A client came in and shared with me the challenging story of his young son being ill and hospitalized with the doctors unclear why the boy was ill and having seizures. Of course, this was a very upsetting time for him.
As he told me the story, he was talking about how his struggle with how he was handling the events, saying, “You wanna be a good dad, and a good husband...”
The thing is, *I* am not a dad. He was talking about himself, but using the pronoun “you.”
It's a common thing, I'm finding, and my clients are doing this with frequency.
“I dunno... you just get all jumbled in your head...”
“You get overwhelmed when there's so much pressure and obligation on you.”
“Of course, you want to have a good job with good benefits.”
“You know that when you drink red wine at night, you tend to snore.”
On one level, I get how when a client uses this language, it can be an attempt to connect with others, to help them feel like they're not alone in feeling that way. It is also common for American English speakers to use “you” instead of the purposefully non-specific “one,” as in “When one is trapped, one tends to lash out.”
However, more importantly, I'm pointing this out because many clients are not owning their stories. Using the pronoun “you” keeps them sitting in disempowerment and victimhood. If it's happening to “you” then it's not under my control. If this is “your” want, then it's not up to me to fulfill it.
When I told my client that I'm not a dad, he said, “Yea, well, you know what I mean.”
Yes, I knew what he meant, but he didn't really knew what he was saying. So when I had him repeat that, “I want to be a good dad,” it had a powerful effect on him. More emotion came up as he owned the story as his.
He felt his own sense of fear of not being there for his family, his sense of powerlessness, and his struggle to manage his own grief as he watched his son struggle.
That was freeing for him. Painful, for sure, but that simple switch from “You” to “I” opened the door for him to feel his deeper emotions and process them. It freed him from the energy it took to run from how he was actually feeling. He was able to take responsibility for his own feelings and for what he was and was not able to do.
It may seem trivial, but it is a powerful thing to use the pronoun “I” instead of “you.” I invite you to notice where you may get caught using “you” instead of “I” when talking about yourself, and to make a conscious effort to alter the way you speak about – and identify with – the story of your life.