Let's all choose conscious communication

Dr. Cortina McCurry

Let’s all choose conscious communication.

Conscious communication is the intentional and purposeful awareness of our words, body language, and energy. For the purposes of this article I will cluster these all under the banner of "language" or "communication". Both language and communication are learned social and cultural constructs. And our language has power.

I made a decision recently to only use language that did not undermine my own perspective or sense of self. Easier said than done. I’m still catching myself with little things here and there which are so ingrained that they have become verbal habits. Only upon closer evaluation did I realise that my everyday communication could be damaging - to myself and to others. 

Now that I have become aware I am noticing things everywhere. From seemingly innocent terms such as feminine hygiene and sanitary napkins (my brain immediately begins wondering why feminine? Why hygiene? Why sanitary?) to the continuous tendency to say “I’m sorry” or “I just” or insert “not sure if I am making sense” when I am 100% sure that I am making sense. 

All of these things have an impact. On the one hand, they can be hurtful and exclusive for those of us who may not necessarily identify with feminine anything. They can trigger feelings of shame with terms that evoke images of uncleanliness, disease, or infection. And in our own communication we may find ourselves self sabotaging in our speech and our writing in a way that makes us come across as less confident or competent than we actually are. 

“I’m no expert but”.... Another popular phrase used by many of us and an example of how we might unconsciously undermine our own credibility in an effort to be “inclusive” or make others feel safe. I try to stay away from this verbal tic. In particular when I am discussing topics related to the mind and body. I am an expert. I have a doctorate in neuroscience and I am deeply familiar with the mechanisms of the brain, synaptic plasticity, and how repeated exposure to anything from language, to substances, to relationships - all of it - can result in habits. And it’s time we became more conscious about what it is we are choosing. I should add that research has shown that men also use many of these terms however the way in which they are perceived as a result is very different from how women are perceived. 

Ask yourself, who’s language are you using to talk about your body? And what impact might it be having on the way in which you perceive your own body, cycle, and even the products that you choose to consume? How might the language you use be reinforcing stereotypes or taboos? Where might you be choosing language that is restricting your own personal power and voice? Where might your language be restricting others?

Where I am currently growing and expanding is my relationship to the phrase “I’m sorry”. Suddenly last year I became aware of the frequency which I found myself apologising. For anything and everything. “I’m sorry but I wanted to share a perspective”, “I’m sorry” for taking longer than 30 seconds to load a screaming toddler and two babies into the car so you can take my parking spot. “I’m sorry” for taking more than 5 seconds to find my credit card while checking out at the grocery store. The kicker for me was when I found myself constantly apologising to the doctor that had left my stitches in for weeks after I had hemorrhaged at birth. When I called to inform him I apologised for disturbing him. I apologised for finding the stitches and being confident that I could feel them even when he denied that he could have done such a thing. I apologised for making him question his own abilities, own up to a mistake and I even felt the need to protect his ego. He never once apologised to me for literally damaging my body. But I felt the need to apologise to him for taking up space in my pursuit to get the stitches out, to have removed what ultimately turned out to also be a drain tube left in, and to get my body healed. 

Within the women’s health space (phrasing we are taking a closer look at by the way) there is a lot of conversation around the appropriate language to use in order to be inclusive to nonbinary or trans individuals. In particular around menstruation. I don’t think we are going to solve this once and for all in this article. It is a conversation that requires many voices and points of view to get to a resolution but I will throw out three phrases that make me cringe and that are being used by brands in an attempt to make themselves appear inclusive.

The first is referring to the people who might use a brand's products as “menstruators”. It feels dehumanizing. As if someone has decided in an anxious effort to be inclusive to reduce me down to a bodily function.

The second is the use of the term "womxn" as the new gender inclusive phrasing. It may work for some but who gets to say it works for all? When I first came across it I was made to believe it was a term that had been created by the trans community. We even toyed with using it at Caia. For some reason it wasn't sitting well with me so I did a bit more research. I discovered that it was intended as an inclusive term that was meant to encompass not just trans women but black women as well. Upon reading this, I did a full side eye at the computer screen. Who was coming up with these terms? And since when are black women not included in the word women? Did someone forget to give me a memo? And to take this a bit further, I am stumped - why should a trans woman be assumed to not be included in the term "women" if they have made the choice to use it?

The last thing I will flag is phrasing such as “people with ovaries” or "people with uteruses". Sure, they have their place. However, when the intent from brands is that this phrasing acts as a banner for "inclusivity" of all it comes across as myopic to the realities of the very customers they are serving. Many people who identify as women do not have uteruses or ovaries...anymore. When a friend of mine was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and went through chemotherapy she made a big decision. She knew she wanted to have children and to be a mother so she froze embryos in advance of her chemotherapy. She didn’t want to risk the cancer returning and not being a part of her children’s life. So she had a complete hysterectomy. She had her fallopian tubes removed. And her ovaries. 

You may be wondering does any of this matter? Yes, it does immensely. Words become thoughts and thoughts become beliefs. By practicing conscious communication it opens you up to be curious and to question the status quo. Not only are you forming a new habit, but you are reclaiming your own power and supporting others to do the same.