I have a big mouth. As a result I often say things I don’t mean and later regret. How can I get my mouth under control?
There’s a rhyme that goes, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” But that’s not true.
Contrary to what some may say, words can hurt terribly. Sometimes the hurt caused by words can last much longer than the bruises caused by physical blows.
It’s not good enough to shrug off the tendency to hurt people’s feelings by saying, “Oh, that’s just the way I am.” You are as eternally responsible for the words you say as for the things you do (see Matt. 12:36–37).
What do you do to get your mouth under control? One of our readers, Elder Sean D. Reyes from the Illinois Chicago Spanish Mission, suggested three questions as a mental checklist.
Is it true?
Try not to deceive or be dishonest in the things you say. Get out of the habit of stretching the truth or adding details just to make things sound more interesting. Make sure that you have a reputation for only telling the truth. Even then, remember that honesty should not be used as an excuse for saying hurtful things.
Don’t be responsible for passing on misunderstandings or hearsay. That’s called gossip.
Is it necessary?
Avoid commenting on situations that might embarrass someone else or on things another person cannot change. For example, it does no good and may even hurt feelings if you comment on someone’s height or the size of their feet. They can’t change it, so why say anything?
What good does it do to say something rude when it’s too late to change it? Your friends might appreciate knowing that you won’t make silly comments at their expense when they flunk a test or drop their lunch tray in the cafeteria.
Is it nice?
Be careful about teasing. Teasing can start out funny and turn to hurt. It’s fun to laugh and talk together, but don’t let it be at someone’s expense.
Sarcastic remarks may leap into your mind; just don’t let them come out of your mouth. What starts out as cleverness can quickly turn to rudeness. Most people would rather have friends they can rely on to be kind.
Elder Reyes suggests that “if what you are going to say doesn’t pass this checklist, then don’t let it pass through your lips.”
The old advice of stopping to think before you speak is a good way to work on your bad habit. It’s also part of growing up. Saying whatever comes into your mind is how a child acts. In 1 Corinthians 13:11 it says, “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” [1 Cor. 13:11]
In other words, listen to what other people have to say, but when it’s time to talk, don’t just blurt out whatever pops into your head. Think about what you are going to say. If something hurtful does slip, be brave enough to apologize. You actually have to say the words “I’m sorry” out loud to the people you offend to truly clear the air.
For a while, people might wonder why you aren’t talking as much, but tell them you are just working at overcoming a bad habit. Your family and friends will appreciate your efforts and enjoy your company even more.
If you often say regrettable things, you can change this. Try to think about what you are going to say and the effect it will have before you say it. As with any skill, it will take time to learn to do this, so have patience with yourself.
David Martin, 17 Rancho Cordova, California
I sometimes find myself saying things that I don’t mean, and then later regret even saying a word. I’ve found that if I think before I speak, it’s better. Then I don’t find myself going to someone and apologizing for something I didn’t mean.
Tami Perkins Alamo, Nevada
My friends trust me a lot and tell me a great deal. They also expect it to stay between the two of us. One day in casual conversation, I let a secret slip out. My friend found out and was very hurt. When we hurt people on a pretty consistent basis, even unintentionally, an adjustment is needed. I couldn’t accept that it was just the way I was, so I changed. I found I was an impulsive talker. I said whatever entered my mind. One extra second was all it took to remember my friends and their trust in me, to remember I loved them and owed them the respect and courtesy to keep their secrets.
Nephi Oliva, 18 Whittier, California
A sign on my ninth grade English teacher’s desk read, “Make sure brain is engaged before putting mouth in gear.” I’ve tried to live by this slogan by always thinking about what I want to say before I say it.
Elder Steve Jensen, 19 Spain Madrid Mission
I had a similar problem. I was hurting my friends and family. Often, I was teasing, but it was still hurtful enough to endanger good friendships. I didn’t enjoy the feeling that came from hurting others, so I decided to change. The first thing I did was ask Heavenly Father to help me think before I said anything. It worked! Then I apologized to those I had hurt. I still slip sometimes, but I am blessed with understanding and forgiving friends and family who help me to reach my goal.
I have learned to not always say what I think or feel. When something is said that hurts a friend, remember to apologize. It may be hard, but it’s worth it.
Shawna Hale, 16 Heyburn, Idaho