Happy Holidays! Now Watch What You Say Because it Can’t Be Unsaid
The largest group of depression sufferers in the United States is currently between ages 25 and 44. That will likely change as depression continues to strike at younger and younger ages.
One of the many characteristics of this age group that feeds their higher rates of depression is their belief that they should be able to say what they think and say what they feel “just because” — Just because they feel a particular way, they think it’s important to “put it out there.” There’s a common attitude that says, “Ya gotta keep it real.” Roughly translated, that means you have to speak the truth as you see it, telling people how you feel or what your reactions to them are in a given moment.
Never mind if others see it differently, never mind if your viewpoint is hurtful to others, never mind if being “real” sends out the wrong message, especially to more vulnerable children, that “this is the way it is.” There’s a significant sense of entitlement wrapped up in this behavior.
Watch a few trashy talk shows on television (if you can bear it). You’ll see people openly confess to outrageous and destructive behavior, you’ll see the mocking of the victims and the booing of the perpetrators, while the audience yells for more. It is terrible stuff to watch, but there’s a point: These people illustrate some of the worst of human behavior, and they strut proudly while doing so.
They offer their pathetic justifications and their thoughtless rationales and, frenzied studio audience aside, they seem to have no idea that the rest of the civilized world sees them as the worst possible examples of human beings.
There are people who grow up believing that people really do talk to each other in the style of trashy talk shows, confessing much too personal things on air, asking and answering very private, rude questions, and they don’t see anything wrong with it. They think you should be able to say whatever you want to whomever you want, regardless of how crass, tasteless, insulting, or mean-spirited it might be.
With no boundaries in place, their relationships limp along at the lowest level of quality.I raise this point for a reason: You have to decide what you’re willing to say to people, what you’re willing to disclose to them, and what you’re willing to let them say in your presence. You’re going to have to make decisions about where the boundaries will be established that define just how much “letting it all hang out” you’re willing to tolerate in yourself and others.
If you believe you should be able to say anything you want to others, especially the people closest to you, then you’ll end up saying things to people when you’re hurt, angry or depressed that have the potential to destroy the relationship. Your bad feelings will come and go, but that person will hear the echoes of those poisonous things you said for years to come.
There’s a skillful in-between that separates keeping your negative feelings “locked up inside” and simply blasting people with your frustration and despair. The in-between lies in developing enough impulse control to hold your tongue just long enough to decide whether to say something and, if you determine it’s important to, then how to say something for the best possible effect.
Impulse control means taking a pause, a deliberate and measured pause, before you say or respond to something in order to consider the implications and possible consequences of what you want to say.
What may be only a three-second pause according to the clock can be a very long time subjectively, long enough for you to consider your options and choose one deliberately based on what you think will be most helpful in the circumstances. Learning to pause before you reply prevents “snap” reactions that can make things worse by impulsively saying something hurtful to the person or by fanning the flames of anger and escalating conflict to an even higher level.
“Getting it off your chest” may initially feel good to you, but can lead you to feel even worse about yourself when later, after you cool off, you realize you were out of line. It would be nice to prevent having to apologize by handling it well at the time. Once you’ve said something thoughtless, it’s been said. Once the bell has been rung, you can’t un-ring it.
You might apologize, and your apology may even be graciously accepted, but the interaction will still be remembered as a negative that could have been prevented with some impulse control and forethought.
Depression adds an extra layer of complexity to this issue. When people are depressed, they typically feel tired, defeated, and barely able to cope. The idea of having to expend energy to watch what you say can seem like a huge effort and the apathy of depression leads people to think, or even say out loud, “who cares?” The hurt and anger towards others may lead one to ask, “who cares?”, but when the depression lifts and he’s ready to resume the relationship on a more positive basis, he discovers the relationship has been damaged, perhaps fatally.
It does take effort to watch what you say. It is extra work to have to consider other peoples’ feelings and analyze whether this is a situation best handled with no comment or by saying something purposeful. It takes extra thought to develop different options for saying something, then deciding which way to say it is likely to produce the better outcome for the circumstances.
But, this is how impulse control leads to the development of judgment, and how judgment evolves into a trust and higher regard for yourself. As you get better and better at controlling what you say until you know it’s worth saying, and as you get more skilled in saying things that “hit the mark” in your interactions, your self-esteem will grow. Good self-esteem evolves as you review important interactions with others and you get to say to yourself, “I like what I said and did there. I like the way I handled that.” When you’re able to say that to yourself most (not all) of the time, you’re doing well.
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Yapko, M. (2010). Happy Holidays! Now Watch What You Say Because it Can’t Be Unsaid. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 2, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/managing-depression/2010/12/happy-holidays-now-watch-what-you-say-because-it-cant-be-unsaid/