"Always" and "Never"
When our children are speaking to us about all of the injustice they face, like having to clean up a mess or not getting a playdate, they will often use those lovely trigger words “always” and “never.”
You never let me have playdates!
I always have to do more work than her!
I never get to have any fun!
You’re always SO mean!
My friends’ parents NEVER make them clean their rooms!
Sound familiar? It does to me!
In a previous blog post, Unreasonable Feelings, I wrote about how when we hear statements like this we want to move directly to providing evidence to our child about how wildly inaccurate the statement is. Never? We had a playdate yesterday!
I also discussed how it really doesn’t help….at all.
I’d like to add another trick to help in these moments that I find really helpful.
Keep in mind, that kids aren’t the only ones who use “always” and “never.” Us grownups do it also. And this is something I see in couples counseling a LOT.
Couples can get easily sidetracked and go down the wormhole of discussing how accurate it is that she never does this or he always does that. Our lives are rarely absolute. You’ll find exceptions to most of these generalizations. Spending your emotional energy arguing about accuracy of a claim is misspent. There are bigger feelings here trying to be expressed.
And so here’s the trick….
For the humans you love, no matter how little or big they might be, when you hear the words “always” and “never” come out of their precious mouths have it be a giant waving flag that we’ve moved from reason and logic to FEELINGS.
“Always” and “Never” are FEELINGS.
Hear it as an expression of the bigness of the feeling, or the hopelessness or overwhelm of the feeling. Let it immediately shift you from a truth-finding mission to a feeling-finding mission.
“That must feel just awful.
To feel like you always get the short end of the stick compared to your little brother.
I remember that from when I was your age. Ugh. It’s no fun.”
I’m not saying the claim is accurate. I’m just acknowledging the FEELING that this big sister feels she’s getting the shaft around here. And that is an awful feeling, true or not.
“If you feel like I’m never helping with bedtime, then we’ve got to do something.
I’ve been feeling like I’m helping, but that tells me you’re really feeling alone.
That’s not good. What can we do differently?”
Again, not agreeing here…and in fact, even stating my perception of it. But the focus is on hearing how awful, alone, and angry my partner must feel to say I’m never helping.
So, there it is. A quick tool to help you shift from feeling defensive to constructive. The more you see the feeling words “always” and “never” coming from people you care about, the easier it gets to hear them for what they really are. Just regular ol’ feelings.
And I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised how quickly you can turn your reactions around once you’ve practiced for a bit. Those trigger words lose their weight, and become super handy indicators of what this person you love is feeling.