Eliminating "Should" and "But" From Our Vocabulary

How many times do you think or say the word “should” or “but”? How often are you saying or thinking it? Think about times when you have thought or said, I should have called them or shouldn’t have said or done that.  Or, maybe, you have tried to empathize with someone by saying, “I understand what you are saying, but you…” When we say the word “but,” it’s like an eraser to what you just said at the beginning. And, it’s not the nicest sounding word in the dictionary. 

Let’s take a look at the word “should.” It’s often used as a weapon of mass destruction toward ourselves or someone else. You may have a lot of internal self-talk using it. We “should” ourselves to the point it adds to anxiety, depression and a low sense of self-worth.  We learned this word early in life either by our parents, primary caregivers or, perhaps, at school. It quickly became part of our thought process and a way of self-correctly. It has evolved into developing guilt and shame.  It can keep us stuck in our thoughts instead of taking action.

We try to validate or empathize with someone at the beginning of a sentence and then follow it with a “but” to communicate what we want to say. For example, “I really love you and appreciate you cleaned up the dishes, but you didn’t load them in the dishwasher right.” It often communicates a sense of devaluing what the other person feels and ends up not validating, empathizing or expressing our appreciation. The other person just hears the part after the “but…”  

There are a few steps to begin eliminating should and but from your vocabulary and replacing them with more helpful, powerful words.

  • Be aware of your thoughts. Keep a journal. A journal really allows insightful processing of our thoughts, feelings and the deeper meaning behind where our thoughts might have originated from. It’s a way of not stuffing things and getting them out. 
  • Notice when and how you use the words should and but. How are you using them in your daily life? Are you using them often? When do you notice that you use them the most? Do you see a pattern?
  • Begin replacing the word should with want. Make an effort to replace should with want during your thought process. How does it replace the meaning for you or someone else?
  • Start using the word “and” instead of but. Rather than “but” try saying “and.” Notice how it feels different and how another person responds when you change your words. It really does change the meaning.  

Changing a few words in your self-talk and to others can really change a relationship. It can be a game changer. 

-Kristen D Boice M.A., LMFT, EMDR Trained

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