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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

Nobody Believes That

Are you familiar with the phenomenon of a referential index shift—when the subject of the sentence shifts from one perspective to another?

See if you can spot this occurrence in the following Ron DeSantis quote, wherein the Governor of Florida criticizes former President Donald Trump’s critique of the response to COVID-19 by former Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo:

When you are saying that Cuomo did better on COVID than Florida did, you are revealing yourself to just be full of it. Nobody believes that. And you know why? And you know why I know that? Because I remember in 2020 and 2021 when he was praising Florida for being open.

The referential index is a formal way of indicating reference when analyzing a sentence. DeSantis used two such indexes and associated shifts in the quote.

First, DeSantis referred to Trump when saying, “When you are saying that Cuomo […],” “[…] you know why I know that,” and, “[…] he was praising Florida for being open.” The shift occurred when switching from the objective pronoun (“you”) to a normative pronoun (“he”).

Second, DeSantis stated, “Nobody believes that,” when referencing himself—as indicated by clarifying his statement by suggesting, “And you know why I know that.” This was a subtle shift in the narrative, as the average person may have understood “nobody” to refer to people other than DeSantis.

According to one source, “The beauty of this language pattern is that it is a very common turn of phrase that people do without thinking. Thus it is unlikely ever to be picked up by the listener’s conscious awareness.”

Even though we may not be cognizant of how we speak in the moment, a referential index shift can occur and may serve as a method of distancing or separating oneself from a subject. For instance, instead of saying, “I never know what to do,” a person may shift by saying, “You never know what to do.”

As far as know, there is no hard and fast rule that expresses how every instance of referential index shifting is unhealthy, bad, or symbolic of some other cause for concern. Rather, I highlight this phenomenon, because I think the words we use matter.

When practicing Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), I encourage people to take personal ownership of the assumptions they maintain. Highlighting referential index shifts is part of how I dispute the irrational beliefs of clients.

Individual responsibility and accountability allows one the ability to shift personally-held beliefs rather than reverting to the shifting of a referential index—passive exemption of blame. Once you own your role in the problem, work may then take place to do something about your response to undesired events.

Dear reader, now that I’ve highlighted the occurrence of referential index shifts, what are your thoughts about this matter? Do you tell yourself, “Nobody believes that actually occurs”? If so, I may be able to assist you with understanding the topic a bit further.

If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.

As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.

At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!

Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW


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Hollings, D. (2023, May 18). Irrational beliefs. Hollings Therapy, LLC. Retrieved from

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Pitofsky, M. (2023, June 22). DeSantis targets Trump when asked if he would support the former president in 2024: ‘Full of it.’ USA Today. Retrieved from

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Wikipedia. (n.d.). Donald Trump. Retrieved from

Wikipedia. (n.d.). Ron DeSantis. Retrieved from

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