Talking isn’t a Substitute for Thinking

A faithful follower of this column writes, “I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m a compulsive talker. My crazy need to say something or answer someone (even when no answer is required) often gets me into trouble. When I talk I get carried away. My husband tells me to THINK before I speak. The Bible says talking is not a good thing. Somebody else said ‘silence is golden.’”

Another problem is that I speak my thoughts, i.e., ‘I forgot to do this or that,’ or whatever. By the time I realize I’m mumbling, I’ve already made a fool of myself. My son does this too, and it makes him lose credibility just like me. Do I get a little credit for at least knowing that I’m doing it? I so want to stop!”

Dear Faithful Reader: It sounds like you’re struggling to think things out. Congratulations. Thinking is an ideal way of coping. It’s not a substitute for action, but it’s a necessary condition for making your actions effective. It sounds like when you’re talking, you’re attempting to think. Your intentions are good. But you need an alternative strategy.

A skilled counselor or psychotherapist can possibly serve as a sounding board to help you improve the focus of your thinking. A good therapist won’t condemn you for talking, and once you feel like you have a safe place in which to talk all you want, it’ll be easier to not talk to other people about your thoughts. You can save it for counseling. A good counselor is always interested. A client of mine once said, “I like coming to sessions. You have to listen.” Sounds funny, but it’s true.

I suggest you keep a journal – for your eyes only. Write down your thoughts and try to work them out. The more you do this, the less difficult it will be to remain quiet around others. You’re blurting things out because you haven’t yet developed the outlet you need for thinking on your own.

About the journal: There’s no right or wrong. Just write down your thoughts as they come. Get them out, if nothing else. Think of it as an alternative to talking to anyone and everyone. It’s good to tell yourself not to talk too much, and your husband’s advice is also good, but thinking before you speak presupposes that you have somewhere else to think! That’s what counseling and journal-writing are for.

Beware of anyone, especially credentialed professionals, who tell you that you’re suffering from an illness. You do have a problem, but there’s nothing irreparably wrong with you. Don’t view this as some kind of moral or physical flaw. Instead, view it as an undesirable habit that, with time and effort, you’re able to change.

Years ago I had a neighbor who talked compulsively. Even for a paid listener like me, she was a sight to behold. She was intelligent and knew she had a problem. During her extended patter she would even joke about it, “I’m such a compulsive talker I even drive myself crazy! I just go on and on and on I truly cannot shut up!” I always wondered what thoughts were in her head that she was trying to drown out.

Could that be you? Are you perhaps filibustering, like a politician, to keep something from coming to a vote that you don’t want to consider? I’m not suggesting you do this on purpose. But perhaps you’re afraid of hearing things from others that you don’t want to hear. So you filibuster.

If that’s indeed the case, the resolution is to not fear what others have to say. Someone saying something doesn’t make it so. People can be wrong. Hear them out and don’t be afraid of what they’ll say. You can always critique them in your mind, regardless of your words.