Always and Never
A few years ago, I saw a movie based on one of my favorite books. I didn’t like the movie because it had a lot of added drama that wasn’t part of the book. When I was talking to a friend about the movie, I told her that all of the extra drama felt invalidating to the original story. There was already so much going on in the book – for the moviemakers to add further conflict, it felt like they were saying that the original story wasn’t exciting enough to be a movie.
This experience got me thinking about how often we tell people to stop exaggerating. How we tell people to stop saying “always” or “never” and to recognize that something isn’t as bad as they’re saying it is. While it is true that most of the time, the words “always” and “never” are not factually accurate, they may still be accurate in terms of how a person feels.
When we exaggerate or embellish the truth, we may be invalidating ourselves. The same way that the added drama in the movie felt like it was invalidating the original story, when we exaggerate and say that something “always” or “never” happens, we might also be invalidating our own personal stories, thinking that if we are honest about how many times a problem has occurred, we won’t be taken seriously. For instance, imagine that out of the ten times you told someone private information, there were three times that the person broke your trust and told your secrets to other people. You say to the person, “You always tell my secrets!” or “You never keep my secrets!” Now, if we’re looking at just the facts, this person did not break your trust every single time. They did not even break your trust most of the time. But if you take a closer look, saying “always” or “never” in a case like this is not necessarily exaggeration from an emotional standpoint. Having someone share something you asked them to keep private is a major violation of trust, and even just once instance is enough to make you question whether or not you can trust them again.
And a lot of people may tell you to just stop using words like “always” and “never” because they are not factually accurate. But it’s important to recognize that when we feel like something is happening either all the time or none of the time, that means it’s a problem for us. And it can feel invalidating to be told that it’s somehow less of a problem just because the words “always” and “never” don’t apply. The next time someone corrects us in saying that something “always” or “never” happens, let’s start saying, “This happens often enough that it’s a problem for me.” Because that’s a true statement, regardless of how many times an incident has occurred. We need to recognize that our true stories are real and valid exactly as they are.