By Gina Calhoun
What we say is not always what others hear. Words and phrases can hold different meanings or interpretations for everyone, which is why active listening is so important.

snowflakesI’m Dreaming of a White Christmas . . .

 The Weather Outside is Frightful . . .

Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow . . .

Catchy Tunes – Mixed Emotions. In addition to these catchy tunes, there is a catchy saying that many have heard that goes something like this: Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. Or the updated version, Sticks and Stones may break my bones and words can hurt my heart. You read the first saying and think, words hold no power. You read the second and think, words hold all the power. Let’s take a closer look.
Gina and Rachel CalhounAll people do not feel words equally. We each react or respond to words according to our life experiences and background. What may be a positive word for one person may be negative for another. I will give you an example. Last year it snowed 10 inches in my hometown. As a person that lives in the rolling hills of Pennsylvania, the word snow can bring up lots of different reactions and responses. I hear the word snow and naturally gain a sense of purpose. My husband and I have a shoveling ministry. We join with others to make sure that the older adults in our neighborhood have clear, salted driveways. When my Mom hears the word snow, she gets very anxious because driving in the snow is not something she likes to do, especially after getting stuck in a snow bank a few years ago. When my Dad hears the word snow, he is curious. We live in the woods and Dad can track animals better with snow cover. As a photographer, he can capture the animals’ beauty on the white tree-lined background. And when my little sister hears the word snow, she is overly excited as we have a 1-mile sled-riding track down the side of our mountain. Purpose, Anxiety, Curiosity and Excited all from the word snow – it is a matter of perspective.

How you use language and the language you use are often issues in Peer Support.
Peer Supporters are mindful and intentional in their use of language. They use language that supports mutuality, and gives the clear message that neither of you is the expert, especially on each other, that you are working together to find answers and strategies that work for you and move you forward.

Excerpt from WRAP and Peer Support Handbook
by Mary Ellen Copeland PhD
(NEW Book to be published in early 2016)

Words can bring up lots of different feelings based on our experiences. The holiday season is a season filled with words of wellness for some and a season of dread for others. T’is the Season to be Jolly, makes one person smile and another person cry. How then do we deal with our relationships when our emotions are so mixed?
It starts with active listening; Listening not only for the words being spoken, but also for the feelings behind the words. Then, by using language to show you understand the other person or by trying to understand the other person from their point of view. It requires curiosity and a willingness to be open to seeing another point of view. Then we can choose words and language that create connection and spread Hope.
My hope for everyone this holiday season and into the New Year, is that the words we speak and the songs we sing help everyone to feel happy, healthy and loved.
Looking to learn more about developing listening & communication skills?
Check out these great WRAP resources:
Wellness Recovery Action Plan   FamilyWrapCover   WRAP Plus

Gina Calhoun is the National Director for Wellness & Recovery Education for the Copeland Center for Wellness and Recovery. She is a certified peer support specialist and has had the opportunity to be part of 16 certified peer specialist training sessions, 7 certified peer specialist supervisor training sessions and 45 WRAP training sessions.