“Why do you always spend too much money?”
“It drives me mad that you never spend any time with the kids!”
“You’re always late.”
“My boss never appreciates the care and attention I put into my work.”
Do any of these sound familiar?
‘Always’ and ‘never’ are such black-and-white words aren’t they? They’re defining and clear. How much easier it is to pigeonhole someone if they ‘never’ clear up after themselves or are ‘always’ rude?
Yet people aren’t black and white: we are a million shades of grey according to mood, circumstance or method of communication. Black or white are in fact pretty rare states in the human condition, but to make our thought processing easier, our minds collect data about the people around us and draw quick conclusions in order to make sense of the world and to help differentiate amongst the greys. Behaviours are exaggerated to fit a pattern that we see emerging, and then labels are formed.
In our War to Peace workshops, exaggerating and using these words is one of the ‘Unlucky 7’ signs that you may be at War. Noticing that you are using ‘always’ or ‘never’ about a person you are finding difficult (or about yourself) is a warning bell that you need to stop and examine the evidence.
Rachel was feeling very low about her relationship with her young son. In particular, she found his high energy and need for interaction exhausting and she felt that she couldn’t keep up. This left her feeling both guilty and angry. When Rachel described her son’s behaviour to the group, she used phrases like ‘he always makes such a noise tearing around the house’, or ‘he never stops!’ She was equally damning of herself when she talked about her own behaviour in reaction to his, saying ‘I never play with him anymore’ and ‘I always shout’. Rachel was at War both with her son and with herself.
Working with a partner at the workshop, Rachel began to examine how much truth was behind the statements she had made. She realised that her son did have calmer moments: they enjoyed snuggling up and looking at his magazine together on a Saturday morning; he enjoyed baking with her; and that he was always engaged when she and her husband read him his favourite book at bedtimes. Rachel also realised that, although she wanted to make the games longer and more frequent, she did play football with him once a week. And that there were plenty of times when she would talk, sing and giggle with him with no shouting whatsoever.
Rachel’s feelings towards her son’s behaviour softened and became much less defensive, and she was able to stop feeling guilty about her parenting too. This enabled her to work on actively finding opportunities to have fun with her son at an energy level they were both comfortable with, which has led to much a happier place for them both. Not ‘always’ happy, nor ‘never’ cross, but at a much better place in between.
Over to you
- Be on the lookout for ‘always’ and ‘never’ creeping into the language you use to describe others’ behaviour or your own, and notice how these statements make you feel.
- Examine the evidence behind those statements. Could you prove them in a court of law?
- Find a recent example of when that statement wasn’t true – when they weren’t late, for example. Notice how this new perspective shifts your feelings. Incidentally, if you start making excuses for why this example doesn't count, know that it's normal to do this when we are at War. Take a deep breath and try using our Spiral of Disempowerment™ tool.
Do you know someone who could benefit from War to Peace®?
If you know someone who would benefit from learning how to feel better about their relationships with their family, colleagues and friends, we are running our next open-access War to Peace® workshop in London on 13 October. To book a space, click here. Please note, we have just 9 spaces left.
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©Halcyon Global 2017