The Alterntives to Biting My Tongue

Friday, February 8th, 2013

goAs I’ve mentioned, I’m in the process of writing an ebook about happiness. When one is writing an ebook about happiness, it is particularly annoying to find oneself frustrated, pissed off, or downright fuming over stupid stuff. I mean, I don’t expect to be happy all the time, but I would like to think that some guy at the gym couldn’t ruin my day. And yet, twice in the last 12 hours, I found myself struggling to control my feelings.

For the record, controlling your feelings is mostly unwise. I learned that in therapy. “The only thing you can do with feelings is feel them,” Jen would say. Sure, you want to have enough self mastery to be able to avoid a public meltdown, but there’s no reason to try and force yourself away from anger when you’re safe at home in your bed.

In spite of all that therapy and the practice I’ve done just feeling, last night and this morning I was incredibly annoyed with myself for what I was feeling. I didn’t want to be pissed off by something I saw on Twitter, because I wanted to be better than that. I didn’t want to be angry at the guy at the gym who does not understand the concept of a Circuit Training Only Area, because I wanted to be the boss of my mood.

I get tripped up a lot by trying to be too evolved.

But I know the signs now. I know when I can’t let something go it’s because I haven’t given it room to breathe yet. So I took a deep breath, both last night and this morning, and let myself feel the anger. I gave it space, and then I waited for it to go on its merry way. That’s usually how it works: once you let the feelings be felt, they dissipate mostly satisfied for having fulfilled their purpose.

That was not the case last night or this morning.

I let myself be angry, and the anger grew. It invited resentment and judgment to join in, and they brought spinning wheels and an inner monologue on a loop.

The inner monologue gave me my clue.

I was biting my tongue.

I hate confrontation. I like being responsible for my own happiness when it allows me to be autonomous: I do my thing and you do yours, and we’ll up for drinks afterwards to talk about it. I don’t like being responsible for my own happiness when it means having to stand up for myself, enforce my boundaries, or ask someone else to change their behavior. And so I bite my tongue, because I’m afraid of the potential fallout if I open my mouth.

I hate it when I give in to fear.

This morning, as I was finishing up my workout and coming to the realization that I was choosing internal turmoil over civil confrontation – and all because I was afraid – I resolved to be brave.

Before leaving the gym, I went to talk to the staff about my concerns. I asked if there was something they could do, or if it was my responsibility to speak up. I made a point to be calm and polite, and I felt better for having said something.

When I got home, I opened up Twitter and unfollowed the person who was constantly driving me nuts. It’s a voluntary freaking social media service, and I don’t have to let crappy behavior clutter up my stream – even if we do have friends in common. I didn’t speak up, because in this case I didn’t have to. All I had to do was take action and be willing to defend it if necessary.

There are times when biting my tongue is the key to happiness – like when I choose not to rush Jared along as he gets ready in the morning. But there are so many other times when I bite my tongue because I am simply afraid of dealing with the response. I’m afraid of someone getting mad, or maybe not liking me. I’m afraid of having to deal with the uncomfortableness that can come with speaking out.

Listening to fear will never get me to happiness.

When I’m afraid, or anxious, or cannot let something go, that’s when I know that I have to change course. That’s when I know that I have to be brave.

Today, that meant no longer biting my tongue.

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  1. daniel says:

    And your tongue gets sore in the process. Seriously though, you’re right, the lack of confrontation is not the same as happiness. Learning that distinction is important. You do not need to be conflict free to be happy. Sometimes, actually being in the conflict will generate happiness either as an outcome or because you have the satisfaction of doing what you knew was right.
    daniel’s most recent post: Off The Lawn

  2. Great post. I hope it wasn’t me you unfollowed because of my twitter rant, which I deleted. It wasn’t directed at anybody. It’s like you say about it being unwise to bottle up your emotions. On Tuesday was my youngest 4th birthday. My mom had an aneurysm the day he was born and was brain dead. So everyone of Elijah’s Birthday’s I get very emotional with the up and down of it all. Tuesday I really suppressed my emotions about my mom. Wednesday, the anniversary of Susan’s death, started to make things bubble and I clammed down harder. Thursday was the anniversary of when they took my mom of life support and her official day of death. I had this overwhelming felling of loneliness and anger, that I kept trying to hold in until I finally exploded. So if it was my rant, I hope this explains it a bit, and I apologize.
    Corey Feldman’s most recent post: The Sexton and the Reaper – Available at Amazon

  3. Megan says:

    You know I get the confrontation thing. Maybe we wouldn’t be so hesitant to speak up if others weren’t so shitty.

