“Saying the wrong thing” is on my mind, this morning, because:
- In therapy (and outside of therapy), I hear people express fears about doing that.
- Yesterday, when I was talking to somebody experiencing a lot of pain and hopelessness, I had a twinge of fear about that, myself.
- I tend to be a perfectionist about how I communicate (for example, I check carefully for mistakes and possible miscommunications, before I send messages out into the world).
What are the fears, then, regarding saying the wrong thing?
Because of the human tendency to expect the worst (also called “catastrophizing,” described here), here’s a relevant question: What’s the worst that could happen, if we said the wrong thing?
Let’s try finishing this sentence: “If I say the wrong thing, then …….”
Here are some answers I’ve heard (your answers may vary). If I say the wrong thing, then …
- People won’t like me.
- I might hurt somebody’s feelings.
- Somebody will get angry.
- I will lose people.
- I’ll get fired.
- I’ll feel guilty.
- I’ll get hurt.
- I’ll be judged.
- I’ll feel shame.
- I’ll be misunderstood.
- I’ll feel like an idiot.
- THAT’s what people will remember about me.
- I’ll be alone, again.
- I will suffer many consequences, because I always do (although other people seem to get away with that).
- Somebody may die.
No wonder people are afraid of saying the wrong thing!
During this year, I’ve been encouraging myself (and others, maybe) to let go of fear. What would happen if we let go of fears of saying the wrong thing?
Imagine what THAT would be like, if we felt safe enough to …
Well, we might suffer our imagined consequences. Eeeeek! Clearly, that would be the down side.
Actually, chances are, we would NOT suffer the consequences.**
That’s what I see, over and over again: worst fears tend to NOT happen. (Although, when they DO happen, they’re given so much weight, they can wipe out memories of everything else.)***
What would be the benefits, of letting go of fears of saying the wrong thing?
I can think of a lot of benefits.
A sense of freedom. Less worry. Speaking up more. Being more creative. Expressing different parts of oneself. Connecting more.
I’m thinking about that last benefit: “Connecting more.” Even though the fears often relate to disconnection from others, letting go of the fear could help people connect.
Isn’t that ironic?
Did I say the wrong thing just now, or anywhere else in this post?
Here’s something else to remember:
If we do say the wrong thing, that’s usually not the end of it. Chances are, we’ll get to say more.
Thanks to John Cusack, Cameron Crowe, and anybody else responsible for the movie “Say Anything,” to people who say the wrong thing, and to you — of course! — for reading today.
* One of my favorite movies, which I watched again this week. I found the image of this poster here.
** That’s true where I live (and it’s not true everywhere).
*** Here’s an example of not wanting to say the wrong thing: I rewrote that sentence in the parentheses over and over again. Is it the right thing? Who knows?