Why You Say Hurtful Things
You're a good person. It's not that you intentionally set out to hurt someone with what you say. Yet you do. Why do you do that? Why is it that sometimes, perhaps more often than you'd like, you find things coming out of your mouth that result in arguments, or end up throwing gasoline on a discussion?
It's Normal, But Not OK
Once in a while we all say hurtful things to those we care about. But why? Well, it's normal. Nobody on this planet has been able to go through life without things that hurt or anger others. It's the nature of being human and how people learn to communicate. The first step in learning to reduce destructive patterns of communication is to recognize and understand why.
It's All About Learning To Use Language
Let's start at the beginning. The "job" of a baby or child is to communicate to the outside world so its needs are met -- it's a matter of survival. Since the baby doesn't know how to use language, it uses what it has -- crying, wriggling, and so on. Also during this period the baby is almost exclusively self-centered, because that's the job it has -- to survive, and to survive it has to find someway of getting the basics.
As a child gets older, he or she starts to learn language. It's a built in function of the brain, and we have special innate abilities to learn that language, without any kind of specific instruction or teaching. Babies learn language by listening, observing and experimenting, again, just part of being human.
Here's the catch. Because language is learned during a period where the child is so self-centered, he or she learns language that's tied to getting his or her needs and is also linked to discomfort. That's one reason why the word "no" is often one of the first words that is used by young children.
So, to make it simple, the language to manipulate the environment (including family), emerges early, and is the most often used language.
Because human beings learn language during a time when they are completely dependent on others for their survivial, we learn to use language to serve our own needs first, and language is intiminately tied to emotion and discomfort.
Communicating As Adults
Fortunately, as people get older, they learn to use language in less self-centered ways. We learn that the behaviors of a two year old don't work so well in adults. We learn to better get along with people by using language more effectively.
That does not mean that we forget how to be mean, self-centered and so on in what we say. In fact, because we learn self-centered communication so early on in life, we get a huge amount of practice doing that. So imagine that on one level you have the ability to communicate in hurtful or manipulative ways, and ON TOP of that, we have the newer, more adult language skills. The bottom level, the childlike ways of communicating, are still there. We simply learn it's unwise to use them.
Emotion Pushes Us To Go Back To Childhood Communication
So, generally, most adults communicate in non-hurtful ways. That is, until emotions are involved. When we are angry or upset, our thinking (cognition), gets lost to some degree, and we revert to what we learned earliest in life. It's kind of a verbal fight or flight thing, and when we are emotionally upset (even if we aren't consciously aware of the upset), we revert to what we learned as children.
That's one reason why angry adults often look like angry babies. When upset, they turn red, flail about, and otherwise act like chldren.
Negative emotion push us backwards towards acting like children, and it's NORMAL.
But You Don't WANT To Say Hurtful Things, So What To Do?
But you don't want to say hurtful things. You know the regret and guilt that happens after, not to mention that you know the damage it does to your relationships. The good news is that while there's a psychological "push" towards childish behavior, it's not that you HAVE to do it. You CAN learn to stop saying hurtful things if you work at it. Here are some tips.
The hurtful childhood language is the FIRST response -- the gut response you have when you get upset. It feels like it just "blurts out". So the first tip is to slow down your responses. In tough conversations SLOW down what comes out of your mouth. You don't have to respond with your knee jerk responses. Learn to say nothing.
Give your adult self a chance to assert itself. When you stop and think before speaking, you allow your thought processes to moderate your child-like emotional responses, and therefore what you say.
Attend to the signs you are upset. Since we don't always know when we are upset, pay attention to your emotional state. You can do that by noticing how you are breathing, whether your hands are cold, and that kind of thing. Perhaps you are speaking more loudly, or more quickly. Look to the signs. A lot of hurtful communication occurs because the person speaking doesn't quite realize he or she IS upset.
- Remind yourself that hurting someone you love is going to cause YOU pain.
- Develop a phrase to use in emotional situations For example:
- I'm not going to act like a child here.
- I can communicate without striking out and hurting.
- I want to work this out without being hurtful.
- Use that phrase during the period of time when you want to strike out. Use the phrase to slow yourself down.