Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Always and Never

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“Always and never are two words you should always remember never to use.”
– Wendell Johnson

The unconscious motivation behind making global, sweeping statements that exclude alternatives is to replace uncertainty with certainty, lowering anxiety. Existential anxiety is the hidden specter that influences many of our thoughts and actions without us  realizing it.

The hindrance to your human development in seeing people and experiences in terms of always and never, or what CBT therapists would call all or nothing thinking, is that you pigeonhole yourself. You end up ignoring or flat out denying data points that don’t sync up with your perceptions and in the process move a little further away from objective reality.

Of course the words ‘always’ and ‘never’ are just two examples of thinking in extremes. The best way to catch yourself in daily life is, when making a declarative value statement about something, to see if this value statement has a stark opposite, an antonym that lies far away on the other pole. If this is the case then you have probably shot wide of the mark and reality probably lies somewhere closer to the middle.

People and the situations they create together are multifaceted. Applying one strong label, while useful from the perspective of quick categorization, is harmful in that your life path becomes dictated by partial knowledge. It’s likely that your relationships would change in important ways if you were to let yourself see a fuller picture less influenced by this type of all or nothing thinking.