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Say the Right Words (Not the Wrong Ones)

Sep 02, 2022

Have you ever heard yourself say, “Whatever possessed me to say yes to this in the first place? Why didn’t I just say no?” Or, after making a deal, have you ever thought, “Why didn’t I ask for ______?” If you have, that is pretty normal or at least common. However, if it happens often, it is also a problem. It reveals that sometimes you and your words are not on the same page.

You desire one outcome, but your words take you to a different one.

You have a relationship to words. What we find is that in the depths of people’s souls, where true behavior and its resulting success or chaos originates, there is a real relationship with certain words. The nature of that relationship dictates a lot of what happens in people’s lives. If the relationship is good and they get along well with words, they use them to create and maintain a healthy structure and boundaries. But if they do not get along well with words, then structure and boundaries are compromised and their lives become fragmented as a result.

So, we are going to look at the words that have to do with why you find yourself in certain situations more than you might think. We are going to examine your relationship to some key words, including how you feel about them and how free you are to use them, or not.

The use of the words that we will explore next directly corresponds to the key components that your boundaries are designed to deliver for you. It includes the ability to do the following:

  • Experience yourself as separate and differentiated from others.
  • Contain destruction and keep it from spreading.
  • Define yourself and know who you are.
  • Set limits when needed.
  • Possess and live out values.
  • Have self-control and thereby be free and autonomous.

Consider the ways that the words listed below might affect your ability to experience the above outcomes:

  • “I think…”
  • “I won’t…”
  • “I want…”
  • “I will…”
  • “Yes.”
  • “No.”
  • “I don’t know.”
  • “I was wrong.”
  • “When you…”

Let’s look more closely at what each phrase might mean to you, to your work, and to your life.

“I Think…”

If you cannot say “I think,” then you will not experience yourself as a separate person, fully differentiated from others. As a result, you will lose important aspects to your functioning, including the ability to self-direct, stand firm against difficult people, feel OK when others put you down, persuade and influence the direction of a conversation, deal, or team, and so on.

Telling others what you think defines who you are. It differentiates you from them, from their opinions, and from their beliefs.

When you say what you think, you not only differentiate, you express the good amount of power you were designed to have. People do not feel dominated, but appreciative that you showed up. Everyone has something to offer, so get the words out and begin sharing what is in that head of yours.

“I Won’t…”

If you find it difficult to say “I won’t” or “no” then you are subject to being drawn into many destructive patterns, including everything from simply overextending yourself, to downright illegalities.

In difficult situations, you have to know the bottom line of what you won’t do. That is where you are going to stand. If you can’t do that, your boundary lines will get moved past where you want them to be. If you can stand firm, others will have to come your way to make a deal, and that is the way any good deal works. Everyone gives up something, compromises. Give-and-take happens in a dialogue that works well for everyone. Any good relationship requires sacrifice for the greater good. So make sure that you require that from the other side by knowing what you won’t do.

“I Want…”

If saying the words “I want” is tough for you, then you are going to find yourself getting leftovers in many situations, and not getting the best out of others. If you are afraid of asking for what you want, you will almost never get it. Whether that anxiety is motivated by a fear of offending others, you don’t want to come across as too needy, or many other reasons, you must understand that someone else will dictate the path for you if you are unable to ask for what you want.

“I Will…”

To “will” means a lot of things. To be inclined toward, to determine, to assent, or to choose are usually mentioned. The meaning I like the best is “to desire, which adds a positive inclination to the mere choice to do something.” I like to think the choices that we make are actually the ones we want to make. Those tend to be the ones we are most likely to not only fulfill, but also to be fulfilled in carrying out. So, the question becomes, “How likely is it that when you say you will, you are truly in line with your desires?” The more what you say you will do is lined up with your desires, the more likely the life you are living is also the life you desire.

Unfortunately, sometimes we lack alignment between what we desire and what we say we will do. We say we will when it is the last thing we want to do, but we say it anyway because we are on some form of autopilot. We are not truly giving of ourselves, but giving in. We cannot say no to the pressure (internal or external), so we say the words “I will” when we may or may not actually follow through–and if we do, we may resent it.

