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When We Say "I Didn't Mean It"

Have you been in an argument with someone and they said something hurtful? And when you try to reconcile, they said they were sorry and “didn’t mean it”? Or perhaps you said these words to them. If someone tells you, “I didn’t mean it,” do you believe them? Do they think they believed you? While words can never be taken back, the phrase “I didn’t mean it” is often a veiled attempt to take back hurtful words. Other times “I didn’t mean it” can take on a different meaning.

“For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” Matt 12:34

Scripture tells us, “for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” So if this is true, and we know it is, what is really going on inside the heart of those who say, “I didn’t mean it”? Let me suggest a few possibilities:

I didn’t mean it in the way you perceived it.

In other words, while it could have been stated differently, the real issue is that the other person misperceived it. Perhaps they even misinterpreted your motives. On the surface, communication is often about what we say and hear. But if we dig deeper, it is also about motives and perceptions. We don’t always perceive words and statements correctly, nor do others. It’s important to be humble in our perceptions and not ascribe the motives of another.

I didn’t mean for it to come out the way it did.

This simply means, “I didn’t think through what I was going to say or how I should have said it.” There is a meaning behind the words, but perhaps it would have been best to have written them down first. We all do this at times and ought to be compassionate and caring in our word choices, choosing life-giving words and speaking the truth in love. Listeners should also listen in grace, giving the speaker the benefit of the doubt when possible.

I did mean to say what I wanted to say, but I didn’t anticipate the consequence of my words on your feelings.

Sometimes we give statements and explanations to share our hearts and desires. Our intent is not to hurt others, but that is precisely what we did because we were being insensitive. Nevertheless, when this occurs, we ought to listen to others’ hurts and hearts to learn and grow in compassion and grace. It may also be wise to search our hearts to see if we have a self-centered motive.

I did mean it, but I’m backtracking to save my own hide.

Fear is a powerful motivator. If we backtrack our words, we may do so out of fear of another’s wrath or consequences. Without any reasonable explanation, trust is likely to be damaged. To say, “I didn’t mean it,” when you actually did mean it is a lie. Genuine humility and repentance are in order and are the only options for restoring trust in a relationship.

I did mean it because, at the time, that’s what I felt. But I know that’s not generally true.

Emotions can be pretty high when we are involved in arguments. We tend to exaggerate the more upset we are or the more something bothers us. In arguments, we say “you always” and “you never” because that is how it feels. The other person always does something we dislike or never does something we want. There are, however, typically exceptions to the ‘always’ and ‘nevers,’ which the other person frequently points out when accused of always or never doing something.

I meant to hurt you with words I knew would hurt you, though I don’t believe the words I said were actually true (aka revenge).

This is often the case when arguments get really heated. We may purposely try to hurt others to get revenge when we are hurt. We say the hurtful words not because we believe them to be true, but to enact vengeance and emotionally hurt the other person. So, the explanation of “we didn’t mean it” is only partially true. To admit that the words spoken were out of a revengeful heart is essential to confess, even when explaining they are not believed. Such remarks can never be taken back, but identifying your heart and working on personal anger is a step in a good direction.

As sinners, there will be times we speak before thinking and say hurtful words.

The phrase, “I didn’t mean it,” doesn’t seem trustworthy or believable. If the statement comes “out of the heart,” then it is crucial to discern what was really in the heart when the statement was made. Sometimes it may involve poor word choices, but other times it can be as sinister as the heart being filled with anger and revenge. As sinners, there will be times we speak before thinking and say hurtful words. We will want to take them back. But since we can’t, there is no sense minimizing what was said, but to search our hearts and minds to determine what was inside and seek forgiveness for any sinful action and motive. If we do not humble ourselves and do these steps, any words or apologies will be shallow, at best.

What other explanations for “I didn’t mean it” are at the heart?

- Fred Jacoby, MA


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