People often use the words “always” or “never” to emphasize what the statement they’re making. In everyday speech, as when someone says that “he always says that” or “this type of dress never fits me,” these words are usually understood to not be completely literal. But this speech – whether said to others or said to oneself – can have consequences.
Using extreme words to describe oneself can cause all-or-nothing thinking. Using extreme words to communicate to someone else, like a partner, can detract from the ability to communicate effectively. Learning to control this language and this style of thinking is important for improving relationships and building self-esteem.
Problems with All or Nothing Communication
Intentionally or unintentionally, “Always” and “Never” can contribute to all-or-nothing, black and white thinking. This type of thinking is harmful because it interprets situations in inaccurate extremes. Few aspects of life are “always” or “never” anything. One example of the damage extreme thinking can cause is the discrediting of accomplishments by yourself or others. With this kind of thinking, if your goal was to lose 15 pounds in 6 months but you only lost 10, you’d consider the whole effort a failure.
Some people genuinely think in extremes, and this can damage self-esteem. But others know that they’re speaking with extremes and do it anyway. The problem is that this type of communicating can still downplay or alter how you see yourself and your past.
For example, imagine that you only like the way you look in hats 50% of the time. If you start to tell people or yourself you “never look good in hats,” even if you’re not serious, it will still cause you to rethink your past as though that percentage is lower – 30% of the time, or even 10% of the time. Eventually, you’ve changed your own perspective on this issue simply by the language you used to describe it.
Extreme Words with Your Partner or Coworkers
Extreme words like “Always” and “Never” can also hurt others. When talking to relationship partners, for example, using these extreme terms to prove your point immediately puts someone else on the defensive, and downplays or ignores the work that they did (or did not) do. “You ALWAYS leave the lights in the house on” can hurt someone if they only forget once in a while. So little in a relationship is “Always” or “Never,” and that language can damage you and your relationships.
How to Control Extreme Language
The first step towards controlling these issues is to do your best to take those words out of your vocabulary, especially if describing something negative. If you tend to think in these black and white absolutes, consider the following:
- Considering Alternatives – This kind of thinking can leave you feeling trapped between two choices, neither of which work well for you. If this is the case, you can remind yourself that there’s probably another option you haven’t considered yet.
- Thinking In Percentages – Instead of writing off something as bad because there was one bad aspect to it, try thinking of that bad part as a small part of the larger whole. For example, if you answered two questions out of ten badly during a job interview you still did an 80% good job, which means the whole thing wasn’t a disaster.
- Practicing Positive Thinking – This is sometimes misunderstood as not allowing yourself to feel upset or consider a situation to be negative at all. What it should mean is counterbalancing extreme thinking, which tends to be largely negative, by focusing on positive aspects of something as much as possible.
- Remembering Exceptions – Even if your partner only sometimes remembers to do the dishes, remembering those exceptions can go a long way towards improving your perception of and relationship with them. Expecting and acknowledging only negatives of others leaves no room for positive change. Try to focus on the exceptions before discussing the issue at hand.
Using “always” or “never” when expressing our feeling about ourselves and others just continues a cycle of neglecting the positives. This makes it harder to build relationships with others as well as confidence in yourself. For more information on building self-esteem or couples counseling on Long Island, contact Long Island Psychology today.