Restraint of Tongue and Pen

Restraint of tongue and pen is an expression commonly heard in the 12-step meetings I attend.  It is a reference to a paragraph in the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions:

Nothing pays off like restraint of tongue and pen. We must avoid quick-tempered criticism and furious, power-driven arguments. The same goes for sulking or silent scorn. These are emotional booby traps baited with pride and vengefulness. Our first job is to sidestep the traps. When we are tempted by the bait, we should train ourselves to step back and think. For we can neither think nor act to good purpose until the habit of self-restraint has become automatic. -pg. 91, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions

To sum it up:  Keep your thoughts to yourself, so you don’t say something you will regret!

The longer I continue the journey of recovery, the more important the concept of self-restraint becomes.  Initially I thought of only applying it in what I would consider extreme situations:  volatile, emotionally charged conversations that inevitably wind up with a lot of regrettable name-calling and cussing.  Anyone can see the benefit of zipping the lips before saying something in the heat of the moment that you will later regret.

As time went on, I started to see additional benefits to practicing restraint of tongue and pen.  The occasion that plays out the most frequently for me is the “debate disguised as a conversation,” I’m sure everyone knows the type I mean.  I have found that employing self-restraint in these situations has yielded benefits that I would have never foreseen:  preventing an argument (which happens all too frequently in debate-style conversations), eliminating the inevitable drama and angst that are an all-too-frequent byproduct of debate-style conversations, and the peace that comes with the knowledge that it is not my job to convince you my opinion is the right one.

Of course, the just as frequent occasion that occurs:  interactions with my children.  Particularly in this season, when we are together 24/7, restraint of tongue is a skill I could perfect quite a bit more, but still, there has been progress.  I like to explain my rationale for things; “because I said so” is not a style of parenting with which I’m comfortable (doesn’t mean I won’t occasionally use it, though, when all else fails!).  My husband has long since pointed out that I tend to go overboard with my explanations, which then turn into debate-style conversations, which I’ve already discussed.  But I am discovering, a little more slowly than I would like, that I can be true to myself and give the rationale for my decisions without indulging in the back and forth, unproductive conversations that always end in raised voices and slammed doors.

I have reaped untold rewards in applying this concept to my need for self-justification.  In the past, if I have been questioned about anything, I have felt the urge to explain myself to the point of ridiculousness.  This practice has benefitted not a single person:  the person to whom I am self-justifying winds up exasperated, and I wind up frustrated.  When I remember to practice self-restraint, I remember that if I am comfortable with a decision I made, then there is no need to justify anything to anyone, and what a relief that is!

Now and then I will get tripped up in this area, and I will have an occasion where I’m not sure if the right course of action is to practice restraint, or to give voice to my feelings and needs.  There is, and always will be, I suppose, work to be done in this arena.  But I have learned that stopping myself from reacting to a situation always pays off.  For example, I’m in a situation where I feel mistreated.  Do I speak my mind and heart in a respectful way and voice my concerns, or do I practice restraint.  The progress (never perfection) for me is that I know that speaking my heart in the heat of the moment never pays off.  If it is important enough to share my concerns, it can wait until I am calm.  More often than not, though, I find once I am calm that it winds being not important enough to discuss… which of course is the whole point of restraint of tongue and pen!

The best lesson of all that I have learned on this subject:  I have never once regretted holding back my thoughts in an emotionally charged situation.  I can always revisit a discussion, but I can never take back once the words have come out of my mouth.

Today’s Miracle:

We are getting some rooms painted in the house; watching a vision become reality is so exciting that it counts as my miracle today!


Posted on July 17, 2014, in Recovery, Self-Care and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Great post! I particularly related to your point on self-restrain in terms of explaining myself in tremendous detail and exasperating the listener. I have come to believe that no letter should be longer than one page. If I cannot do it in 400 words, then I need to rethink the response.

    One of the problems with reputations for long rambling responses is that the listener automatically tends to shut down. I have a couple of students that I am hesitant to email with yes or no questions because I know that I will end up with a page long response.

    In meetings, I believe in sharing my experience, strength, and hope. If I have none relevant to the topic, I am best off just passing.


    • Thanks for the kind words sir, and, if memory serves, taking time out of your trip to do so 🙂 I love that idea that if I cannot do something in 400 words, then I should rethink it. My husband would be all for this idea!

      And man oh man, I could not agree more with your last thought, and I wish more people felt the same! Thanks Robert, I hope you are enjoying yourself!


  2. This is a great no fabulous post and I grabbed my 12&12 book to highlight and write a few notes. I haven’t even read this step yet. This so speaks to me b/c this is me.. I jump the gun and speak so fast esp if I am excited or angered in a situation. Where was this when my X husband and I were getting divorced and so many things pushed my buttons! This is something that speaks volumes to me and I have been trying to work on. Thank you for sharing this. B.


  3. I like your point about not regretting something you didn’t say, as opposed to not even having the option of unsaying something. This is a lesson I’ve been slow to learn and slower to act on, but it is the way to go. It’s comforting to know I can sleep on something and see if I still feel the same way tomorrow. No rush. Very exciting news about the painting!


  4. As usual you speak my language! Lol! And this post is so timely for me as I am struggling with my tween daughters outburst. Ugh. I am so lost! But, I have learned the restraint of pen and tongue in recovery, and if one thing that I do right is not say anything, well, I am ok! Because you know what, she forgets the next day and if I say something crazy during her outbursts, I know I would be beating myself up for a while, instead we talk about it the next day and we’re ok.

    Congrats on your miracle! Love when that happens 🙂


  5. I enjoy what you guys are usually up too. Such clever work and exposure!
    Keep up the amazing works guys I’ve incorporated you guys to my blogroll.


  6. Thanks for this post. I couldn’t remember the specifics of the “restraint of tongue & pen” quote from the 12 & 12 and Google brought me here. Your post and dialogue re the tongue & pen lesson was really helpful to me – exactly when I needed it. Thanks for being my transmission line tonight… Paul J


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