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Not everyone who says hurtful things is trying to be hurtful. In fact, many people say things they don’t mean because they have some other difficulty or frustration that they haven’t worked out.
They know they shouldn’t say those things because words hurt, and you can’t unring the bell. Once you say it, it’s out there, and even if the other person forgives you, they will always have it in the back of their mind.
But if you’re a person who does say things they don’t mean, you’ve probably experienced how that harms your personal and romantic relationships. After all, who wants to spend their time around someone who regularly says mean or hurtful things?
The good news is that this is a problem you can work on and overcome. But to do that, you’ll need to first identify why you’re saying things you don’t mean. So, let’s explore that further.
Speak to an accredited and experienced therapist to help you stop saying things you don’t mean or want to say in the heat of the moment. You may want to try speaking to one via BetterHelp.com for quality care at its most convenient.
Why do I say things I don’t mean?
1. Learned bad habits.
Many of the habits people develop start in childhood. The environment they are raised in teaches them to behave in certain ways.
For example, a child that grows up in a loving, nurturing environment with positive adults will typically develop healthier social habits than a child who does not. A child who grows up around screaming, yelling, and other domestic issues may develop those social habits because they mirror those things over and over until they become unaware they are doing them.
Some people grow up believing that being more hurtful than the other is what “wins” the argument because that’s what they saw their adults doing. It’s their normal. It’s been their normal for years, possibly decades of their life.
Bad habits like that are hard to break because it’s difficult to undo decades of habit and negative reinforcement.
That doesn’t make it okay, but it is a reason why it may happen.
2. Poor impulse control and emotional regulation.
Some people say things they don’t mean because of poor impulse control and emotional regulation. Trauma and many mental illnesses may cause people to have impulsive, emotional reactions that they cannot necessarily control. Sometimes, the words may come out of your mouth before your conscious thought processes have time to realize what you’re about to say.
The words just pour out. Then you realize it when the other person is looking at you with a hurt expression or after comprehending your words.
Conflict can put people with mental health challenges into a more negative head space than most. Their response may be overwhelming because it is amplified by their trauma or mental illness. They may lash out hard as a defensive mechanism to keep from being harmed again.
3. Poor empathy and misunderstanding.
Sometimes, a person says hurtful things because they don’t register as hurtful. Everyone has a different threshold for what they consider hurtful, offensive, or insulting. Some people have thick skin, and some people don’t.
The arguments and disagreements between two people with thin skin and two people with thick skin may look very different. That doesn’t mean that feelings won’t get hurt or that one is better. It’s just that the types of words and method of delivery may be dramatically different. For example, people with thick skin may brush off harsher words easier than a highly-sensitive person.
Additionally, greater challenges arise when a person with thick skin ends up with a highly-sensitive person. A casual comment that a person with thick skin would laugh at and brush off may cause hurt to the highly-sensitive person. But that doesn’t mean the highly-sensitive person can’t wind up doing the same back. After all, a pointed attack on a sore spot can cause great harm.
4. Self-sabotage and low self-esteem.
People who say things they don’t mean may do so because they don’t feel good about themselves. Their actions are less about the argument and more about self-sabotaging their relationship.
After all, if they don’t love or care about themselves, how can this other person love and care about them? And one of the easiest ways to do that is by saying hurtful things, truthful or not.
The conflict and negative actions are a way for the person to push their partner away. They can then point to the failed relationship and say, “See? This person who claimed to love and care about me ended up leaving me because I’m not good enough.”
This type of behavior isn’t necessarily a conscious choice. Sometimes it’s just a reaction to the discomfort that a person with low self-esteem may feel when with someone who loves and cares about them.
5. Ego and the desire to win.
Humans are competitive by nature. And arguments are competitions. Some people interpret an argument as something that must be won, rather than resolved. But what’s the difference?
Well, winning an argument often entails just shutting the other person down so hard that they no longer want to argue. That may seem like a good thing to the competitive person, but it’s not. Winning an argument typically means that neither party’s problem has been adequately addressed or resolved. It just means that so much anger was thrown and so many foul words spoken that they don’t want to engage anymore.
On the other hand, resolving a conflict means looking at the problem, finding a solution that may be a compromise, and enacting the solution to smooth out the situation. A resolution is respectful and loving because it honors both participants. Just winning a fight is all about bludgeoning the other person into submission.
6. Masking insecurity.
Society doesn’t have much patience for fear, sadness, and insecurity. On the other hand, anger is an emotion that is often viewed as a strength. For some, anger serves as a shield to protect the vulnerabilities of fear and insecurity.
People who do not know how to be vulnerable may also respond with anger because they’re just overwhelmed with those feelings. So, they keep the armor on, the shield up, and the anger flowing because it does keep people away.
Anger keeps other people from looking too closely and seeing that this is a scared or sad person who may need help. However, that doesn’t make it okay for the insecure person to use anger and cruelty as a weapon or a shield.
7. People make mistakes when emotional.
People are emotional creatures. Sometimes they do dumb things when they are emotional. Most everyone has said something they didn’t mean in a flash of anger and lapse of good judgment. They may have felt hurt and snapped back with whatever came to mind. It’s different from poor impulse control as we already spoke about because it’s not a chronic issue.
