I remember watching Mary Poppins for the first time. I was eight or nine, and the movie impacted me on a few different levels. I loved the music and the singing. I envied the kids for having someone who cared for and about them. And I loved the nonsense word I was introduced to:
What a fabulous word, isn’t it? I loved the challenge of it. I spent days practicing saying the word, both in my mind and out loud, until I’d perfected it and decided to move on to learning to spell the monstrosity. And once I’d accomplished my goals, I was incredibly proud of myself.
But, man, getting to that point was tough! If you did the same thing when you were younger, you understand what I mean. You practiced a few syllables at a time, but then you had to quit after a while and come back to it because the sounds stopped making sense. And then you came back and suddenly you were stumbling over a part of the word that you’d thought you already mastered.
Remember how frustrating that was? It was so tempting to just throw my hands in the air, give up, and move on to something else. But I was determined, so I started over again, and I went through this cycle until I’d truly mastered the entire thing. Nowadays, I don’t have to think twice about how the word is pronounced. It’s much easier to say because of all the practice I put in before.
But it certainly wasn’t easy to say at first.
And while that word may be easy to say now, other words aren’t. I know, shocking considering how much I love language and words, but it’s true. Though likely not for the reasons you think.
Some things are harder to say because of what they mean.
There are phrases that are so unbelievably easy to pronounce, but immeasurably difficult to say. I’ll share with you a few of the ones that give me the most trouble.
Thank you. This one has plagued me for as long as I can remember. But, oddly enough, it’s only in certain situations. For example, if someone does something nice for me, I can’t say thank you quickly enough or too many times. But if someone tells me my hair looks good, or my outfit is flattering, or I did a great job with a project at work, or that my writing was beautiful, my tongue refuses to function.
Other person: “Katherine, you did such a lovely job of putting together this presentation and drafting the copy for it!”
Me: “Th-th… Oh, it’s really not that great, if you want me to change it, I will. I’m not great with graphics, I’m sorry about that.”
You’re welcome. This one might seem strange, but hear me out. When you say “you’re welcome” to someone, you are acknowledging that you’ve done something nice for them. But I struggle with this concept because I feel like I owe something to everyone.
Other person: “Thank you so much for cancelling your plans with your friends to help me finish this project I was behind on, Katherine.”
Me: “Y-Y… Oh, sure, of course, it was nothing, really. I’m sorry I couldn’t have helped you more. I didn’t feel like I really did anything.”
No. I think this one is pretty common; a lot of us struggle with saying no, with setting boundaries between what is and what isn’t okay. For most of my life, I’ve been that person who never says no, despite any cost to my personal life.
So what do we do?
Figure out the why.
We’ve all seen those movies with an over-the-top dramatic moment when the protagonist is sitting in an office with terrible art on the walls, an offensively unattractive and uncomfortable-looking sofa on which a person is lying down with their arm flung over their forehead. Sitting nearby is the stereotypical therapist, brows pinched in concentration and clutching a clipboard and pen. The therapist is prodding the patient verbally until the patient suddenly shouts out something revelatory that the therapist knew the whole time, but the patient hadn’t been able to see. Then the patient bolts upright as the therapist smiles and nods.
You’ve seen movies like that, right? It’s over-dramatized, of course. Way over-dramatized. Comically so. I mean—come on—that kind of stuff doesn’t happen in real life.
Except… that it did to me.
I was sitting in my therapist’s office and talking about why I have so much trouble with the words above, trying to get to the root of the issue. She kept asking me, “Okay, but why?” to the point I was beginning to wonder if she was really my toddler in disguise. I was becoming increasingly agitated as I responded, trying to find different ways of saying the same things and then suddenly I shouted, “Because everyone is more deserving than I am!”
That alone was my epiphany moment, happening just like it does in the movies. But then, she asked one more question.
“Do you love yourself?”
I sputtered a bit and then told her that of course I did. So she told me to say it out loud. To say, “I love myself.”
I couldn’t do it. It was that moment that I realized that I didn’t love myself the way I should. And that was exactly why I had so much trouble with the other things I couldn’t say. Because I had to be able to say, “I love myself” first.
Practice, practice, practice!
That day kicked off an admittedly awkward-feeling period where I would force myself to stand in front of a mirror and look at myself in the face while saying, “I love you.” I couldn’t do it at first—hell, I couldn’t even think the words. But I made myself look in the mirror anyway and keep trying. Just like when I learned how to say supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, I refused to give up.
Eventually, I was able to think it. And then say it.
I still have those days where I seem to regress and get tripped up when I thought I had mastered that part of my self-love. I still have trouble with my other words, saying “thank you” and “you’re welcome” and “no”. I still sometimes need to sit down and physically write out the reasons I AM worthy.
But just like anything else, it’s getting easier with practice, and I’m getting better at it. Because, with enough practice, it will no longer be the hardest thing to say.
This Valentine’s Day, I challenge you to give and show love to the most important person in your life:
Stand in front of your mirror, look yourself in the eye, and say, “I love you.”
Katherine Turner is the author of Finding Annie, a contemporary romantic women’s fiction novel that explores the power of love and human resilience in the wake of trauma and abuse. She blogs about mental health, trauma, and ways we can be more compassionate as a society. Sign up for her newsletter to stay up to date and get the first five chapters of her novel Finding Annie free!