5 Words That Sabotage And Hold You Back in Your Recovery

Words that sabotage recovery. Face leaning forward. An illustration.

Can words sabotage or undermine your recovery?

It’s easy to assume that someone who is a high achiever, excels in sport, school, or work seems to have it all together and is thriving and happy. But what goes on internally? Where does that drive come from?

Many of those struggling with eating disorders feel anxious, depressed, and not good enough and use their drive and perfectionism as a way to fix those ‘shortcomings’. Eating disorders thrive in such environments.

The more we talk about ourselves critically the more we deepen the grooves – the neural pathways – that generate low self-esteem and low self-confidence. Have you ever tried critiquing yourself into someone you can be proud of or accept more than the real you? Did it work? It never does. What to do instead?

It all starts with your words. The words you tell yourself on a daily basis. When you use positive words that encourage and validate who you are, a shift will happen. Are we talking about an immediate effect? No. Positive self-talk takes time and most importantly, lots of repetition

Below are 5 words that sabotage your recovery and empowering substitutes that you can use instead.

1. Never

Never is a common word we love to announce when we feel not so optimistic. In some ways, it buffers expectations and can be a form of protection: a way to stop yourself from being disappointed, let down, or taking any action at all by making the outcome certain.

However, the future does not exist in the present moment. Therefore, you do not know what the future holds until it arrives. To say “I never” has a negative and permanent connotation. In other words, it’s absolute and does not leave room for your future self to expand. We are always constantly changing and evolving. As time passes, so do your direction, abilities, and desires. When using this word often, you are sabotaging your recovery.

Instead, you can say things like “I’m open to” or “I’m learning” This leads to a growth mindset, and is less of an absolute, opening you up to possibilities you wouldn’t dare allow before.

2. Should

Are you sabotaging your recovery using this word? If there is one word to ban and erase from your memory bank, it is ‘should’. The word ‘should’ is a direct path to a merciless dialogue with your inner critic. “You should eat less. You should exercise more. You should be more organized. You should be more confident. You should be over this by now.” Stop shoulding on yourself. You don’t have to let your inner critic take you down with its overwhelming expectations and unrealistic demands. You might think being tough on yourself is necessary and will motivate you to do better. The opposite is true because “should” typically leads to shame, not to greater motivation. In other words, saying ‘should’ makes us feel worse about ourselves and we can’t build ourselves up when we’re cutting ourselves down.

Instead, you can say things like “It would be nice”, “It would support me”, or “It would be helpful if” This way, you will create space to compassionately meet life’s demands and go after the goals that are important to you and your soul’s highest growth.

3. I don’t know

Hear us out. This isn’t for when you don’t know the answer to a brow-sweating Jeopardy question or how social media algorithms actually work. If you don’t know the answer to a fact-based question, obviously it is best to say “I don’t know.” 

Green background with text on it and flower and headphone icons. On the side, a phone mockup showing a podcast player.

However, what we’re talking about here are the questions others ask you that impact you and your life. If it impacts you, you do want to have an opinion and a say. Often, we say “I don’t know” because we want to avoid seeming too assertive or we’re catering to others’ wants and desires. People pleasing, anyone? 

But while a fact-based question demands a right answer, more personal questions do not need nor do they have the ‘right’ answer. They only ask your answer, whatever it is. So, start your sentence with “What I know is…” Trust what comes out of your mouth. It could be “what I know is I’m still searching for more information before I decide.” Or “what I know is I’m tired and don’t want to make this decision right now.” With time and practice, you can drop the “what is” entirely and just go with what you know.

4. Sorry

We all know this situation. You bump into someone in the grocery store and you instinctively sputter out “sorry.” You say “sorry” before speaking, clarifying something with a colleague, or asking for a certain need. You might even say “sorry” for saying “sorry”!

We might believe that saying sorry helps us come across as sweet and caring people, but it’s actually sending the message that we lack confidence and fear taking up space. To be clear, we are not suggesting you should never again use the words “I’m sorry”. Showing empathy and owning our actions, especially if we’ve hurt someone, is a fundamental part of life.

Constant apologies, on the other hand, systematically diminish your power and self-confidence, especially when the words “I’m sorry” precede your relevant and worthwhile opinions. Instead, try to say “Thank you”, “I appreciate”, or “Hello”.

With this subtle shift, you speak more confidently, have a stronger presence, and can shower people with gratitude and appreciation – without the sorries.

5. I wish

In our childhoods, we heard a lot of “I wish”. Whether it was Aladdin rubbing a magic lamp, Snow White singing into a well, Pinocchio wishing upon a shooting star, or throwing quarters in a fountain… we’ve been inundated by the whimsical action of wishing for things to magically fall into place in our lives. Ultimately, while all of these are cute, fanciful ways to express a desire, they’re just that.

Wishes, however grand, are unbacked by an action plan. So by saying things ‘I wish I could recovery’ you are directly sabotaging your recovery assuming it will just happen. No one wants to really rely on a Genie, prince, star, or metaphorical well to grant us our desires in life. Instead, grow your deepest desires through realistic actions. Here’s what to say instead: “I will” By taking control with “I will”, you put yourself in the driver’s seat and give yourself options on how you can align yourself to fulfill your goals and dreams.

Changing the way you talk to yourself is hard and change won’t happen overnight. Working with a treatment team creates a safe environment to work on this.

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