The Unintentional Sharp Tongue in Fibromyalgia and ME/CFS

When Your Tone Conflicts with Your Intent

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Have you ever noticed yourself having a sharp tongue, even when you don't mean to? That's a fairly common thing to hear about from people with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome.

When we unintentionally sound angry or annoyed, it can — understandably — upset the people were speaking to. Sometimes, though, it seems like we just can't do anything about it.

The sharp tongue can come out of the blue and take us by surprise as much as it does the people around us.

And when we are annoyed, it can make us sound much more annoyed than we are.

Even stranger: words can come out harsh even when we're consciously trying to make them softer.

The Surprise Sharp Tongue

I can't begin to estimate how many times the surprise sharp tongue has surfaced at a bad time and made someone close to me feel attacked or underappreciated. It's caused or heightened a lot of arguments with my husband and has hurt my children's feelings far too often.

When I realize that has happened, I've learned that it's important to stop, take a breath, and apologize right away. I explain that I didn't mean what I said to sound that way and try to make them understand that it wasn't under my control at the time.

The Defiant Sharp Tongue

Sometimes, my words come out sounding hostile or angry even when I'm actively trying to not make them sound that way.

The best example of this comes from back in the early days of my fibromyalgia, when I was still working full time outside the house.

A coworker was complaining about a particularly busy intersection she had to deal with on her way to work after a recent move. I had found a good way around it, and as I waited for her to pause so I could let her know there was a better way to go, I heard the words form in my head and knew they were going to come out harsh.

I also realized that my hands were on my hips and, since she was sitting down, I was kind of towering over her. I mentally told myself to put my arms down and lean against the desk, so I was in a more casual position. I also mentally reshaped the words to make them sound like a regular conversation instead of like I was barking in order.

So what happened? My posture didn't change, and the moment I had an opportunity to speak, I spat out, "Take second. It's easier." It came out sounding just as gruff as it had in my head. She looked taken aback and a little confused then stammered out a response. I then forced myself to relax against the desk and got control of my voice for the rest of the conversation.

I'll never understand why it happened that way, in spite of all my mental preparation. It just did.

Dealing with a Sharp Tongue

This is not a symptom that's captured the attention of researchers. That makes sense; it's hardly among our most debilitating symptoms. Still, it can be hard to deal with it.

I suspect (and this is purely speculation) that it has to do with anxiety levels and/or our propensity to feel frazzled. After all, those things lead to harsh words in just about anyone. Also, the need to focus especially hard just to follow a conversation can put a strain on us that might explain it.

All we can hope for is that the people close to us will come to understand this symptom and give us a second chance to express ourselves. We can also try to recognize the times when the sharp tongue is likely to take over. For me, it's more common when I've been especially tired and my brain is fogged in.

Therefore, it seems like finding ways to treat/manage anxiety and brain fog is could be the best way to get our sharp tongues under wraps. Meanwhile, we'll have to explain, apologize, and try not to let the situation escalate when someone fires back a response that's just as harsh.

If you feel like this symptom is seriously impacting your relationships, you may want to consider counseling to help you deal with the symptom itself and its ramifications.

The first step is to talk to your doctor about it.

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