One reference to the expression “bite my tongue” is “To forcibly prevent oneself from speaking, especially in order to avoid saying something inappropriate or likely to cause a dispute”.
In conflict situations this idiom comes up when there is something we feel compelled to say but catch ourselves from doing so. This might be because we instinctively know it would result in an escalation of matters, be hurtful, stir up more emotion than is necessary and so on.
The imagery is interesting in that if you’ve ever bitten your tongue (haven’t we all?) it HURTS!! It would appear then – considering the idiom’s meaning – that to stop ourselves from hurting someone’s feelings we hurt ourselves physically.
Though it’s not usually the case that we literally bite our tongues and are in pain as a consequence, it is the case that not saying what we want to can cause us inner pain. That is, we may feel our experience of the conflict is not being expressed; we might resent we are being careful about the other person but our emotions are not being reciprocated; we might regret we do not have other skills and tools to effectively make our point without causing damage; and so on.
In this week’s Conflict Mastery Ques(ions) blog consider a time when you “bit your tongue” as you respond to this set of questions.
- What was the situation?
- What did you want to say that you didn’t?
- What specifically stopped you?
- What did you fear most (if you didn’t already answer that in the previous question)?
- What was the outcome of this situation?
- What pain do you think you might have caused if you said what was on your mind?
- What inner pain did it cause you because you bit your tongue?
- What did the other person not hear, find out, understand, etc. because you bit your tongue so that she or he didn’t know what was on your mind?
- If you were to express what you wanted to – in a way that would be more effective than you initially thought – how might you have done so?
- What is the downside of biting your tongue? What is the upside?
- What else occurs to you as you consider these questions?
- What insights do you have?