Some people hold part of themselves back from the people they are closest to. They may tell themselves that they are better off not asking for what they truly want from others. Indeed, it does feel scary and vulnerable to share things that others could reject or ridicule. But this hiding takes a toll. Being honest with themselves and with others provides them an opportunity to show their true, authentic self and have deeper relationships.
What Is Stopping You?
Fear can stop you from speaking your truth. Take an honest look at yourself and ask yourself: “Why have I kept part of myself hidden from those I love?” Is it because you are afraid of their reaction? When I ask people this question, usually I hear some variation of “I don’t want them to be disappointed in me,” or “I don’t want them to be angry with me.”
Usually, fear of rejection, confrontation, or disappointing other people is the wall that stops us from being our real selves. My response is: Are you content to hide your real self forever? Are you going to allow your fear to dictate your life and diminish your relationships? Are you willing to go to the grave, or have one of your loved ones go to the grave without giving yourself a chance to be authentic?
Be Honest With Yourself
Ask yourself these questions:
“If people treated me the way I really want to be treated, what would be different?”
“Am I being treated unfairly or cruelly by someone I’m close to?”
“If I felt free to be my true and best self, what would I do differently?”
“How do I really feel about the people I’m close to?”
Write down your answers while being very honest with yourself. Process your answers. Read what you wrote and share it with people you trust. Is this your truth? Is it missing anything? Don’t forget to include the positive things you feel about the people you need to share your truth with. This is part of the truth too. Look at the situation from their side. Are you being unfair or leaving out anything that is relevant to them?
Be Kind and Direct
Boil down the message you want to share to its basic elements. Be kind when you are stating your truth. Assume that your loved ones have positive intentions and are doing the best they can. Communicate kindly and lovingly. There is no reason to imbue your truth with negative energy. If you are protesting cruel or unfair treatment, you may need to state limits, boundaries, and consequences if the other person’s behavior does not change. You can still communicate clearly, directly, and kindly.
You need to state your truth, clearly, and directly. Don’t beat around the bush. You don’t need to write an essay to prove everything you are feeling. Your experience matters even if there are other relevant ways of seeing the situation.
Some people feel they need to have a face-to-face conversation when they are communicating something so important to someone they care about. The problem is that they may not be willing to listen long enough for you to speak your truth, and it can be easier to distort what you are saying.
In many cases, I recommend giving the person a written version. You can still tell her face-to-face, but she also has a written copy that she cannot distort it to dispute what you are saying.
State the Positive
Don’t forget to tell them about the positive feelings you have towards them. This is not about contriving a positive sandwich to embed criticism. This is the full truth from your heart! The fact that you see the positive in them is relevant, lest they get the impression that you only see the negative. In fact, you are opening up to them precisely because they are so important to you and you want the best relationship possible with them.
My experience is that when people speak out loud about the things they are holding in their hearts, they experience a sense of liberation. Depending on the message they are communicating, the people in their lives can have a variety of reactions at first. However, this is usually followed by a new acceptance when the person speaking his truth maintains his message. The result is a greater sense of personal freedom and deeper, more authentic relationships.
Case Study: Sydney
Sydney came into my office seeking help to cope with her anxiety. She explained how her anxiety spiked every time her husband Dave came home from work. She complained about how loudly he put on television news, watching TV throughout dinner and the evenings and mostly ignoring her. She said she has talked to him about it, but that he would either get defensive or change the subject. When I asked her to demonstrate how she talked to him, it became clear that she would either hint indirectly or get upset and burst into tears, while berating him for not caring enough about her.
What she really wanted was for him to turn the television off and pay attention to her when he got home, and to ask about her day and share about his. She wanted him to really see her and verbally acknowledge her efforts to love him and care for him. She also wished that they could do outdoor activities together a few times per month, just as they used to before they got married.
Within a few sessions Sidney and I boiled down the main messages she needed to share with Dave. She wanted to tell him that she loved him deeply and she wanted more attention and closeness with him, including the specific things that made her feel loved and appreciated.
It took a few more sessions to convince her to actually tell him. Once she delivered the message in a kind and heartfelt way, she was shocked at how receptive he was. Instead of feeling anxious, she started looking forward to Dave coming home so they could share their evenings together.
Michael Courter is a therapist and counselor who believes in the power of personal growth, repairing relationships, and following your dreams. His website is CourterCounsel.com
Do you have questions about relationships or personal growth that you would like Michael to address? Send them to mc@CourterCounsel.com