The J-Word: Just Think About Its Impact

by Jon G. Allen, PhD, and Richard Munich, MD on September 17, 2015 · 2 comments

in behavior,depression,trauma

Just stop saying "just."

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.”

In summary, just say no to psychiatric disorders. And, while you’re at it, just change your brain chemistry.

The j-word

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.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Charley Kempthorne May 23, 2016 at 6:59 pm

JUST just doesn’t work. But neither does sympathy. Empathy works a little and might get the attention of the person you’re trying to help change. I’m not a pro but I did 25 years of psychiatric treatment (the first four at Menninger) and for the last 8 years I’ve been in a twelve step program, in which I intend to remain for the rest of my life.

I’ve found help with working on willingness. You just (!) have to be willing. I divide my intellect from the rest of me and I use the intellect to leverage the bottom half (or 9/10ths). Far from disparaging the intellect, I use it to drive the rest of me…or I try to. I just have to be patient.

Dolores October 10, 2015 at 5:40 pm

Thank you Dr. Allen. I have just begun reading Coping With Depression from Catch 22 to Hope, which led me to the Menninger website and subsequently to this blog. After years of debilitating depression, I am desperate to find hope to replace the years robbed by this paralyzing state of helplessness. I have never sought professional help because I simply do not feel like going out, or ending up on a dead end street of embarrassment. I had put on a facade of strength long after my strength began to slowly fizzle out. That facade is now exposed, I am sure. On top of all else, I hurt for my wonderful family who endures with love and kindness, of not understanding. You are indeed correct to deter those who suffer, and those in relationship with them, from the minimizing use or even the very thoughts of a JUST mentality. I certainly have overused this demeaning and ineffective approach, often unknowingly. Afterall, hasn’t a JUST solution received hearty accolades in nearly all negative areas we deal with? It has been the go to answer when the masses are looking for easier (quicker) answers. Right this moment, I want to hug myself and encourage myself as a loving adult would do for a child as she is sent along on a most challenging yet rewarding journey. Before today, I would JUST as soon kicked her out of the “nest” and see where she fell—if she were retrievable. My nest, though once providing refuge from life’s unknowns, has become an exhausting prison. There is now a glint of hope that I CAN escape. Whether I WILL is still in question. I don’t focus well these days, so I pray I will continue reading what I finally feel could be a lifeline out this deep dark grave of existence.
Sincerely thanking you again,
Dolores in GA

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