Recently I took a trip to Colorado to celebrate the love and commitment of two of my dear friends. On my way out, I had a long layover in the Dallas airport with a couple of other wedding folks so we decided to eat a leisurely Mexican dinner at the airport during our wait. At the end of our dinner, a waiter (not ours) came up to our table and told my friend and I how beautiful we were—and he wasn’t hitting on us. He shared that his mother had recently passed and that he’d realized that life was too short not to tell beautiful people they’re beautiful, not to share compliments and appreciations, just because it’s not the norm or someone might misinterpret it. He went on to share a number of other inspiring stories and observations, which I’m planning to write about soon.
Not only were we touched and appreciative by this stranger’s compliment, but it also made me think about how often I hold back from expressing my truth whether it’s a compliment or something that’s tough to share. When I say truth, what I mean is my present moment felt experience, like when I feel touched and grateful when my husband sends me a text that says ‘I love you’. We live in such a speedy, distracted culture that we often don’t even notice our present moment felt experience. And even then when we do notice our felt experience, we often hold back from expressing it—for fear of judgment, rejection, or criticism. Sound familiar? (If not, this post may not be for you!)
As I listened to this waiter, he didn’t seem to care how we received what he shared—rather, he seemed called to speak to us so he did. He wasn’t expecting or wanting anything in return. He also wasn’t doing it because he thought he should or wanted to be liked or accepted. He was just speaking his truth. And there’s a certain freedom that comes from speaking your truth. Whether this means telling a stranger that they’re beautiful or telling your friend you’re too tired to go out or saying to your partner ‘Ouch! That hurt.’
Although it’s simple, it’s not always that easy to stay aligned with and to speak our truths. In fact, it can get pretty sticky. It’s one thing to be vulnerable and have the other person receive it with empathy and understanding. But what if we share our truth and the person responds with frustration, dismissal, or criticism? It’s easy to start to doubt our selves, question the validity or okayness of our truth. We may even feel guilt, shame, or anger. These feelings arise from our ego whose chief job is to ensure our safety and survival. When you look back to the cavemen days or even our early childhood, we can see that our survival was indeed largely based on being accepted and part of the tribe. But as adults living in this day and age, that’s typically not the case. These outdated survival patterns are often directly in opposition to those patterns that allow us to thrive–to be, as Brene Brown puts it, in the arena.
So…when we speak our truth and feel guilt, shame, embarrassment—these don’t necessarily indicate that we should backtrack or that we were somehow wrong to speak up. In How To Be An Adult, David Richo calls these emotions neurotic emotions, meaning that they stem from old survival patterns rather than what’s actually happening in the moment. Often we rely on our feelings as cues about the action we need to take, but in these cases, it may be more beneficial to just notice our feelings and not let them guide our next steps. As adults, we are living in a time in which our survival is not based on whether someone accepts us but our survival defense mechanisms can still be triggered if our sense of acceptance and belonging feels at risk. Sometimes speaking our truth does mean that someone judges us or is threatened by us. More often than not, however, people appreciate it. And even if they don’t, speaking your truth strengthens your sense of connection—with yourself and with the other person.
Whether or not the other person is ready to hear something, it does little good for a relationship to keep your truth in or stuff it down because believe me, I’ve tried that. The connection erodes from the inside. And this internal, invisible loss of connection tends to be more painful and harder to deal with and ultimately results in loss of the relationship. Of course, if we’re talking about speaking your truth with a stranger, it may not create the same sense of eroded connection, but it will be a missed opportunity for an increased sense of connection to yourself and to the other person.
Years ago, a good friend of mine told me that it really bothered her that I was always late, that it made her feel like I didn’t respect her or her time. Boy was this hard to hear and it was hard for her to say. She could have chosen the less courageous path of drifting apart and letting me go as a friend, but our friendship was important to her. As uncomfortable as this experience was for both of us, it strengthened our relationship and sense of connection. Of course, this could have gone differently, I could have gotten defensive and ended the friendship, she could have chosen not to say anything and let resentment build. Only one of these options results in a closer connection.
As it turns out, I could write about this forever, as it relates to so many other important topics, but instead, I’m going to wrap it up here. One last reminder I want to leave you with: your truth is your own and will likely be different from others’ and that’s okay. I would love to hear your thoughts!
Here’s my challenge for you: Notice when you have the impulse to speak up and then some part of you wants to hold back—choose the path of speaking your truth. It can be as simple as excusing yourself to go to the bathroom when you have to go instead of holding it until the conversation is over! The more you practice, the easier it will become. If this is new to you, start small. And remember, although speaking our truth is simple, it isn’t always easy so be gentle with yourself.
Affirmation: Speaking your truth = increased sense of connection