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You Can’t…Or You Won’t?

My nine year old son came up to me a few weeks ago and announced that he wanted to be an engineer, go to Notre Dame, and invent a flying car.  I smiled and ruffled the hair on his head, “That’s an awesome idea!  Why do you want to invent a flying car?”  He sat down at the kitchen table and rattled off all of the benefits of flying cars as I made meatballs for that night’s dinner.  I had to admit; he had some amazing ideas and had thought of things that had never crossed my mind before.

“You know, “I said to him, “you could start inventing now.  We could get an area set up for you in the basement…”  “No way!” he cut me off and waved his hand in the air.  “I can’t do that now.”  I bristled when the “c” word came out of his mouth.  “What do you mean you can’t?” I retorted.  “I just can’t.” he said and hung his head down.   “I’m too young to invent anything.”

I detest the word can’t and especially hate hearing it come out of my children’s mouths.  To me, saying you “can’t” do something means that you have already given up before even trying.  Saying you “can’t” do something is saying that you are too afraid to step out of your comfort zone and risk failing at something. Saying you “can’t” means you don’t have faith in yourself.  What runs through your head when you see an abused woman stay in a horrible relationship because they just “can’t” leave or you witness a child giving up on a homework assignment or school in general because they “can’t” do it?

I’ll tell you what runs through my head when I hear someone say they “can’t” do something.  I think, “This person has no faith in their own abilities.  This person doesn’t realize how great they truly are and how strong they can be.” Listen, I understand that having faith in yourself and your own abilities is extremely difficult for many people.  People who were abused like me, degraded, bullied, or teased throughout their life are left with no self-worth and little to no self-esteem. Our abusers’ degrading, abusive words ring through our ears constantly and we shirk away from anything outside of our comfort zone.  We believe that we can’t do something because someone else has made it clear to us that we are incapable of accomplishing anything on our own.

Mom told me every single day of my life that I couldn’t do something; told me I was too stupid or ugly to achieve anything on my own.  She would tell me that I was worth nothing, would be nothing, and for me to try to become anything special was a waste of time.  I was going to end up on drugs, pregnant, and homeless.  It would have been easy to just accept her warped life plan for me and accept her words as truth and gospel; but I never did.  Something deep inside of me refused to let her tell me I was going to amount to nothing and be nothing and I’d be damned if she told me I couldn’t do something.  I spent my life trying harder and working harder than most in order to prove to her and myself that I could do anything I put my mind to.

It’s difficult to accept that you are an amazing, creative, wonderful person when you are constantly put down and told you aren’t. It’s easy to give up on something before you even begin and say, “I can’t do that.”  But instead of saying “can’t”, try replacing it with “won’t.”  You can’t try out that new recipe you’ve been eyeing, or you won’t because it makes you feel overwhelmed?  You can’t get that raise because you aren’t as educated as the coworker next to you; or you won’t because you haven’t even tried to sign up for night classes at college?  You can’t leave your abusive partner; or you won’t because you are scared of the unknown?  There is nothing you can’t achieve without some hard work and faith in yourself.

Now if you’d excuse me, I’ve got to go check on my son.  He’s in the basement working on a “top-secret” project.  🙂





You Can’t…Or You Won’t?

Sarah Burleton NY Times bestselling author

Victoria Gigante Writes For Psych CentralSarah Burleton was born in a little town in Illinois to a very emotionally disturbed woman. Her first book, her child abuse memoir "Why Me," spent 26 weeks on the New York Times and the print version is endorsed by David Pelzer, author of "A Child Called It." Sarah is now realizing her goal in becoming an ambassador for abused children and adult survivors and is currently conducting workshops and seminars throughout the state. Her message of strength over adversity and her story will help counselors, teachers, and other professionals identify signs of abuse and learn ways to establish trust with an abused child.

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APA Reference
, . (2016). You Can’t…Or You Won’t?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 22, 2020, from


Last updated: 7 Feb 2016
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