“I haven’t had a shower in, like, a week!” This, from my nine year old. I know for a fact that she had a shower the day before yesterday, but never mind. It seems like a week, so it is one. “Why do we have to sit around and wait here for you for, like, ONE HUNDRED MINUTES?!” It was more like 2 minutes, but I guess it seemed like 100. My children are masters of exaggeration, I suppose because time is hard to quantify and understand… but probably also because they are being schooled by the professional: me.
“This bag weighs a ton!” “She never stops talking!” “I can never get a moment’s peace around here.” “This house is a rubbish dump.” “Why doesn’t he ever let me sleep?” “I’m tired of them never listening to me.” “Why does she always have to be so obnoxious?” I say these things approximately every ten minutes (woops, there’s another one!). OK, so I say them pretty often, and I think them even more frequently!
I started noticing the prevalence of hyperbole in my family only recently, even though I read about it many years ago in various parenting books, i.e., watch out for the words ‘always’ and ‘never’ when speaking to your children. When I heard my internal monologue in response to the children’s exaggerations, I was surprised. To Iona’s “…in like, a week” I heard my head saying, “Oh puh-leez, it hasn’t been a week! More like a day!” To the “100 minutes” comment I am hearing, “Calm down, it hasn’t been that long.” I wondered how I could use these more realistic comments to help myself because I know that I am constantly falling into the trap of exaggeration (*blush* there’s another!).
Now, more and more each day I am noticing the power of the words “always” and “never” and my tendency to over-generalise in an unhelpful way, especially in my own thoughts. Hyperbole is an excellent way to make yourself into a victim: “why does this always happen to me?” We can paint our problems as worse than others’. Exaggerating my own troubles is a great way to be a drama queen but its inevitable effect is to render me helpless: I am the victim, not the assertive protagonist of my own life. Others do things to me; life happens in the passive voice.
For me it’s useful to look at what I say and think with a compassionate gaze. Is the morning really ruined when the children have a fight? Or am I just feeling bad in this moment because of the discontent before me? The two hours before the fight were actually very nice as the girls played Uno and other games and the little one messed around with puzzles and trains. Although the feelings during the fight were intense and I felt angry at being dragged into it, if I look at the morning with compassion for myself and my children I see that actually the morning was lovely, and at this very moment I am struggling. With greater objectivity I see how easy it is to forget what went well and my own tendency to allow the bad to override the good.
This isn’t just about positive thinking, although that’s part of it. It’s about taking a step back from those thoughts and words that trap us into a warped view of reality that is unhelpful at best and destructive at worst. Hyperbole is a literary device and, in the main, isn’t meant to be taken literally. When I hear myself using it, I stop and interrogate those statements, bringing myself back to this moment and the objective reality that stands before me.
And now, I need to go have a shower. It’s been, like, a week!
Photo credit: D O’Oneill< Wkimedia Commons