Day 337: Saying the wrong thing

“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?

Categories: inspiration, personal growth | Tags: , , , | 29 Comments

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29 thoughts on “Day 337: Saying the wrong thing

  1. I had an experience with this last year. I had a friend who was constantly asking advice about a relationship, but then would always get angry with the person giving the advice if it wasn’t exactly what she wanted to hear. I tiptoed around her in fear for months — always worrying about seeing the wrong thing and setting off the tears and yelling — until finally I was too exhausted to keep it up. It was incredibly liberating to finally be totally honest in response to her requests for advice, although it ultimately ended our friendship, which, in hindsight, wasn’t a healthy friendship that I needed in my life. Total freedom with my thoughts and honesty ended up saving the day even though it was difficult at first.

  2. Very interesting post. I think saying the wrong thing has as its base the belief others care what we say so much we can impact their lives. sounds silly doesn’t it? Good job.

  3. Good post! I said something to someone a couple of weeks ago that was really, ‘the wrong thing’. It wasn’t meant to hurt, it was said in the moment and was meant to divert their attention from something that was painful. But, in my attempts, what I said hurt them.

    And that is what I fear.

    Being thought to be unkind.

    IN this instance, as soon as I realized what I said had caused pain, I acknowledged my mistake and apologized.

    I don’t want to worry about saying ‘the wrong thing’ so instead, stay present. In the instance I described, I wasn’t present to the other person. I was caught up in what I thought would be best for them….

    Love this post.

    Thanks Ann.

    • Love your comments, Louise. I do think that it’s inevitable that we hurt each other sometimes. I understand the fear of being thought unkind. Thanks for being present in the moment here.

  4. We all could take a cue from the legendary John Cusack character Lloyd Dobler and speak our pieces. ‘Say Anything’ may be that last step too far as the foundation principle, though. There are some comments best left in your head only. Maybe let’s go with “Say Something.” Thanks for your thoughts, Ann.

  5. Pingback: Truth is not a hammer or an axe | A Year of Rejoicing -- Welcome!

  6. This post really resonates with me. Thank you for some great food for thought Ann.
    And I just love the comment from Mark above. The idea of Say Something, versus Say Anything — perfect!

  7. I am a big worrier so I tend to analyze myself to death! My Dad used to say I would convict myself in a court of law even though I was innocent! I love the movie, “Say Anything” and I think we have to be comfortable in our own skin. I am working on this! Great post!

  8. Fantastic post and I am guilty,guilty, guilty.
    You have set me back on track. Thank you.

  9. I came over from Louise’s blog where she reblogged this post. Thank you. xo

  10. Yes yes yes my big one is I will sound like an idiot and then people will laugh at me and not like me and I will feel bad. I have a habit of going over what I want to say in my head and trying to work out if it is the right thing to say…………………

    • Hi Joanne. I’m so pleased that you’re following and commenting, too! I hope you realize you are not alone in those thoughts and I’m so glad you spoke up here. Thanks!

  11. I say, saying the wrong thing would be to say nothing. I enjoyed you saying what you said;)

  12. It’s amazing what a difference it makes when someone opens up and lets you know where they’re coming from and why you may or may not like what they have to say– it absolutely changes my attitude and I tend to have respect and become more open minded to their side of things. But if someone is just all huffy (or if I choose to go this route) then it tends to escalate into a huge misunderstanding where both sides think the other person is so in the wrong. I feel like the same thing happens when driving. If another driver does something absolutely stupid and then just stares ahead and roars off I’m apt to get angry and say unclean words. But if they do a sheepish “oops” face and wave like they’re sorry I want to follow them and let them know that it’s all forgiven and we can be friends. I don’t do this though, because that would be creepy. But fun.

    • It IS amazing, what a difference that makes.

      Personally, I often say “oops!” and make “oops!” faces. I guess that’s because I make so many mistakes (like everybody else).

      Also, I can’t imagine you doing anything that seems creepy, Aussa, but I sure as hell can imagine you doing lots of things that are fun.

  13. I gave some unwanted advice the other day (and I am against giving advice so not sure why I did that) and I got SLAMMED! Okay, so I learned a lesson but, hell! My email was well-meaning, and sent with love, but it was misinterpreted as criticism – argh. All okay now but horrible altercations in between. Timely post and so true!

  14. Pingback: Day 612: Not the only one | The Year(s) of Living Non-Judgmentally

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