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.
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 12 steps, Alcoholic Anonymous, Communication, Holding your tongue, reactionary, Recovery, Self-restraint, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traidtitions. Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.