Magazine article Psychology Today

Two Perilous Words

Magazine article Psychology Today

Two Perilous Words

Article excerpt

WHEN THINGS DO NOT go the way we hoped, many of us are vulnerable to the allure of a dangerous phrase: "if only."

Consider a woman who aspires to become an accountant and prepares for all the necessary exams. But she also has a child. Because she wouldn't earn enough income to pay for day care, she and her husband decide it makes financial sense for her to stay home.

Fifteen years later, her aspiration still deferred, she may tell herself, "If only I hadn't stayed home, I would have had a successful career as a CPA "-or, Tf only day care had been more affordable." These words can be dangerous if they keep us stuck in the past or on factors beyond our control. "If only" can become a repository of regret.

People also hurl these words at others. An active alcoholic might say to her partner, Tf only you weren't so emotionally needy, I wouldn't drink." An abuser may claim that he would not have hit his partner "if only she had kept her mouth shut. …

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