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Beware of absolutes!


At some point in our lives, we experience that sensation of feeling that something is "always" a certain way, that someone "never" does what we ask, or that we do this one thing "every time." Our minds seem to find themselves drifting into the space of assuming our current feeling or experience is this way all of the time, especially when we are stressed or overwhelmed. This generalization, and often self-defeating, process is called absolute thinking. Take a moment to recall the last argument you remember having with someone. Did you blurt out "You never..." or "You always...?" Well, don't beat yourself up if you did. We've all done this. Our brains are wired to do it, which is why it takes so much work to alter this way of thinking.

Though this process is normal for many people, we must be aware of its presence, and learn to mindfully minimize it. The result of such thinking patterns, if taking place often enough, is the emergence of anxiety, depression, and general distortions of perception. Rationally, a teenager knows that his or her mother does not say "No" all the time. A mother knows that her son has cleaned his room on occasion, meaning that "You never do what I ask" is a bit inaccurate. Likewise, a husband may feel like his partner always nags him, but what about the many times she doesn't?

What we need to be aware of in these thoughts is how we begin to shift our perception of the interaction, or even the person with whom we are interacting. Though a particular piece of an interaction may feel incredibly familiar, it likely doesn't happen in every interaction. The trouble is that we begin to associate every interaction with the absolute thoughts we've allowed ourselves to maintain. This starts to shift our perception of the person, potentially leading to resentment or negative expectations. If we expect that the teenager will never do what we ask, we enter the interaction with that expectation, and project this belief in such a way that influences our communication - verbally and non-verbally.

"Since you never clean your room when I ask, I don't expect you to listen this time."

"I'm not avoiding you. You just always nag me, and I don't want to hear it."

Our projections create what is known as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Basically, this means we influence our environment such that the anticipated outcome we were trying to avoid ends up happening, because of our fixation on it. The expectation that he never cleans his room influences how you approach him, which likely makes him defensive. Good luck getting a teen to comply when he or she is defensive, and wants to prove a point. The man who f