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The Language of a Man's Worth

How to keep men engaged in treatment.

 愚木混株 Cdd20/Pixabay
Source: 愚木混株 Cdd20/Pixabay

In my early years of working with men in addiction recovery, I observed a lack of authentic desire to engage in treatment. I got curious about how they showed up, their stance, and their language—in most part, all three had an air of placating, as oppose to a depth of individual choice, especially in a group setting. So I started asking them, “What’s going on?”

The inquiry usually led to an internal discrepancy: a confusion about who they think they are, who others think they are, and who they want to be.

One client informed me, “I’m an addict.”

“Do you want to be?” I asked.

“No,” he answered.

“Then why do you call yourself an addict?”

“Because they told me.”

“Who's they?”—and we started exploring the discrepancy.

It’s not right or wrong. Discrepancy simply makes it hard to direct change.


I remember a story about three monks who took their three different perspectives (about the same subject) to the Big Monk. The Big Monk said to the first monk, “Yes, you’re right.” And to the second monk, “Yes, you’re right.” And the third monk was right.

Research supports the disease model of addiction. Research supports the learning model of addiction. Research also supports mindfulness in substance abuse recovery. [1]

The rightness is; what’s right for you?

The Language of Perspective.

One perspective of the disease model is understanding the adolescent brain at the time of addiction. It’s fair research, however, I’ve seen it presented in a way that degrades an adult’s self-worth by using the language, "Addicts have the mind of a teenager." I’ve witnessed this language in professional meetings; where the patient’s goals, desires, and actions are dismissed as a means of saying, "They don’t know better, they're drug addicts."

This is what some (more than I'd like to witness) addiction professionals say behind closed doors—as they attempt to make decisions for grown men (and women) not even in the room.

For myself, it’s always left me utterly confused. I understand the research. I understand how the brain works regarding addiction. I also understand they are men—capable of more than we (professionals) are allowing them to be capable of.

From a mindfulness perspective, I take the approach; you are the expert. Meaning, the patient knows more about himself than I do. I respect the research, however, I respect the humanness of the individual more.

My mindfulness training taught me to first give attention to the human in front of me, as opposed to ‘the chart.'

One aim of mindfulness-based addiction recovery is to clarify a direction for change; not motivated by threat, shame, blame, or punishment, and not directed by me, the system, or treatment center; but by the client.

Closing the Gap.

Research supports curiously as a means to motivate change required in self-discrepancy. {2} What that means for a client, is that higher psychological wellbeing exists if the self-discrepancy gap is smaller. If there is less inner confusion.

Most men in recovery are not ready to formally meditate, but they will engage in informal mindfulness practices such as curiosity. As a means to introduce the presence of curiosity, I offer my own curiosity by asking them, “What brings you to this mindfulness session?”—and a consistent answer has to do with language.

Language is a consistent answer as to why disease model approaches don’t work for male clients who show up for mindfulness.

They don’t want to hear; your brain is that of a teenager, you’re sick, diseased, powerless, once an addict always an addict. This language and such attitudes towards them diminish their well-being.

This isn’t how they want to think of themselves, and goes against who they want to be. They don’t want to show up for it, so they don’t, or they placate, and end up not getting the help they need. Just ask them.

Language Matters.

Does language shape the way we think? According to cognitive scientist Lera Boroditsky, it does. We are able to transmit ideas across minds using language. [3}

In practice, one aim is to offer ideas that are worthy of change.

In a mindfulness session, we remove the language of “I'm an addict," as a means to approach the direct experience.

We all experience experiences. Unwanted experiences happen. We get curious about our patterns that create unwanted outcomes. The focus is on observing and changing our experiences and patterns.

Let Men Answer.

There is one question, so powerful when asked, I can feel it. To feel the power of language at a visceral level ... is an experience.

It’s a question I might offer after he's shared some history. A possible story of substance abuse, jail time, loss of respect, loss of family, and so forth. I listen. It’s his-story; his history. I respect his experiences, and I pause. I take a deep breath, and say, “OK … I understand ..." then ask," Now what kind of man do you want to be?”

His entire demeanor changes. He is interested. Almost shocked that he gets the option to become the kind of man he wants to be.

I have offered an opportunity using language, and if I let him answer, he will tell me what he is worth by telling me what kind of man he wants to become.

Worthy Language.

There’s a language male clients find worthy to listen to. There are words, thoughts, and ideas they find worthy to pursue. Language becomes a powerful tool in helping men engage in their worthiness—which helps direct personal change.

Mindfulness provides a simple but powerful route for getting back in touch with our own wisdom and vitality. It is a way to take charge of the direction and quality of our own lives. [4]

Notice the language. It’s a language that men want to give their attention; simple, powerful, our own, wisdom, vitality, take charge, and quality. Granted mindfulness is more than these words, but language matters.

Skillful and wise are two words that will also pique their interest.

Is that the wisest choice? How can you be more skillful in this experience?

Let them answer.

Not I.

To remove the pronoun ‘I’ is a mindfulness approach.

We take the focus off the ‘I’ in our search for worthiness. Am I worthy? Do I deserve? This is not the language we use.

In practice, we look at making worthwhile choices, to understand the definition of worth, and ask direct questions.

Worthwhile: worth the time, money, or effort spent; of valueimportance. The quality of deserving attention and respect. [5]

Direct questions: Is it worth it? Not "are 'you' worth it?"—but "is 'it' worth it?" Is this worth it to you?

Is it worth your time? Does it deserve your effort and attention?

Is the current relationship you're in worth it? Is the time you give to drinking and or getting high worthwhile? Does that social platform deserve that much of your attention? Is learning better financial habits worth it to you? Does going to the gym (better physical health) deserve your effort?

It’s a powerful approach for all of us—to question our worth not as an ‘I’—but as an investment of our time, effort, and energy.

What many of us will discover is that we are working on a blank slate when it comes to showing up for what is worthy, in most part, because we never learned how.

We never learned how to make choices of value—never learned how to invest in ourselves. So with clients, I listen, I say OK, I understand. Do you want to start learning now?


1. Relative Efficacy of Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention, Standard Relapse Prevention, and Treatment as Usual for Substance Use Disorders

2. Mindfulness meditation and curiosity: The contributing factors to wellbeing and the process of closing the self-discrepancy gap

3. TED. Lera Boroditsky; How Language Shapes The Way We Think.

4. Kabat-Zinn J. (1994). Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation In Everyday Life. MFJ Books Fine Communications. New York. (pg. 5)

5. Worthwhiledefined.