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How to Stop Saying the Wrong Thing

December 27, 2016

I hope you all had a lovely weekend celebrating with loved ones!  Our family had a wonderful Christmas and are now looking forward to visiting family out of state.  It’s going to be a busy but super fun week! So I have a Bestie confession for you:  I can be incredibly awkward. Not all the […]

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I hope you all had a lovely weekend celebrating with loved ones!  Our family had a wonderful Christmas and are now looking forward to visiting family out of state.  It’s going to be a busy but super fun week!
So I have a Bestie confession for you:  I can be incredibly awkward. Not all the time (at least, I don’t think so!  I should probably ask someone about that) – usually my awkwardness emerges as a result of awkward silence in conversation with someone. I feel the need to save everyone else from the awkwardness I’m feeling by filling it right up with some comment or story that just feels…you guessed it…awkward.  Please tell me I’m not alone.  
The whole situation is incredibly ironic because, as a therapist I love silence.  It can be such a gift to a client to have freedom to just say what they need to say without having to worry about what the other person will think of them or say in response.  Silence can be so powerful.  Often, a client will share something with me and if I just give them a moment to think after they share something meaningful, they often gain insight into their situation.  Our own insight into our own experience is way more influential than someone else’s…even if that someone else is a trained professional.
But is it really possible to reduce our awkward encounters and stop saying the wrong thing?  Yep.  Here are some of my ideas:
Think before you go.  We all have people who we feel just a little more free around…people like your besties, your therapist, maybe some of your family members.  These are the people who forgive us easily if we say the wrong thing, or unintentionally hurt them with our words.  But then there are those other people…people we care about deeply but conversation is just more difficult with them.  Maybe they are easily offended or maybe you are more sensitive to what they say to you because of a complex relationship dynamic.  When you know you are going to spend time around these people, think about what has made communication difficult in the past.  Think about how you would like things to be different.  And think about what you can do to help conversations go better, keeping in mind…
You can only control you.  Sometimes people say hurtful things.  Or they don’t respect our boundaries.  Or they know exactly what triggers us and, well…they trigger us.  When that happens, practice acceptance.  That does not mean what they said was acceptable, it just means you recognize “it is what it is.”  You observe that they said or did something hurtful and then you remember…
“Between stimulus and response there’s a space; in that space lies our power to choose our response, in our response lies our growth and our freedom.”  This Viktor Frankl quote is such a great reminder that we have a choice in how we respond in any situation.  Even if we have exploded on someone or returned hurtful words a hundred times before, each new encounter presents a new opportunity to choose a different response.  We must remember that we can choose to be truthful and loving at the same time…and sometimes the difference between a whole lotta regret and none at all is a simple, five second…
Pause.  When in doubt, say nothing.  Take a moment to reflect.  Count to five (or ten).  Take a deep breath.  You can always respond later.  You can always choose to come back to a difficult conversation another time if you are feeling too flooded in the moment.  You will never regret taking extra time to think about how you would like to respond effectively.  It’s a lot better than the alternative.  
I still haven’t found a way to ensure I never say anything awkward or inadvertently hurt someone, but practicing these things has definitely helped reduce my number of regrets in this area.  I hope you will find these suggestions helpful!  Let me know if you try any of these things and how they work for you!

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I'm Cathleen, your new (foster) mom friend.

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