no luck with job interviews”. In part, it can do this through exploring what you mean by not being lucky, and by boosting your self-esteem and self-confidence. It can also help you to rehearse interview situations and practice how to show yourself to best effect, all within your imagination.
To take another example, that of a romantic couple. In hypnosis you might explore how something your partner says that really upsets you is linked to events in your past. You can heal that past event by revisiting it in your imagination and applying resources from the present day. These resources will then serve you in your current situation.
Successfully communicating what you really mean, and not falling into misunderstanding others, can make your life go much more smoothly. The first part of this is to clarify where the issues are arising, finding the linguistic and cultural aspects that have led to issues. The second part is to change how you interact with others, by changing your perspective and approach. In this way, you understand yourself and others better, and achieve your goals in a more satisfying way.