By: Grace Gufler

There are very few things that I can say that universally applies to (almost) every client I see. Everyone comes in with different goals, experiences, personalities, and so on. Despite the infinite amount of ways my clients are different, however, there is one thing I address with almost all of them: the use of the words ‘should’ and ‘but’. 

I pay attention to the use of these words for several reasons. Whether, or not it gets addressed in session depends on the manner in which they are used, as well as, how often they are used. These words are important because they are often linked to a dysfunctional thought or pattern of thoughts.

The word ‘but’ is used in a statement for several reasons:

  1. You are trying to control a person’s judgment or perception of you. For example, if you want to say something that is critical of another person but is worried I may think ill of you for doing so, you may say something like this: She is a nice person and I know she means well but she can be really selfish sometimes. 
  2. You know what you honestly think/want/feel but are not ready to fully commit to it. Such as: I am really angry at him and I want to say something but maybe I am just overreacting. What you really mean is: I am scared he will think I am overreacting. Let me just say this: if you feel a certain way about something THERE IS A REASON YOU FEEL THIS WAY. We often doubt our emotions due to the fear of appearing irrational or dramatic. Even if this is true, it does not change the fact that you feel a certain way. Whether this is due to an insecurity, the situation or your personal history; you have a right to feel however you do in any given moment.
  3. You are anticipating someone’s response: often times we approach a conversation with an idea of the dialogue that is going to transpire. For that reason, we often include an opposing viewpoint or perception after the word ‘but’. 

It is important to pay attention to your use of the word ‘but’ because by doing so you are contradicting and invalidating everything that came before it.  Evaluate what purpose the word ‘but’ is really serving in your sentence and try to replace it with the word ‘and’ (take note of how this changes the meaning of your sentence).

How we use the word ‘should’:

The word ‘should’ is problematic for several reasons. For one, this often indicates that we are making assumptions about someone else with very little or no evidence to back it up. For example:  He knows I’m angry. I mean I hinted pretty strongly at it so he should know.”  If you did not outright tell someone how you feel, what you want, what you think, etc… there is no reason they should know. Whenever you find yourself using the word ‘should’ take a moment to analyze the evidence for your assumption. For example, if I have told my significant other in previous conversations that I do not want space when I am upset, then I definitively know my partner has received this information. Just because something is clear to you does not mean it is clear to someone else. 

It is important to evaluate the purpose these two words are serving in your use of them. Additionally, it is important to analyze your motivation and intent in using them. I understand, this is not always easy to do but if you are someone who uses these two words frequently it may be beneficial to contemplate this further and challenge yourself to reframe these thoughts. This will improve your communication with others, strengthen relationships, increase your ability to express your emotions and strengthen your sense of self.