Want to be happier? Eliminating 14 Extreme Words Changed My Life

Posted by Kelley Bren Burke on

Want to be happier? Eliminating 14 Extreme Words changed my life.

Should. Have to. Need. Must. How often do you say these words? I said them a lot. I have to do yoga today. I should work until at least 5 PM. I need to get my hair cut. I also said them to others. Mostly my husband. “You should work on taxes for the business.” “We have to get that project done this weekend.”

I learned about Communication Extreme Words or Communication Swear Words in therapy. These words intensify the situation unnecessarily. They add a sense of urgency and duty.

Here’s the list of Extreme Words:

Communication Extreme Words from DBT counseling therapy

I instantly knew which words were my jam. Must. Should. Have to. Need.

I would say to myself, “I have to walk the dogs.” Well, I don’t really have to. I’m sure that some dogs rarely go for walks. And the truth is, I love getting outside with my dogs and walking around the neighborhood. Except when it’s January in Minnesota. It’s freaking cold out. 

When I think to myself now, “I should work until 5 PM,” I remind myself that I get to choose whether I’m working or not. I like working, and my tendency is to overwork. So if I don’t feel like working, it’s okay to pick up a book, exercise, or even watch The Bachelor at 10 AM on a Tuesday. (I’ve done this a few times. It feels really decadent and awesome).

And when I’m talking to my husband, it’s much nicer to say, “Would you be able to work on taxes soon?” “Could we work on that project this weekend?” My therapist taught me the phrase “Don’t should all over yourself or others.” 


Always and never are rarely accurate. 

What do you always do? What do you never do? I can’t think of anything. I can think of things I rarely do. 

I rarely go running, but I have run. Like in grade school and high school Phy Ed. Or maybe if it was freezing cold out, or if I was really late. I might break into a stride close to running-ish then. It wouldn't be the most elegant thing I ever did, but that’s another story. 

Always and never are often directed at others. And again, they’re rarely accurate.

My husband is a fantastic cook, and I rarely cook dinner. We both agree my kitchen skills are on par with your average 8 year old, but I did cook dinner at least once. It was meatloaf. In 2008. It was one of those freshly-in-love kind of gestures. The meatloaf was perfectly good, but since then, I’m pretty sure I haven’t cooked dinner. 

When I’m in charge of dinner now, I order Pizza Luce. But if Chris said, “You never make dinner!” I would be able to point to The Great Historic Meatloaf of 2008. And about 40 orders of salad and pizza from Pizza Luce over the years. Being on the receiving end of someone else’s “always” or “never” statement sucks. Because you know it’s not true. 


“But” can often be replaced with “and”, and it sounds much nicer. 

The word “but” braces me for bad news. It make me think of every time the runner up got rejected on The Bachelorette. “Nick, I love every moment we’ve spent together on our journey, BUT . . . . my heart’s with another man.” The second you hear that “but”, you know that Nick’s going home. Brokenhearted. In the most dramatic season finale of the The Bachelorette ever. 


I’ll write about the other Communication Extreme Words later. For now, I’m going to leave you with a Public Service Announcement about therapy. 

I was scared to go to therapy. Terrified. I didn’t want to talk about capital F Feelings with a stranger for an hour. Ugh. 

But you know what? You can talk about whatever you want. You’re in charge. If your therapist says, “Let’s talk about your mother and your childhood,” and you don’t want to, you get to say, “Let’s not.” 

Lately I’ve been talking about how to work less, how to infuse more joy into my days, and how to be a more compassionate, less judgmental person. With my insurance, therapy is $10 a visit. You get to talk about yourself for an hour, and someone else listens. It’s an awesome deal. 

I won’t tell you that you SHOULD go to therapy, because we know “should” is a Extreme Word. Let’s just say it’s been a really beneficial experience for me. 

Which Extreme Words do you use the most? Would you like to try something different? Please let me know in the comments! 

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