Can you imagine that you could be a happier, more compassionate friend, lover, parent, employee, neighbor, even stranger just by changing one tiny little word?
Well, it’s true, and I’m living proof. Just ask anyone I know. I was always desperate to be right, to have the last word and to prove that my rationale made sense. My insecure need for you to understand and agree with my perspective led to countless arguments, wounded egos and damaged relationships. By making this seemingly subtle shift, I finally found a way to release what I never knew was a tightly clenched grip on oppositional thinking.
This tiny little tweak made such a difference in my life because the word is much more than just a word. The word comes with a whole interconnected web of intentionality and ways we think about our place in the world and our relationships with others.
So, I’ll tell you what it is, but you have to promise to read the rest of the story. Otherwise you won’t understand the full power of the word.
Why are you looking at me like that? I just told you what it was. Did you miss it?
The Power of BUT
Those three little letters pour gasoline on the fires of invalidation. That one syllable holds the power to kill off a relationship, sink a career, send you packing for rehab, demoralize a child or rile up a stranger.
Try to cut the word “but” out of your vocabulary for a week, and see what happens. If you slip up, immediately call yourself on it verbally to reinforce the change. If people give you strange looks, you can just blame it on some random guy on the internet named Russ. Don’t worry about me — I can take the heat.
It sounds like such a tiny, common word. You might think that it couldn’t possibly do that much damage.
Let’s examine some evidence, shall we?
. . .
Had enough yet? I could keep going all day…
When we use “but statements” (BS for short), we’re not coming from a place of compassion, positivity, care, intimacy or vulnerability.
We use BS when we want get out of something we don’t want to do, when we’re late, when we’re selfish, when we hurt others, when we’re self-critical, when we’re overindulgent, when we let others down, when we want to prove someone wrong, when we want to violate our morals and go against what we know to be right.
This tiny three-letter word builds an impenetrable wall around us. We use it in an attempt to absolve ourselves of responsibility for our actions, thoughts and feelings — trying to sidestep any accountability thrown our way.
Judgement, justification and oppositional thinking rests at the heart of all “but statements.” When we address others with BS, we invalidate them, differentiate ourselves and wall ourselves off from true connections with others.
Try Swapping But for AND
“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.” — F. Scott Fitzgerald
Whenever we start throwing BS around in an argument with a significant other, it’s a safe bet that a minor difference of opinions is about to fly off the rails and spiral into something much worse. The oppositional thinking inherent in BS is that “I’m right, and you’re wrong.”
Arguments often escalate uncontrollably because each person believes their opinion has been invalidated, feels hurt, shuts down defensively, doubles down on their opinion and instinctively invalidates the other in retaliation, which prompts the cycle to begin again.
When you start to use the word AND instead of but, then you begin to realize that “both beliefs can be true.” It enables you to stop viewing the world from a place of either/or and opens you up to the acceptance of multiple conflicting opinions.
Everyone forms their own perspective, based on their unique experiences in life. I don’t need to prove your opinion or truth wrong to be able to believe my own truth. You can have your truth, and I can have mine.
In my experience, taking aim at others and lashing out at what they believe is often a form of overcompensation. In other words, I’m insecure in my own belief so I need to prove that you are wrong to be able to feel like I’m right and thereby at ease with my beliefs.
I first learned about this approach to thinking while attending a group session in dialectical behavioral therapy, a kind of cognitive behavioral therapy that focuses on mindfulness and dialectical thinking. Similar to Fitzgerald’s quote above, one of the core skills is to be able to sit comfortably with opposing thoughts (or dialectics).
With time and practice, this more open way to engage with others has become second nature, and it has allowed for much closer, healthier relationships with those around me. In addition to being less judgmental and starting with a positive foundation, here are some of the benefits I’ve experienced:
Validation: It is much easier to be empathetic to others, understand their perspective and see the world through their eyes, which short-circuits any disagreements or arguments.
Vulnerability: I am comfortable opening up to others, sharing my opinions (versus attempting to persuade) and listening authentically to their views (versus defending my beliefs).
Connection: By opening myself up to share my opinions and validate those of others, I’ve broken through my wall of BS and created an intimate, secure two-way dialogue that enables the formation of authentic relationships with others.
Drop a line if you notice any positive changes once you cut out the BS, and follow me @RussellWeigandt for more exploration of mental health and psychology.
This post was previously published on Change Becomes You and is republished here with permission from the author.
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