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Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say, Don’t Be Mean About What You Say

Say What You Mean
Mean What You Say
Don’t Be Mean About What You Say

Words are incredibly powerful.

They can be used for healing or for hurting.
They can be helpful or they can be harmful.
They can be used as weapons or as olive branches.
They can be understood and misunderstoodused and misused.

Words are used to convey emotions, feelings, thoughts, and beliefs.

To others.
To ourselves.

I spend a lot of time thinking about words. I’d say 95% of my day (if not more) is consumed by the processing of words. I process words in emails that I write to friends, coworkers and business associates, and I process words that I text, post or tweet. I process words that I speak, and I process words that I hear and read.

I ponder over the meanings of words — overt and covert, intentional and unintentional, serious and funny — in my own messages and thoughts, those written or spoken to me, and those written or spoken for no one in particular.

Sometimes, I wonder if people really know what they are saying? I like to THINK they know, but the reality is, they probably don’t, and I like to THINK they want OTHERS to think they know, and I’d go even further to say that what they THINK are saying really isn’t what they are saying.

Confused, yet?

Let me try and make it clear, because I think that what I’m trying to say would fit neatly into something called the Johari Window. In my study of life, I was aware of three of the panes (what I know about myself, what others know about me, what I share about myself), but not the fourth (what isn’t known by anyone). Now that I AM aware, life looks much different.

Let me see if I can do a better job of explaining it to you:

Basically, there are 4 “parts” to each of us: Our Private self, Hidden self, Unknown self and Blind self. It’s pretty easy to understand the private and hidden selves, for they are what we know about ourselves and choose either to show the world, or hide. The other window panes are a bit trickier because they represent selves others know or no one knows.

Johari Window

Why am I talking about pictures when my opening comments were about words?

Well, think about this for a moment: Our friends look through the same 4 panes as we do, although we are not familiar with at least two of them. So, when we speak, it’s to the public or blind person and we choose our words accordingly. It’s pretty easy to speak to someone in familiar terms, addressing them as they want others to know them, but much more challenging to point out areas where the other person is completely unaware.

Now, imagine the person to whom you are speaking is YOU. Hmmm…We speak to the person we want the world to believe we are, and we speak to the person we believe we are (but hide from the world), but that leaves two panes unaddressed: The blind pane (things we don’t know about ourselves) and the unconscious or unknown pane (things no one knows about us, even ourselves.)

Do we speak to our hidden person as kindly as we speak to another person’s blind spots? Do we speak to our public selves in honest terms, or do we lie to keep up an image?

This is where words matter most. There are kind words and mean words, and two of the words I use mostly frequently when speaking to myself are: OUGHT and SHOULD – especially during the holidays.

I hear myself telling myself:
You SHOULD work out more to compensate for the Halloween candy you SHOULDN’T have eaten.
Of course, you SHOULDN’T eat the candy in the first place, but if you buy it, you OUGHT to hand it out at the door.

You SHOULD buy a Christmas present for that person. You OUGHT to cook Thanksgiving dinner like you always do. You SHOULD hang a wreath on the door and decorate for the holidays. You SHOULD have started your Christmas shopping early. You SHOULD call your brother and your mother more often, especially during this “blue” season. You OUGHT to be a better friend. You SHOULD have gotten up earlier this morning. You OUGHT to know better than to bring home a whole sugar free pie.

And on and on.


Fortunately, as I explore my recovery from obesity further, I am learning to reframe my inner dialogue to exclude the shaming words, which sounds something like this:

OLD: You SHOULD work out more to the eat the candy you SHOULDN’T have eaten.
NEW: I can choose to work out today and I can choose to pass on the candy. If I choose the candy, I am responsible for the repercussions. If I don’t want to pass candy out at the door because it is too great a temptation, it’s okay. I don’t have to. But, I must accept the consequences.There are no rules that say I must have bowls of candy to give to trick-or-treaters, but there are no rules that say I have to buy it, either.

OR THIS: You CAN buy Christmas presents for people, and if you CAN’T afford it, you can always make a thoughtful card. You CAN have your family over for dinner another night; it doesn’t have to be on Thanksgiving. It’s OKAY to go camping — but call your mother. It’s OKAY that you didn’t call your friend yesterday; call her NOW. It’s okay that you didn’t work out this morning, go to the gym tonight.

Ultimately, I view it as negotiation. In speaking to myself, what is my goal? Resolution or condemnation? If you think of it in terms of speaking to a child, when you ask them to do a task, are you asking with the goal of accomplishing something (clean your room, make your bed, empty the cat box), OR, are you being critical: You SHOULD clean your room; it’s a pigpen. You OUGHT to wash your bedsheets because they haven’t been washed in months! The cat box stinks; you SHOULD think about how other people feel when they have to smell it.

Different tone, don’t you agree? If we speak like that to others, how do we feel when we speak to ourselves like that???

Without going much deeper, this is what I want you to hear:

  • LISTEN to what you are saying.
  • Speak to yourself with kindness and purpose; there is no room for blame and shame.
  • Learn more about the person you hide from the world by asking respectful questions.
  • Encourage trusted friends to speak to the self you don’t know.
  • Do your best to know yourself better.

Ultimately, choose your words carefully; if they don’t sound like something you would tell another person, consider whether it needs to be said at all.


1 Paula { 10.26.12 at 6:00 pm }

I must admit I LOTHE the word should… It's a word that my husband uses, and I have mentioned frequently to him. I know it's almost subconscious for him, but it always hits me wrong. "You should have" ________. It always sounds like he is condemning what I did… Even if the same outcome would have come from either way… I like the work could instead… "You could have" _______. Then it sounds instructional, instead of condemning.

2 bariatricafterlife { 10.26.12 at 6:09 pm }

I'm glad I'm not alone in my distaste for the word “SHOULD”…You know what *they* say: “Don't should all over yourself.” *They* also say: “Shoulda/Woulda/Coulda”…so, to me, those are all chastising words. Perhaps if it were entirely reframed, it would be better received. So, instead of “You Should/Could have ____” it would be, “Did you consider ___?” or “What made you decide to do ____? I figured you'd have _______.”Ultimately, we all know that this is a continual work in progress. Sorta like painting your house. You finish the stucco and the trim needs painting. You finish the trim and the fences need painting. You finish the fences and the roof needs shingling. You finish the shingling and the grass needs re-sodding…and on and on…LOL.Thanks for commenting — *getting* it! :-*

3 Sine { 03.06.13 at 1:42 am }

Awesome Cari

4 bariatricafterlife { 03.07.13 at 1:51 pm }

Do you mean that? 😉 LOL.Thanks!

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