I grew up in a home where you were not encouraged to share or express your feelings. So I got used to keeping them inside and just dealing with them.
Now if you've ever done this before, which, well, who hasn't at one time or another, you know that it can breed resentment and anger.
Of course, doing this as a kid is way different than doing this as an adult. Too bad I didn't know back then that speaking up could have saved me so much heartache.
I've spent a lot of years keeping my feelings to myself, then letting them come out in other ways. Not so healthy ways, mind you, when I could have been doing so many other things with my time and energy had I just said something.
So when it comes to shutting up, I tend to look at the situation at a few different ways:
1. Will speaking up make it worse or better for me and/or for the other person?
2. Will saying something create a bigger problem or a possible resolution?
3. Is the problem really so big that it needs to be addressed at all, or will I be able to let it slide and move on?
If shutting up is the best solution (and trust me, it really can be), the key is making sure you own that decision and don't let it fester. THIS is actually more challenging than the actual keeping your mouth shut, particularly when you decide to not say something and the other person does something later that makes you want to renege on your decision.
Taking the "high road" means that you really do need to accept your decision and let it go. And trust me, this direction isn't often the fun one because, hey, sometimes it feels great to give someone a piece of your mind, but there are other ways, healthier ways, that you can let off steam that might actually be more productive.
And let's be honest. Lots of people you are dealing with might not even be able to accept the feelings and emotions that you are about to place on them due to their own limitations. It might actually be easier in the long run for you to deal with them than stirring a pot that has a big hole in it.
Of course, keeping your mouth shut isn't always the best choice because, in many cases, it's important for a person to know that whatever they did affected you in a specific way. This might be the best course if you are truly hurt and you're unable to let it go. Or it might be because the person does need to be responsible for what they said or did.
When I make the decision to speak up, I make sure to talk about my own feelings, starting the sentence with: "I felt [insert word here] when you said/did [insert word here]." Using this approach avoids putting the other person on the defensive and it can actually lead to a productive conversation.
I can't say that I've completely mastered this skill, but it's something that I'm working on, not just with myself but with my kids as well. I'm quite certain it's something they'll use in their professional and personal lives, and one that when understood can save them the pain and heartache not knowing it caused me.
How do you decide when to speak up or shut up?
Image via DanielaVladimirova/Flickr