5 Words I Have Come To Hate As A Psychologist
Being a psychologist, I sit with people every day and listen to their lives- what makes them happy or sad, what they like or dislike, how they see things, and what they view as the reasons for why things are. I love hearing about other people’s concerns and helping them to get to a better place- whether it’s finding a new way to look at things, strategies for handling themselves or situations better, or even solutions to difficult problems.
Over the past few years I’ve become especially sensitive to certain words- at work, but in my personal life too. It’s not just not liking the words, but what they mean and how they’re used. Here is my top 5, as it stands now- and I’m sure most therapists would agree.
1. Hate. Ironic, I know, since it’s in the title of this post. Do you know someone, though, who regularly seems to say, “I hate this…”, “I hate that…”, “Don’t you hate…?”, and things like that? When my children say this word, my wife says, “When you hate someone, that means you want them to die. Do you want _____ to die?” To which, my kids say, “No!” I think that serves to show them how extreme a word like hate is. I like looking at it that way, at least when it comes to people. Even more, throwing that word around just breeds negativity. I strive to be a positive person, and I encourage my children to be so as well. And no one likes a hater, right? Try this…I challenge you to get up one day and count just how many times you say “hate” in a day. I’ll bet it’s more than you think.
2. Always, Never, Only…any absolute term. Two ALWAYS comes after one…A ALWAYS comes before B…and cars ALWAYS run out of gas if you don’t refill the tank. These are certainly absolutes, but your child does not ALWAYS lie, or your husband does not ALWAYS say X, Y, or Z. Something may happen quite frequently, but almost NOTHING occurs in absolute frequency. Some would say I’m nitpicking or “what’s the big deal?” The issue is that using and believing these terms tends to skew our perception, and again in a more negative direction. It also makes the person you’re blaming pretty defensive and unlikely to listen to what you have to say.
3. Fault. If someone rear-ends you in your car, it’s probably their fault. In most problems involving one or more people, someone is at least partially at fault. But this is often used as a tool for blaming. “It’s YOUR fault, HIS fault, Obama’s fault”, etc. (Notice how rarely is it MINE!). Many times fault could be distributed between any number of people. Think about sports- a loss is rarely the fault of one person. In football, people may blame the quarterback, the kicker, or the coach, but a team has 11 players on the field at any one point in time, as well as a number of coaches telling them what to do. A team loss is a team loss and a win is a win- much like a relationship problem (or lack thereof) is just that. So assigning fault is not only negative, but in many instances fault is beside the point. Blaming doesn’t solve problems- but it does make people angry, builds resentment, and deteriorates relationships (and in the context of sports, team chemistry). We all like to be right and don’t like to be wrong, or we like to be the one with the answers, but getting stuck on whose fault it is rarely helps us to fix things.
4. You. No, I’m not saying you can’t or shouldn’t ever use the pronoun, you. I’m referring to some people’s tendency to blame, by saying, “YOU… (do this, do that, don’t do this, don’t do that, etc.)”. “I messages” are typically better at making your point. For example, if I don’t like that my wife is “always late”, it’s better to say, “I don’t like when we’re late for things”, because the focus is then on me and what I dislike, rather than blaming my wife for what I’m labeling as a personal flaw… “YOU always make us late!” Focusing on “I”, rather than “you”, keeps the focus on me and will likely make my wife less defensive- and more receptive to what I have to say, than blaming her.
5. Normal. We all say this, but it really is a relative term. Normal compared to what? Sure, most of us don’t want to stand out in a negative way, and it’s nice to feel like we fit in, but is “normal” really what we want? In my own opinion, at least, life is just too short and too rich to strive to be like everyone else. There is so much to do, so many things to be into- and more so, I think we should all strive to just be who we are- do what makes us happy and makes us feel like we’re living a life that’s genuine. The other thing I’ve noticed is that when people use the term “normal”, it sets up a negative dichotomy- that there is normal and abnormal, or weird/not weird, good/bad, right/wrong, and so on. With the way we use “normal” in our everyday language, not feeling normal makes us feel bad, and it’s one reason why we may not do anything about it- much less come to therapy. For many, doing this is like accepting that they’re not normal, they’re bad, or that something is wrong with them. I don’t like this at all. A better way to think of “normal” is relative to ourselves. What’s normal for you? For example, if you’re generally a happy or minimally anxious person, and you start to feel depressed or what you believe to be too anxious, then that’s abnormal- and something you might want to do something about.
Hopefully this post can help you to think of these words in a different way- or maybe you’ll notice more often how others use these words. Words can be powerful, and they affect our lives more than we may realize. Paying attention to them can help to change our perspective and to see things how they are, not just how they make us feel.