Steen

“The best of us must sometimes eat our words.” ― J.K. Rowling

Did I really just say what I heard myself say?

Lying back in the chair, glasses off, bib on, inner parts shaking, the words, “Ok, small pinch,” followed by the words, “Ok, big pinch,” brought out someone who must have been living inside me and hasn’t introduced herself after all these years.

I was so embarrassed at my response after the surprise of pinches. I love my oral surgeon. Why would I say anything unkind or inappropriate? It seems science is on my side, or at least explains my speaking words I never thought I might say. Even J.K. Rowling has had to eat her words, it would seem. I do wish they were a bit tastier.

I didn’t sleep much that night — the night after my nervous response in the oral surgeon’s office. I played the scene over and over in my head. Why had I said anything? I wondered.

I couldn’t go back and undo it, and by the end of four or five hours of middle of the night figuring, I’d figured what I said probably wasn’t so horrible and might be nothing compared to things others have said. Still, here I am writing about it, so it definitely took me by surprise. Has that ever happened to you?

Words are a huge deal to me, and how my words make another person feel matters greatly, so when I was faced with the fact that my words might have been an unappreciative message, it bothered me. A lot.

It’s called Compulsive Talking. It happens when people who have some social anxiety feel, well, anxious.

• Talking to people who intimidate you in some way

• Talking to people you think don’t like you

• Meeting people you believe you have to impress by being really funny, smart, or interesting

• Experiencing an awkward silence

• Being in a hectic group conversation

(thanks to Succeed Socially for providing some instances to share)

All of those situations above? Yes, I recognize all of them. I have been in all of them. I’m a very good conversationalist, but I have to plan ahead to not come home feeling worried that I’ve talked too much or said the wrong thing.

The very best solution to all of these socially scary situations (that I never thought were scary until I started realizing I was talking way more than I wanted or needed) is to ask questions. I am a master at asking questions, and sometimes, it might annoy people, but the alternative is to lie awake for hours in the night wishing I had talked less, mentioned fewer personal things, and asked more questions.

After all, it’s so much better to show an interest in other people than spend time talking about ourselves.

If you and I could sit down and have a cup of coffee, the conversation would be meaningful, and I would want to know all kinds of things about you. In a crowd? I’m rather loquacious — chatty, talkative. What about you? Conversation is an art, whether you have a little social anxiety or none.

Why do people end up talking more than they would like?

1. The need to talk about themselves. It turns out, dopamine comes out when we do this, and who doesn’t want a little feel-good? Other people, however, don’t always find it appealing.

2. Feeling nervous or a little insecure. Any other time, we might have it all together, but something happens to us at times in social settings.

3. The need to put your thoughts into words, no matter who is around to hear them. It’s understandable, but not always helpful.

4. The need to show how much you know. You might know a lot, but this habit actually is more of a turn-off than an impressive move.

5. Filling the silence. Why do others let it be so...quiet? Well, research shows that while we might feel the need to avoid and fill that silence, the brain actually uses that time in a productive way. Maybe we can practice letting go of that awkwardness.

Which leaves us with ... how the heck do I stop talking so much? Well, friends, when I was a little girl, my parents used to talk about how much I talked. Some of us are born with the gift of gab, and it isn’t always well-received.

So, let’s go back to my first piece of advice — ask questions. It’s the one thing that keeps us from talking about ourselves, after all — asking questions about anyone else. Beyond that, practice the pause. Truly, practice it at home. Face it, some of us are born knowing how to carry a conversation, so the importance of allowing for silence is a huge deal.

Practicing for the pause means when you think you want to say something, make yourself stop. Just sit with it for a few seconds and see if you still want to say it. So many times. Outside of practice for the pause, there are other things we can all do.

Ask a question. If you are thinking of responding with a thought of your own, force yourself to ask someone else for their opinion.

Allow a difference of opinion. Let it be OK that the two of you have different opinions and go so far as to invite them to explain theirs. You don’t have to argue, you don’t have to be right, you just have to let them speak.

Accept your oddities. It’s true. Some of us are just different. We get more anxious in social situations or when we are afraid of the silence. Stop beating up on yourself. Stop losing sleep trying to play the scene the way you wish it had gone.

Apologize. Yes, friends, as I alluded to in the opening quote, there will be times we have to eat our words. Just do it. Apologize, admit you can’t believe you said what you did, and let yourself move forward. It’s painful to say things we wish we hadn’t, but there is no way to erase our words. So, apologize. And if you are on the receiving end, accept someone’s apology.

Practice now so you’ll be ready for the people and the very necessary pause.

And you just might want to get your appetite ready in case you have some words to eat.

Susan Black Steen is a writer and photographer, a native Tennessean and a graduate of Austin Peay State University. With a firm belief that words matter, she writes and speaks to bring joy, comfort and understanding into each life. Always, she writes from her heart in hopes of speaking to the hearts of others. She can be reached at (stories@susanbsteen.com).

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