– “You are always late !”
– “I am always the last to know!”
– “You never listen to me!”
Do you recognize this way of communicating? You probably know a few “Always and Never” people. You might even occasionally use this kind of black and white language yourself. We all feel the need for strong and powerful statements at times. And this is certainly high octane language. However, it is often an exaggeration not based in reality. It hurts our credibility if used often. In addition, when we use this kind of communicating in relationships it quickly turns confrontational.
It feels definitive, doesn’t it? Like the conversation is closed. When we encounter these types of statements we sometimes take the bait and get sucked right in. It can turn to quite a mudslinging fest before we know it.
– “You never pay attention to me”
– “Yes I do – I always pay you compliments and say I love you”
– “But you never mean it – you are insincere when you say it, I can just tell.”
– “How can you know what I mean – I always say what I mean, you know that”
– “Not that time you told your mother she looked great with the new haircut – that was as phoney as it gets – that is just how you are.”
And so it continues. This type of conversation is typically not going anywhere but directly into an emotional screaming match, into cold indifference and hurt feelings.
Always and never statements are rarely factual. They are however often an expression about how somebody feels.
In other words when somebody makes and “Always or Never” statement it is often an expression of an intense feeling of powerlessness, fear or shame on some level. Or it can simply be an expression of a limiting belief that is holding someone back from seeing clearly.
Often it is also an attempt to hook the other person in the relationship into a state of either Fear, Obligation or Guilt (FOG).This can be how intimacy is interpreted by some: “I am afraid, confused and hurt, so if you love me you will need to be afraid, confused and hurt too.”
And yes, when you are on the receiving end, it is rather hard to see clearly – you are quite literally in the fog!
- 1. Fear: There is a level of intimidation involved: “Never do this again or else….”
- 2. Obligation: There is an attempt to hook the other person into feeling that they really should be doing, feeling, thinking without communicating it directly….. “I have done the dishes three days in a row now – I always end up having to do everything…”
- 3. Guilt: Ah, the big G-word: There is a direct implied accusation involved intimating that the other person is at fault. “You always make me feel sad when you go away”.
Step one to not get hooked onto this type of manipulative communication is simply to recognize it is present. Some of my clients have developed an “Always and Never Alarm”. Whenever they hear these types of statements delivered – the alarm goes off in their heads; Awareness is step one!
Then it is helpful to listen beyond the message. Might there be a sense of powerlessness that is being communicated? What might the person be feeling? Discern what is an attempt to “hook” you into the FOG. Ask questions before you respond. This can be a powerful way of gaining insights in what is really happening on an emotional level. This can open up the dialogue.
And sometimes, the person making the always and never statements is not interested in divulging the underlying emotional baggage. Or they are not able to. Depending on the severity of FOG that this kind of behavior adds to your life, it is draining to be in the FOG. It weighs you down.
I often refer to my mentor coach, Keith Miller, in situations where I encounter all or nothing, always and never statements:
“What others say and do define them 100% What you say and do define you 100%.”
Here is to keeping your own credibility, integrity and dignity no matter where you go, and who you go there with.