4 Things People Say Every Time They Speak

I hate it when people say things that really irritate me.


Example: It’s summer. My kids laze through their days. I arrive home from work having fought Atlanta traffic, and notice the lawn needs to be cut, bad. I walk in. I see remnants of snacks in the family room. Dishes overflow the kitchen sink. Not two steps inside, the would-be grass cutter, my 15-year-old, without taking his eyes off Jerry Springer, asks, “What’s for dinner?”


Oh my. Are you kidding me?


What goes through my head:

Don’t my kids realize I’ve been killing myself all day trying to earn a buck to support their life of leisure and future college expenses? Why can’t they pick up after themselves and do the one chore I’ve assigned (mow lawn) without being asked? My kids are so spoiled. Thinking this way, I feel bad.


In a calmer moment, I realize the chore situation is a parenting problem, not a teen problem. That’s not my point.


Imagine the scene this way:

My kids love my cooking. Most nights, I put wholesome meals on the table—homemade chicken pot pie, lasagna, meatloaf with potatoes, always fresh vegetables. When possible, I insist we come to the table to interact with each other over dinner. It’s a ritual I established early on and they’ve come to enjoy and rely upon. I walk in the door. My son asks, “What’s for dinner?”


Now what’s on my mind:

I’m such a great cook. I’m a good mom. I provide well for my family. My kids really appreciate my efforts. In this context, I feel good.


Same words spoken. Different meaning in my head.


People don’t upset us with what they say.  We get upset when we attach meaning to what others say.


What was my son’s intention asking about dinner? Likely that he’s hungry and wondering if he should put a pizza in the oven.


It’s fascinating our brains hear what someone says and twist it to make it mean something completely independent of what the speaker said or meant.


This matters a lot because you can work yourself into all kinds of craziness when you attach meaning to someone else’s words. I know I can.


Once when my husband and I were going through a rough patch, he texted me, “We have to talk tonight. Time for a change.”


Wow. By the time I got home hours later, I’d convinced myself he wanted a divorce so much so that I told two people before I got home we were probably splitting up. I felt sure his overnight bag at the door meant he was leaving immediately. In reality, he’d returned from a business trip that afternoon and dropped his bag when he walked in minutes earlier.




Thoughts in our head about what others say are not reality. They’re subjective ideas and beliefs.


When you notice yourself in a negative place because of what someone said, there are four possibilities:

·        What they said.

·        What they meant.

·        What you heard.

·        What you made it mean.


Before you get yourself in a tizzy like I did, ask yourself these questions.


1. What were the EXACT words spoken?

My husband’s: “Time for a change.”


2. What did the speaker intend to communicate?

Until we spoke later, I really had no idea what my husband meant. For all I knew he had just booked us tickets to Costa Rica (which he’s done a number of times in the past).


3. What did you hear when you heard what was said?

I heard, this is serious. He’s unhappy and wants a different life than what we have together.


4. What did you make it mean?

I made it mean my husband wants out. Our marriage relationship is over. I’ll be twice divorced and a lonely cat lady the rest of my life. Never mind I am allergic to cats… You see where I was going.


You can avoid a lot of hassle in your life and your relationships if you question your thoughts.


It takes practice and some hindsight in the beginning to question the ideas you have in your head. It’s so worth it.

—Julie Ernst, CCJD

P.S. Visit www.julieernst.com to take my free course: Stop Overdrinking in 3 Steps.

Julie Ernst