So, let’s have a show of hands. Who looked at this title and thought back to their childhood and what they were told by well meaning parents each time they uttered words about not being able to do something? Who has heard themselves using this very phrase as an adult when a small person in their life has said, in an exasperated tone ‘but I can’t do it!’? Who also knows, that as an adult, they’ve found themselves many times to be the one making the ‘I can’t’ statement e.g. I can’t draw, I can’t swim, I can’t cook etc? So, is the term ‘can’t’ a superfluous word which should be removed from our dictionaries at once, or, more likely, do we need to think about our use of it and assess whether this is actually what we mean? Personally, I think the latter is likely to be favoured by most of you, but have you ever considered why?
The reason for this particular blog post is related to an idea from a compassion group which I’m currently signed up to and which I attend each Wednesday afternoon. It’s part of a therapeutic service offered by my local wellbeing team and was suggested by a therapist I was seeing on a one-to-one basis. There are 9 of us who attend and work alongside two therapists who run the group. Last week, we were talking about our experiences of doing a simple meditative breathing exercise at home which we had been asked to do for homework each day. One of the group members said, when sharing her thoughts, “I can do the rhythm of breathing here but I can’t do it at home”. Although this was met with nods from a number of the group, the response from one of the therapists was very different. She didn’t say ‘there’s no such word as can’t’. What she said was, that we all need to be mindful of using the word can’t in this kind of situation as an I can’t mentality can hinder self compassion, feelings of self worth and all of the other things that our group is all about. It’s this alternative way of thinking which I believe holds an important message for us all, but particularly those of us who struggle at time with our mental health.
You might be thinking that there are some things that you simply can’t do. An example here could be, I can’t fly. I’m not blessed with the physical make up which enables an ability to fly i.e. wings, so therefore this statement is true and factually accurate. You would of course, be correct in this case. However, if I share another ‘I can’t’ which I myself am a frequent user of ‘I can’t draw’ then the same logic cannot be applied because I am capable of drawing but what I actually mean is I’m not particularly gifted in this area.
Changing this mentality a little further though, can mean re-phrasing our utterances more carefully so as to give them an even more positive tone involving much more self compassion. If, as in the examples above, you aspire to be better at something, you could change what you say to accept where you are now but also where you would like to be in the future. So “I can’t do soothing rhythm breathing at home” would be rephrased as “I’m finding it difficult at the moment to do the breathing at home but I’m hopeful I will get better with practise”. In the same way, “I can’t draw” would become something more like “I find drawing quite difficult at moment but I’m working hard to develop my skills and techniques and I’m getting better with practise”.
I’m sure you can think of many examples of times that you’ve been a victim of the ‘I can’t’ mentality and there will be many reasons for this such as fear, lack of self confidence, feelings of failure or inadequacy. But, if we think carefully before we use self deprecating phrases then we can set our minds free from this way of thinking about ourselves in order to try to become more loving, compassionate and kind towards ourselves.
Accepting who we are, celebrating our achievements, letting go of our perceived failures and seeing ourselves as a work in progress with strengths and areas for improvement, we can stop with the negative self talk and hopefully feel better about ourselves and our lives.
I hope what I’ve said here makes sense and that it has at least made you think about how you talk about yourself to others. If you have any other hints or tips about self compassion, I would love it if you shared them in the comments. Also, let me know if there are any “I can’ts” that you find yourself particularly struggle with and find yourself beating yourself up with.
Until next time, stay strong, positive and kind towards yourself.
Much love, Laura xx