Can’t, Always, Never, Anything and Everything
Can’t, always, never, anything and everything are some (but not all) of the most irrational words in the English language. This is especially true if we are prone to depression, anxiety, and low self esteem.
Why are these words so troublesome? Because they typically suggest that we are engaging in overgeneralizing and/or black and white thinking.
For example; “I never do anything right.” Really? You mean to tell me that every task that you have ever attempted in your entire lifetime has been met with a 100% failure rate? The answer is a simple no. You have passed tests, maybe learned how to drive, helped someone out, cooked a meal or remembered someone’s birthday. The point is that it is impossible to say that you never do anything right. A healthier response in times of disappointment or perceived “failure,” would be; “I’m disappointed/hurt/sad/angry/scared that this situation didn’t go well. Sometimes things go well and sometimes they don’t, but I try my best and cannot expect to be perfect or successful all the time.”
When we overgeneralize we create a dichotomy that the mind can easily believe to be true when in actuality, the statement is false. Consider the statement; “I guess I just can’t be a good parent.” Can’t meaning, I haven’t been a good parent and I never will be a good parent. When we are trapped in negative thinking we succumb to a confirmation bias that will only allow us to see all related actions as “bad.” So stop and ask yourself, “Where are the instances that I have been a good parent?” Keep it simple and look for the obvious, less grand, but just as important examples.
The same applies when using black and white terms when arguing with a loved one or partner. Again, consider this;”You always disrespect me.” Now in this case we have to assume that you have a relatively healthy/stable relationship. If disrespect is truly the norm, then that may be an indication of more significant relationship issues. But for our purposes, let us assume that we are talking about a relatively healthy relationship. Sometimes we intentionally or unintentionally use strong language in order to make a point to gain the high ground in an argument. Unfortunately, using overgeneralized words like “always” will inevitably lead to defensiveness on the part of your significant other and reduce the your credibility to be rational and fair. I’m sure there are instances where quite the opposite was true. Can you think of a time when you were respected rather than disrespected?
Additionally, if a partner feels disrespected, then it is far more helpful to lead with an “I feel” statement. “I feel ____ when you do or say ____. No one can argue with how you feel, but they can argue about an accusation made against them.
This is ultimately about training the brain to watch out for danger words that can lead to broad generalizations and enforce negative self biases. Biases that are not true, not helpful and not in line with a compassionate sense of self.