How can I stop saying things I don’t mean?
1. Acknowledge and own the problem.
Right now, you’re here and reading this article. That implies that you understand there is a problem with how you communicate with other people. You are aware and acknowledge that the problem exists. Good for you. Seriously. It’s a big first step.
To own the problem is to say, “Yes, this is mine. I need to fix it.” And then dedicate the effort to actually fixing it. Too many people drop off when it’s time to do the work to actually fix the issue. That is what we need to focus on.
2. Try to identify the root cause of the action.
Consider the last time you said something hurtful that you didn’t mean. What were the circumstances surrounding the action? Were you in an argument? Were you feeling emotional? Were you hungry? Had you slept the night before? Were you mentally or emotionally unstable? Were you stressed out from work or life? Maybe you were clashing with the other person because of a chronic problem that is just frustrating?
Can you identify a reason? Or does it seem like there’s no reason at all?
It’s quite likely that you’ll be able to see some sort of root cause for saying things you don’t mean. However, if you can’t, a certified mental health therapist should be able to help you pull the problem apart, examine it, and put your pieces back together.
3. Develop better habits.
The habits that you’ll want to focus on are those that facilitate this kind of bad behavior. Once you identify the causes, you can create plans to alleviate those causes. So, for example:
– If you are quick to anger while tired, avoid sensitive conversations or arguments when you’re tired. Instead, ask to return to the issue later when you’ve had a chance to rest, and your mind is in a better place.
– Come to an agreement with your partner to take a break from an argument or conversation when you feel as though you’re getting overwhelmed. Arrange this ahead of time when you’re not arguing. Take a 15-minute break (or longer if needed) to cool down and return to it.
– If you feel insecure, you may need to address your low self-esteem and conflict resolution with a professional. This isn’t typically self-help because it often stems from childhood adversity or trauma. However, they should help you close up some of those wounds and develop better habits. BetterHelp.com is a solid choice for online therapy.
4. Change the words that you use.
Consider the hurtful things that you’ve said in the past. Are there any commonalities? Are there any specific emotions you can identify when you’ve said those things? Are there any default insults, words, or phrases you use when angry?
And can you stop using them? One common thread you may find is swearing. Many people swear because of anger and frustration. Accidentally stub your toe? Bang your thumb in a door? Cut yourself? Quite easy for an expletive to slip out of your mouth.
The problem is that it can create a subconscious habit. In anger and arguments, swearing is a hostile action for both people. If you swear at them, you will be perceived as attacking them, and they will get defensive. If they swear at you, you may perceive them as attacking you and get defensive yourself.
The result is an escalation of conflict. So, if you find yourself swearing a lot, that can be a good place to start in changing the words and language you use.
5. Develop your communication skills.
Socialization doesn’t come naturally to many people. Likewise, active listening and empathy are both skills that not everyone has.
The good news is that these are skills you can learn about and develop more. Many books, videos, podcasts, articles, websites, clubs, and support groups are dedicated to helping you improve your communication skills and emotional health.
Take some time to check them out. Learn more about conflicts and conflict resolution so you can find an approach that works for you.
6. Don’t engage in sensitive conversations when under the influence.
This may or may not seem obvious, but don’t engage in sensitive conversations if you’re under the influence or drunk. Substances reduce impulse control and clarity of thinking. It’s not going to end well. And if you are a substance user, chances are pretty good you’re going to be able to look back on your life and find examples of when arguments plus drugs or alcohol got way out of hand.
7. You don’t have to win arguments.
As we previously discussed, arguments are typically a competition with winners and losers. Instead of thinking about a problem as a me versus you issue, try to think of it as an us versus the problem issue. That way, instead of arguing and fighting with each other, you’re joining forces to confront and overcome this problem together.
Furthermore, if you realize you’re wrong, let yourself be wrong. You don’t have to keep fighting to win to satiate your ego or protect yourself. In fact, that is one of the worst things you can do because it prevents the other person from gaining emotional closure and resolution. It’s okay to be wrong, realize you’re wrong, and say, “Hey. I’m wrong. You’re right. How can I make it better?”
You’ll find that goes a lot farther than “victory.”
8. Reflect on the argument.
You got into an argument with someone you care about, you said things you don’t mean, and now there are hurt feelings and fallout to deal with. After an argument, sit down and think about how you got to where you’re at. What happened during the argument that prompted you to say things you didn’t mean? What could you have done differently during that argument?
How can you avoid doing that in the future?
Dissecting your actions this way will give you greater insight into why you do what you do, making it much easier to apply solutions to the problem. And if you are struggling with this problem and don’t know how to address it, seek professional help. This is the kind of problem that any therapist should be well-equipped to help you overcome.
A good place to get professional help is the website BetterHelp.com – here, you’ll be able to connect with a therapist via phone, video, or instant message.
Too many people try to muddle through and do their best to overcome issues like this, but they never really get to grips with them. If it’s at all possible in your circumstances, therapy is 100% the best way forward.
Here’s that link again if you’d like to learn more about the service BetterHelp.com provide and the process of getting started.
You’ve already taken the first step just by searching for and reading this article. The worst thing you can do right now is nothing. The best thing is to speak to a therapist. The next best thing is to implement everything you’ve learned in this article by yourself. The choice is yours.