“If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”
We’ve all heard that wisdom. Advice handed down by a parent or teacher, perhaps in response to unkind words we uttered or as a reminder that we don’t have to share every thought that crosses our minds.
And much of the time, that advise is indeed wise. It’s usually better to scroll past an inflammatory post on social media than to attempt to engage. There is no reason to share your annoyances about your coworker with them (as an aside, I am so happy that the singular “they” is now accepted!!!! no more him/her nonsense!!!). And even in a relationship, biting one’s tongue is a critical skill to develop.
Yet, as is so often the case in life, this advice is written in black and white, while we live in a world of gray.
Sometimes there are things that need to be said. Things that may not be nice.
Another truism guides us here –
“Before you speak, ask yourself: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?”
And that’s where I often mess up.
Not by saying things.
But by holding them back. Letting them build. Until they erupt, small bits of truth simmered until burnt in emotions and assumptions.
Which isn’t fair to the person on the receiving end (unfortunately, usually Brock) and it leads to a room full of ugly emotions.
It’s an error in identifying what words are necessary. An error that leads to a muddling of truth and an unintentional dash of unkindness as the initial feelings are allowed to go to rot.
Recently, I’ve made an effort to identify the reasons why I have a tendency to bite my tongue until it bleeds:
As an introvert, I tend to process silently (or in writing), only speaking once I’ve had time to think about something. It means I’m not prone to impulsive comments or saying something that is only half-thought out, but it does mean that I can give the impression that I’m complacent when I’m really trying to think about what to say.
I naturally tend to analyze (every)things. That combined with an independent streak means that I try to solve the puzzle of my emotions on my own. My brain naturally gathers and examines data points, only sharing the conclusions once they are reached. Unfortunately, the conclusions are often not valid.
I Want to Be Liked
I don’t want to be a bother. A nag. I want to ride the waves rather than make them. As a result, I will often swallow my distress instead of voicing it. Choosing to make myself ill in an attempt to preserve others. Yeah, there’s a little ugly martyrdom there.
This is a side effect of the divorce. I struggle to differentiate between feelings that are originating from something that is bothering me in my present and those that are simply echoes from the past. And as healing becomes more complete and triggers fewer are further between, I find that I try to dismiss things too quickly. Only to have them bubble up later.
Even though my triggers are better, the fear of abandonment can still cause me to flood with emotion, shutting down all hope of rational thought for a time. And when I’m flooded, I tend to retreat. Shut down.
I used to avoid expressing my feelings out of a fear of confrontation. A worry that displeasure would immediately translate to rejection.
I’ve come a long way on that fear, no longer nervous about speaking up.
And I thought that was enough. That courage to speak meant that I would speak when needed.
And I’m having to accept that there is more to it than that. And that even though I’m no longer afraid, I’m still not where I want to be.
I need to learn to get better at identifying what emotions are merely the death throws of a dying trigger (and are best ignored) and which ones are the cries of an injured heart (and need expressing).
I need to get better at not allowing my analytical brain to create spreadsheets of data without at least alerting the other that there is processing going on.
I need to get better at speaking up instead of building up.
At sharing my truth before biting my tongue for so long that we both end up bloody and raw.
I’m good with restraint.
Time to become better with release.