To the depressed person:
“Just think positively.” “Just go out and have some fun.” “Just get more exercise.” “Just stop wallowing in your misery.”
To the traumatized person:
“Just put the past behind you.” “Just move on.” “Just get over it.”
Most notoriously, to the addict:
“Just say no to drugs.”
Used by others, the j-word can be annoying or worse – a fighting word. But how much do you use it on yourself?
- “I just need to relax.”
- “I just need to control my temper.”
- “I just need to be more assertive.”
- “I just need to say no.”
- “I just need to stop trying to be perfect.”
- “I just need to be more affectionate toward my wife.”
Just stop with the minimizing
All these admonishments might be valid. But “just” is a minimizing word: It minimizes a difficulty or a feeling, making it that much harder to understand clearly the extent of the problem one must address. It minimizes by implying that all these changes are made easily.
Any time you hear the j-word, ask: How? Just relax. How? Just put the past behind you. How? Just forgive. How?
The challenge of changing
The depressed person just needs to stop thinking negatively – as if this change could be made by an act of will. Of course the depressed person can learn to think more flexibly and reasonably. But this learning process may take many months of hard work with the help of an expert cognitive therapist. The seriously depressed person might also need the help of antidepressant medication to do this hard work of changing thought patterns. And the person whose depression is embedded in emotional and interpersonal conflicts might need the help of extended psychotherapy to make these changes.
We have become so accustomed to hearing the j-word that we say it automatically and unconsciously. We need to pay attention to it. Listen for it in others’ speech and in your own. Listen for it in your thoughts. Minimizing the difficulty of making changes is demoralizing – there’s no “just” about it. Minimizing the extent of the challenges can deter people from getting the treatment they need and sticking with it when the changes are difficult to make.
We’d best face the seriousness of the problems that we’re all too inclined to dismiss with the j-word. The j-word reflects wishful thinking. In contrast, hope is predicated on facing reality squarely and finding ways of moving forward – often slowly and with considerable effort, making use of help when needed.