Do You Know How To Let Go of Hard Things That Other People Say?

Nine ways to heal your tendency to take words too literally

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The only way that you will experience love is to risk NOT being loved. To love is to face the possibility of rejection, of scorn, of hurt, of misunderstanding. To be together you have to be willing to be alone.

Relationships can be messy. In recovery, facing the many risks of love will help you become more of who you want to be and learn to leave your ghosts behind. Being open to love means that you will need to face several risks that include:

  • The risk of rejection
  • The risk of hurt
  • The risk of being misunderstood

For me, fear of rejection has prevented me from being present in many of my relationships. But what your mind won’t tell you is that the more that you isolate, the smaller your world will become. You may be safe, but you will occupy a small and limited emotional space.

In relationships, simple requests are not usually simple. Emotions get involved and expectations can transform a decision into a drama.

Facing the risks is not about perfection. It is more a willingness to feel your incompleteness, your desire to connect, while accepting that relationships will often be messy.

Let me give you an example from my relationship with my wife. One of the things that I have had to learn (and honestly am still learning) is when to take what she says literally. Sometimes you need to take your spouse or significant other literally and other times, not so much.

How we interpret communication is complicated by several things:

  • Our current emotional state
  • What our mind is saying to us
  • Our past relationships and
  • Whatever emotional wounds that we may have experienced

When my wife asks me to take chili out for supper, or buy some milk, or pick up the kids at 6pm I take these directions literally. Navigating communication with straightforward tasks is usually relatively simple. But in relationships, simple requests are not usually simple. Emotions get involved and expectations can transform a decision into a drama. One of the most difficult things that I have had to come to terms with is my reaction to our verbal conflicts.

The only way that you will experience love is to risk NOT being loved. To love is to face the possibility of rejection, of scorn, of hurt, of misunderstanding. To be together you have to be willing to be alone.

The only way that you will experience love is to risk NOT being loved. To love is to face the possibility of rejection, of scorn, of hurt, of misunderstanding. To be together you have to be willing to be alone.

Part of my recovery has been to figure out when she wants me to take something literally and when I should let it go. Early in our relationship, I frequently got things reversed. I didn’t take the task requests very seriously and instead I interpreted what she said in anger literally. I held onto her words as a judgment of my manhood, my husbanding, and my fatherhood. I allowed the wounds to fester and resented her for what she said… after all, she said it!

Relationships can hurt… and yes, sometimes love can suck! Forgiveness is an essential skill to keep your relationship healthy, whether you are a couple, close friends or coworkers. But forgiveness is not giving permission for the other person to continue hurting you. Remaining in situations of abuse can scar a person emotionally and physically. In these situations, finding support is essential and the best way to ensure your safety may be to leave.

Learning to be safe in a relationship is a key part of recovery. But, from my experience, we can be overly vigilant to words and emotions that may hurt us. One skill I have had to learn is to not take heat-of-the-moment comments literally or personally. When I take things literally, it not only created resentment, but also contributed to my mind’s self-critical, narrow, black and white, and rigid thoughts. In pain, I pushed her away. I fell into depression and isolated myself. I overate as a way to cope with my emotions. After a while, we would reconcile but my resentment created distance and deep currents of hurt.

In order to love my wife and even myself, I have had to learn to let things go and not take words so literally.

Nine things have helped me to heal my own tendency to take words too literally:

  1. Give the other person the benefit of the doubt
  2. Remind yourself of their heart, how they treat you when you are getting along better
  3. Acknowledge that what they have said hurts, but also acknowledge that they also say (and do) many other kind things
  4. Admit that you also can say things that hurt your partner
  5. Practice self-compassion and accept your many emotions, thoughts and experiences – even if they are at times difficult
  6. Step back. Recognize that little in life is permanent: Moods change, hurt heals, misunderstandings will usually get cleared up. Be aware of what I call the Literal Trap: seeing only the negative, dark or rigid things that your mind will say and assume that what the other person has said is FOREVER. Recognize that in a working relationship, both of you want good things for yourself and for the other person.
  7. Remember that words are rarely forever. When you act on your values, that is more lasting. Ask yourself: Does the other person acknowledge what they have done to contribute to the relationship issues? How do they treat you? What positive efforts do they make to invest in the relationship, in their own recovery or healing?
  8. Be realistic and work to change what you can. Pointing fingers and blame never helps your relationship. It creates judgment and contributes to rigid thinking.
  9. Ask her. I have been surprised, often months later (unfortunately), when I finally worked up the courage to talk to my wife about something she said. Often she cannot even remember saying it, or she admits that she didn’t mean it, or I realize that I have over-interpreted what she said.
Moods change, hurt heals, misunderstandings will usually get cleared up. Don’t fall into the trap of seeing only the negative, dark or rigid things that your mind will say and assume that what the other person has said is FOREVER.

Carrying emotional hurt, assumptions and unexpressed pain can add unnecessary and unhelpful barriers to our recovery. When we try to work through our recovery without the support of other people, we make it harder than it needs to be. Learning to treat ourselves, our partners, our children and our relationships with self-compassion can help us to live more of the life that we want to live.

If you enjoyed this article, you will want to check out some of my other work:

10 Rules that Guarantee Unhappiness in Your Work and Your Relationships

How to Change Your Relationships and Your Recovery with Just 20 Words

Dust May be Killing Your Relationships

I write articles about wellness, leadership, parenting and personal growth. My hope is to deliver the best content I can to inspire, to inform and to entertain. Sign up for my blog if you want to receive the latest and best of my writing. If you like what I have to say, please share my work with your friends.

Lastly, if you like my writing, you can click here to vote for my page on Psych Central’s list of mental health blogs.

Keep it Real

Photo by Omarius 14

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3 thoughts on “Do You Know How To Let Go of Hard Things That Other People Say?

  1. Really good, solid help and info. Reminds me of my dbt training, I’ve also in my stages of healing (months and years) been looking at personality makeup and traits, it definitely breeds compassion for self and others and humility.

    Liked by 1 person

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