The Difference Between “I Can’t” and “I Don’t Want To”


When no pictures make sense with your blog post.

I’ve realized recently that I have a tendency to use the phrase “I can’t” when I should really be using the phrase “I don’t want to.” The former implies that an outside force is preventing me from doing something, while the latter expresses, well, that I don’t want to do something. They each have their use, but I think it becomes a problem when “I can’t” becomes the stand-in for “I don’t want to.”

When I ate with other people after I went vegan, I often said things like “I can’t eat this pizza because there’s cheese on it.” Now, I’m not lactose intolerant – I most definitely could eat that pizza. I didn’t want to because I know the horrors of the dairy industry and have no desire to partake in any food produced by it, yet for some reason I still chose to use the words “I can’t.” I think it’s because those words are easier to say. If I act like something else is preventing me from doing something, no one will question my actions. I can go about my day without voicing my beliefs and creating room for confrontation.

Even worse, I noticed my friends and family starting to use the word “can’t” when referring to the food I didn’t want to eat. This bothered me more than I would have thought; saying that I can’t eat something completely negates the point that I don’t want to eat it, therefore making my food choices reasonable to them. This is not the way that I want people to think about me – I want them to question me and engage in conversation, even if my subconscious doesn’t – yet I’m the one who started it in the first place.

This habit is present in other places in my life as well, although less frequent. I know that in the past I’ve told someone that I couldn’t hang out, when really I just didn’t want to. I suppose that made me feel nicer, but it wasn’t the truth. And the more I or anyone else does this, the harder it is to be in touch with yourself. Knowing what I want or don’t want is vital to my happiness, and hiding behind “I can’t” just makes me less confident and certain. It seems like such a small difference when looking at the phrases in front of you, but the meaning of each phrase is vast and complex. They change how people view you, whether those people realize it or not – and most likely they don’t. Employing each phrase in the right way not only gives you more control over language, but also over the person you are. It’s difficult to change something that comes out naturally, but I know that I want to work on saying what I really mean – life is way too short not to.


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