I grew up hearing it on a regular basis. It was usually my mother who was hurling it in my direction. When she stopped saying it to me, I said it to myself.
She didn't stop there. When I became a mother, she said it to my children. I fought back and told her to keep it to herself. I told her she was wrong.
I hear people say it all the time. They are destroying themselves, their potential, even their own dreams with that one awful little word.
When you say you "can't" do something, this implies that you are unable, incapable. You believe it is not possible - whatever "it" is. The abusive husband who "can't" control his temper. The young girl who "can't" sing in front of the school. The alcoholic who "can't" stop drinking.
I dropped out of high school. Yup, one of the stupidest things I ever did but I didn't believe I had a future anyway. I didn't think I was smart. Neither of my parents ever asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, or if I wanted to go to university. I never thought about it. It never occurred to me that it was an option. They never even asked if I had homework; it was as though I didn't exist. Yet when I quit school, suddenly my mother paid attention. And she was livid.
Fast forward a bunch of years, and a couple of ex-husbands later. With three children and no way to support them, in the midst of getting a divorce I decided to go back to school. Thinking I was finally - for the first time ever - doing something that would please my unpleasable mother, I told her of my exciting (and terrifying) decision.
"You can't do that!" she spewed, then listed all the reasons why it was (in her opinion) impossible. I'll spare you the rest of the conversation but to say the least, my heart sank.
I was not deterred, however. It is true, there were other obstacles in my path at that time too - pretty big ones, I might add - but I went to Mount Royal and I studied social work. And despite significant health issues, single parenting and film-worthy family crises, I managed a perfect 4.0 GPA the entire time I was a student.
Guess what, Ma? I could. And I did.
She told my children "You can't!" before they had even tried - anything, everything - it didn't matter. I have spent years listening to clients or patients, friends or family, say "I can't find time to relax!" or "I can't let go of the past!" or "I can't lose weight, stop smoking, say no, be assertive, calm down...." or twelve million other things.
"Can't" says you are unable or incapable of doing something. It is limiting. It is restrictive. It makes you give up before you try.
But as soon as you change it to "I haven't done it yet" or "I won't" or "I don't know how", then doors of opportunity open. You can see another way. You believe it is possible. And you won't give up; you will keep trying.
"I can't control my temper." This is a great excuse to be an abusive idiot. It absolves the person of any responsibility. Some people might even feel sorry for the poor fool. But the truth is, he doesn't control his temper. Or he won't. Or he doesn't know how to do that because no one ever taught him.
Those statements put responsibility back in that person's lap. No more excuses. It's still on your head, buddy, but hey, at least that means you can do something about it.
"Can't" is one of the most destructive and terrible words on the planet. It will kill dreams before you've even thought of them. It removes all possibility - and hope. Sadly, too many people say it on a regular basis, entirely unaware of its toxic impact on their lives and their souls.
Every time you say that miserable little word, you reinforce its negativity and the message that you are unable or incapable of doing whatever it is you're discussing. See if you can catch yourself saying it. Change it to "won't." Or "don't." Or "I haven't done it...yet." And notice how different those statements feel.
Those changes will empower you. Those words will put you back in control of your life. There isn't a nameless "something" out there trying to keep you from being able to do something; it's right there inside yourself in that horrible little "C" word. Only you can make it disappear and put yourself back in the driver's seat.
You just have to decide that that's where you want to be.