I have bad habits. Hardly unique, huh? Some are newer, acquired in adulthood. Many go back as far as I can remember. Some are harmless, like always putting my left hand behind back handling the tea kettle, even when it’s cold. Others are less benign, like picking and my cuticles down to the first knuckle. (That one is gross. Learned it from my Dad very young.)
Those habits don’t influence anyone but me, however. (Aside from occasionally bankrupting the family band-aid stash and grossing them out.) The habits of my heart and mind that I wrestle with the most can cause collateral damage, and they are amazingly hard to change.
Those who know me well are all too aware of my tenacity and ability to verbally spar. I can stubbornly hold a line of thought long past the point of reason. While that may not be a big deal if I could keep that in my head, all too often, I just don’t keep in there. It shoots out my mouth, and I struggle to turn if off.
Recently my older son got the brunt of it. After discovering his version of studying for a test was unlikely to produce a passing grade, he was on the receiving end of a tirade on studying habits and the importance of attending to information even when you don’t find it scintillating. After a few minutes (could be longer, since I don’t check the clock mid-rampage), he rather miserably asked if I could move on to the part where I show him how to study more effectively. Ouch.
I’d like to report I shifted gears immediately, but that would be a lie. I told my mouth to stop, but a few more sentences landed on my already-weary son before I managed to shift to a supportive instructional mode.
Damn. And damage done.
I’m working on it, but I really struggle with turning off my mouth when I’m trying to be understood. My younger is the same way, and it drives me crazy. You’d think years of inserting ear plugs while counting to ten and breathing deeply while listening to his rants would teach me to SHUT UP, but no dice. Several times I’ve told him he’s hitting me with his words. I should know. I’ve done it to those I love the most.
It really is about being understood, being truly heard. I went many years in my marriage not feeling this was happening. I felt chronically misunderstood, and it smarted. I spent far too much time stating and restating my case, waiting for information back that I was understood by the one whose path I shared. Not necessarily agreed with, just understood. I was rarely successful, with equal blame to my delivery and his issues. I’d like to say that pattern started during that marriage, but I’ve been fairly verbally tenacious since, well, I could talk. Which, shockingly, was rather early.
Nearly 42 years of, well, talking too much when I’m anxious to be understood. Okay, more like 41. I doubt I was that much of a verbal pain in the ear my first year of life. Fortunately, I’m becoming more aware of this habit of the heart and mouth. Sometimes, I can feel it coming and pause, holding it in. Other times, as I hear it build and feel my anxiety rise with it, I can arrest it. But not always. Not when I’m the most upset, feeling the most vulnerable. It still sometimes pours out, flooding the ears of whomever is the targeted audience.
Fortunately, I’ve (largely) broken another particularly bad habit. From early childhood, apologizing has been another stumbling block. As I entered my current relationship of the last year and a bit, I figured out to say I’m sorry and really mean it. I know, we learned that in preschool, but as a rather anxious kid and adult who desired to be understood and really likes to be right, this was a stumbling point in my closest relationship. I’m far better at this now, although some of my apologies take a long time to express given my general verbosity and that understanding business. I still sometimes struggle to not put qualifiers on my apologies. I’ve found they are better received without going something like, “I’m sorry I freaked out when you couldn’t manage to keep the appointment/date we’ve had scheduled for the past two weeks.” I’ll admit a simple, “I’m sorry. I was dreadfully wrong,” goes over better.
I could go on, enumerating my bad habits of heart and mind, but frankly, I’ve had it. After making heartfelt apologies today (probably more than needed, but sometimes I keep going hoping I’ll feel better) for my runaway mouth last night, I’m weary of my own whining. Here’s to continuous improvement, or at least continuous attempts at improvement. Here’s to keeping my mouth shut and needing less band-aids for myself and those I love the most.