    On the other hand, I know I feel much better when someone walks through the door I’m holding open without so much as a thank you and I smile big and say “You’re welcome” as if they did.
    Megan’s most recent post: Fifty-Two, Week 27: On Being Present

  4. jodifur says:

    I love this post.
    jodifur’s most recent post: Shoe Friday #212

  5. Carly says:

    Holy effing moly! I cannot believe I am reading these thoughts on your blog. My impression of you is someone fearless and outspoken who will say whatever comes to mind when and where it comes to mind. And loudly. Which I think is still my impression since this story sounds like an exception to the rule that caught you off guard. I am floored that you occasionally feel the same inhibitions I do, albeit to a MUCH lesser extent. I totally admire your outspokenness and aspire to getting some (of my own) back into my life.
    Carly’s most recent post: Music, these days.

    • Miss Britt says:

      I am definitely NOT fearless, and I’ve become less and less outspoken over the last few years. I used to be VERY outspoken, but most of the time now I try to shift gears to focus on what I can do to change a situation instead of running my mouth. Can you imagine I used to actually be LOUDER? lol

      • Carly says:

        I’ve been experiencing a similar sort of slow death of my ability to vocalize my opinion in mixed company. Or even in safe company for that matter.

  6. fiwa says:

    Get out of my head! But THANK YOU for stating exactly how I’ve been feeling lately. I have figured out that I have to let myself get angry and get over it, but I hadn’t put together that why the feelings and resentments were lingering and building was because I wasn’t facing something. Ick. You hit the nail on the head though. And thank you for sharing what your therapist said about the anger. I spend many a day shaking my head at myself, wondering if I will ever grow out of that. It’s good to hear that controlling my response to it is the key, but allowing the feelings is ok.
    Really – many thanks. I have been struggling with this so much lately. Maybe this situation was put in your path so that you would write about it and help me, and others.

  7. I don’t like confrontation either. I usually try to avoid it if I can, but I’ve been better about speaking out when necessary lately. I think most times I’m like you, where I try to brush it off and not let it bother me. Ultimately I am responsible for my own emotions.
    Eric West | Friendship Society’s most recent post: The Basis of Friendship as Described by Aristotle by Eric West

  8. Linda says:

    I can relate to your reaction to the gym situation. As times like that I think a lot of my anger is because I deeply resent being put in a position where I need to be assertive and point out the rules or express my needs, rather than the original issue such as wanting access to the machines at the gym. It’s the “Don’t make me have to come over there…” thing.

  9. joannahinsey says:

    Great post… Love what you said about feelings and biting your tongue. I try to control them and avoid confrontation as often as possible ;) Takes a lot of practice to not!
    joannahinsey’s most recent post: Adam’s Apple

  10. Oh man I hate it when I let someone live rent free in my head! When I let fear of the fallout- usually fear of being abandoned- keep me from asking for what I want, then I am abandoning myself. That stinks.

    I used to call the inner monologue my “itty bitty shitty committee,” but now I call them my voices of wisdom, cause they are giving me information. “Something is wrong here! Look! See this!” and hopefully I will have the courage to show up and ask for what I want… either from myself or someone else.

    Thanks for letting me see that I am not alone.
    Deborah (aka Tawanda Bee)’s most recent post: 5 Times Headphones Might Be Helpful

  11. Jb says:

    Great post. Love that your are so honest. Maybe you should consider writing a funny – serious book about writing a book about happiness…

  12. I’m reminded of what Brene Brown says about saying yes when you mean no, “Choose discomfort now over resentment later.” And of course, she’s recommending saying no when you mean no. That discomfort though, it’s sticky stuff. It’s a big thing to recognise when you simply need to be in charge of your own stuff, and when your own peace of mind demands that you speak up. Practice, eh?

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