Q: This question comes out of numerous recent discussions I have had. Why is it that we sometimes say the meanest things and hurt those we care about? Why do they do it to us?
– Signed, Sorry
A: Dear Sorry,
This is a great question and I want to remind you that your personal information will be kept strictly confidential.
There are many reasons for saying hurtful things to those we love, and we are all subject to it.
One reason has to do with our state of mind. Our state of mind can vary from day to day or sometimes within an hour. Some of us have steady state of mind, most of the time. But no one has the same state of mind all of the time. Sometimes we feel stressed out, tired, vulnerable or just simply more fragile. Maybe it is from a bad night’s sleep, financial worries, a hard day at work, skipping a meal, or PMS. Being caught off guard, especially when our state of mind is not ideal can cause us to snap at people or even bite someone’s head off.
We also have basic instincts. If someone says something that we misinterpret or maybe they say something that is insensitive or a bit on the cruel side, our most immediate response will be to retaliate. If we feel attacked, we tend to want to attack back. This is basic in the animal kingdom, but humans have a frontal lobe lending to our capacity to stop ourselves, think things through and not attack. But if we are in a vulnerable state of mind, we may not always catch ourselves. Of course there are things that can interfere with this capacity like drinking or drug use or maybe just being overly tired, hungry or stressed.
Most remarks are made due to misunderstandings; something left over, not communicated or plain old misinterpretation. There is also what is known as displacement. This happens when you are really upset with someone or something else but you take it out on the person closest to you. If you find yourself snapping at others or saying hurtful things, the first step is to evaluate your own state of mind. Are you run down, in need of a break, overly stressed? Or maybe your problem is situation or person specific, in this case look inside yourself for built up resentments. Resentment literally means feelings re-sent so look for old hurt or anger that keeps coming back. See what you can do to clean your own house so to speak.
Sometimes writing is a great tool. Make a list of the ways that you feel you have been wronged and evaluate it. It’s best to read this with someone you know you can trust. Talking about what’s on the list, if you believe in prayer, praying about it or actually just being honest with yourself can take you a long way. Maybe just write yourself a note about what is troubling you. Once you have done this, you may discover that there is something to talk over with the person you have been short with or the people involved in your troubling situation.
Perhaps you start with an amends; “I am really sorry that I snapped at you the other day or I am sorry that I said that to you. I have been doing some soul searching and realized that I have been upset over —–; I am hoping that we can resolve this.” While this takes courage it almost always results in understanding and a better relationship.
There are few people who can say that they have never lashed out or snapped at someone. Most of us have said things that we regret to the people we care about the most. This may be worse these days when most of us are overly busy and have difficulty handling all the stress in our lives. It’s important to forgive ourselves and to make amends, to say you are sorry and mean it. Otherwise, my only advice is to do your best to take care of yourself, be reflective about your state of mind so that you choose the best times for sensitive conversations, and be as honest with yourself as you can be on an ongoing basis, so that you do not build up unnecessary resentments. Know that our basic instinct is to retaliate so we must learn to count to 10, take a deep breath or think things through before opening our mouths. That way no biting tongue can ever come out!
Dr. JoAnne Barge is a licensed psychologist with offices in Brentwood. Please send your questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit us at www.newshrink.com. All questions and responses will remain anonymous.