We do this to make someone happy or to avoid conflict or because the other person we are just used to agreeing to whatever anyone else wants.

People whose will is not free from this kind of conflict are sometimes unable to go for a goal with vigor and persistence. They often fail to follow through on things or are not very good at pushing things along a path to completion. They have lost their will, and much of that has to do with the way they use the word. They use it automatically when they do not really mean it, and then they do not have the strength or power or impulsion of their will available to them in other ways to accomplish what they desire. They have lost touch with their drive.

Your goals require that the things you say you will do are the things you truly desire to do, even if you don’t want to do them.

“Yes” and “No”

Most of the uses of the words “yes” and “no” are pretty obvious, and they are also similar to the ways we use the words “will” and “won’t.” They are big direction setters in life. What we say yes to is where we are headed and what we say no to keeps us going in a particular direction. Yes joins us and no separates us. Therefore, they play huge roles in defining who you are and what you end up doing and not doing.

The word “no”:

  • Shapes your focus
  • Determines the reality of your morality
  • Determines how you use your time
  • Determines how much people are able to control you
  • Determines what others can do to you
  • Determines what you allow others to do around you or in your group
  • Determines what people can get from you
  • Determines what people can get you to do
  • Protects your energy
  • Protects your resources, including your financial resources
  • Protects you from self-destructive behavior

“I Don’t Know”

The ability for someone to say they do not know the answer is a powerful, self-defining act. It cuts down on the grandiose expectations people feel like they are under. Finally saying the words “I don’t know” puts them comfortably in their own skin. It cuts down on the pressure to be more or different than they are and lets them be themselves. And that is a very powerful stance.

When you admit you do not know something, you are on your way to finding out. You are learning, and as you learn you get stronger still. Humility is a very strong boundary, and pride a very flimsy one.

Realize that your discomfort in saying “I don’t know” comes from some other kind of fear or expectation inside yourself.

“I Was Wrong”

The lawyers say admit nothing, deny everything, and shift the blame to somebody else. To avoid taking responsibility for one’s side of something is one of the ultimate killers in any relationship, personal or professional. In fact, it makes real relationship impossible. When one person refuses to own something, true relatedness ends and managing one another begins. Your relationship has hit a wall.

If you do have a fault or weakness or make a mistake and you do not own it, you still have it. You will repeat it. It will occur again. You have seen in this in people who cannot see their issues. They just stay stuck and those things never get better. Admitting quickly when you are wrong is energizing. It gives you a new path to go on and gives you solutions. Not admitting something externalizes the problem. And if it is external to you, you cannot do anything about it. You have just become powerless. You are stuck at that point and become a victim.

You will get better when you own something and work on it,.When you fix the cavity, you can safely chew on that side.

Admitting your failures gives hope, trust, and good feelings to the other side. They appreciate you for it. When people do not own their mistakes, the other side of the relationship begins to lose hope. They unplug and adopt a negative posture because they know that whatever happens, whenever there is a problem, it will not be solved.

“When You…”

This is the opposite side of admitting your own fault. That is when someone else, not you, is on the wrong side of behavior or of a mistake. This statement is about acknowledging that someone else is doing something you do not like, are uncomfortable with, or is flat-out wrong. This is about confronting others when they are wrong or when you want them to own something. It is one of the most important boundary structures there is in containing destruction, remaining separate from others' problems, and limiting someone else’s toxic dynamics from crossing your boundaries.

If your experience in formative relationships, either in childhood or adulthood, was that you encountered a hurtful response when you expressed concerns about another person’s behavior, then your relationship to the words “when you…” is going to be a fearful one. You will avoid saying them or be too long in saying them, sometimes after a lot of damage has taken place.

Is there a pattern with not being able to tell others when you think they have a problem, or there is something they are doing that you want them to stop doing? In life, you will get what you tolerate. If you have a problematic relationship with words like “when you…” that would stop the hurtful or irresponsible behavior, that behavior is very likely to continue.

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Dr. Cloud can help you live the life you were meant to live!