2 Words to Ban From Your Family

Words carry power. They influence our actions and our mood. Even more alarming, they have the power to shape the thoughts, moods, and actions of those around us…not just for today but for years to come. How many of us can remember a harsh word spoken to us by a teacher in elementary school? Or, a hurtful word spoken by a parent in their moment of frustration? Yes, words have power. There are two categories of words in particular that carry a subtle yet pervasive power over those who say them and hear them. These words and phrases sound simple, even harmless; but, they have the potential to limit our freedom, increase our guilt, and choke our self-confidence. These two categories of words have an especially strong impact on our family members. I suggest we ban them from the family. Let me explain.


The first category of words to ban from family life includes absolutes like “always” and “never.” Like our mothers “always” said, “Never say never.” When we say “never” or “always,” we imply something is unchangeable. For instance, telling someone “you always lose your keys” communicates the belief that they cannot change. They will “always” lose their keys and will “always” disappoint. They may as well not even try to change what they “always” do. Consider the subtle way these absolutes label a person: “You never listen to me” labels a person as consistently rude and ignorant. “You always want the last word” carries the label that a person is arrogant and self-centered. “You never do what you’re told” translates into telling a person they are either disobedient or lazy. “You always forget what I ask you to do” carries the belief that person does not care about us.  These statements not only carry an implicit negative label of the person, but the absolute in the statement implies the person cannot and will not change! A person responds to these accusations with defensiveness…and the battle begins. We would all benefit from taking the absolutes out of the equation so we can have a better conversation. Instead of saying “always” or “never,” note what happened “this time” in “this situation.” Allow the person an opportunity to change. 


The second category of words to ban from family life include “should,” “ought to,” or “must.” Saying “you should do this” robs a person of choice and responsibility. It imposes a sense of obligation. After all, if “I should do it” what choice do I have? A loved one who tells me “I should” will be upset if I don’t. The only choice I have is to do what “I should” or rebel against the “should” and disappoint the one I love. And, when I do what I “should,” I hold no responsibility for choosing that course of action. Telling family members how they “should” act or what they “ought to have done” also communicates that they can never please you, never be “good enough.” A person flooded with should’s may give up. After all, if I can never be “good enough,” why even try? A well-placed “should” will induce guilt…and guilt can lead to giving up as well.

As you can see, absolutes and “should” have great power. Their power is subtle. They sound simple, even harmless; but, they crush our spirits, increase our guilt, and choke our self-confidence. I’m sure you can recall times in your own life when you were sideswiped by a well-placed absolute or a crushing should. Why continue that pain in our families today. Really, “we
should never speak in absolutes or should’s.” Ban them from your family!

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