Recently I wrote a post emphasizing the importance of speaking your truth, courageously voicing your feelings, and saying ‘no’ when you mean no. As I dialogued with people about my post, I realized that often it’s quite difficult to differentiate between that deep soul truth and a story we’re making up that feels true in the moment. So I’m going spend a little time teasing that out and then share some helpful questions you can ask yourself in order to identify your truth.
Here’s an example of what I mean by teasing out what is true and what is story. This past summer, I was at the beach with my family. My husband is usually burdened with setting up our beach spot, but on one of our beach days, he had to run back to the car to get something, so I decided I’d get everything set up while he was gone so that he could just relax. It was almost all set up when my husband came back. He said, ‘I think we should move it back because the tide will be up in a few hours’ and he started moving all of it. Here’s the story that felt true in that moment: Nothing I do is ever right or good enough. So I felt angry with my husband, bad about myself, and just icky in general. Can you relate? But here’s the real truth of what was happening: I was disappointed because I had been excited about sparing him the trouble of having to set up camp and hurt because he didn’t acknowledge my effort and intention. As I notice what is really true, rather than story, I feel more connected to myself, compassionate, and grounded. I may still feel hurt and disappointed but I’m present with my experience rather than the story about the experience and feelings that follow the story.
You can see how it can be tricky to differentiate, though, because our stories feel so believable and they do create our reality especially when we don’t question them. Our brains work so quickly to interpret situations in order to keep us safe, but this often means that we are not even aware of the truth of our experience because our brain is working so fast to come up with the meaning. And sometimes we’re not even aware of the story/interpretation, but instead we’re aware of the emotions that follow the story. Sticky, eh?
So I’ve come up with some questions to help us tease out what is just a convincing story and what is really true:
- Does it increase my sense of connection? Typically when I touch into what is true for me, I feel more connected to myself, more grounded. If our truth is in some way painful or uncomfortable, we often spend time avoiding it or rather, our ego does, to protect us but unfortunately, this leads to disconnection from who we are at our core and all sorts of other issues. Expressing your truth also tends to increase your connection with the other person; even if the other person is angry or upset, acknowledging your truth improves the potential for a more intimate relationship.
- Do I feel an internal resonance? For me, landing on what’s true is often a winding process so sometimes it can a little while of processing with curiosity and compassion to land on what my true experience is. When I land on what feels true, I often notice a warmth and an expansion in my heart/chest, a softening, and a felt sense of coming home to myself. Even if my truth feels painful or uncomfortable, there’s a sweetness there.
- Is it followed by a felt sense of relief or release? Often when we’ve been avoiding our truth if it’s uncomfortable by numbing out or dissociating, when we finally touch into it, there’s a sense of relief or release. For me, this release usually takes the form of tears, especially if it’s been something that I’ve been avoiding for a long time. When we contact the truth of our experience, we bring our nervous system back into balance and if we had been stuck on high (fight/flight) or stuck on low (freeze), we will feel the release of the stuck energy. It might take the form of tears, heat, tingling, shaking. Of course there are also times when realizing what is true may be followed by increased anxiety around action you know you need to take, which I’ll speak to in a minute. But essentially, the anxiety is not related to the truth but the story we make up about what we need to do with the truth.
- Do I feel empowered? When I acknowledge my truth to myself, whether I speak it or not, I feel stronger, more present, more powerful, and more grounded. Experiencing your truth and knowing your boundaries goes hand in hand. When you contact your truth, your boundaries are clear and matter-of-fact.
- Is it loving or at least neutral/non-judgmental? In my experience, my stories are usually unloving or judgmental toward myself or toward someone else or both. Truth doesn’t tend to have an emotional charge one way or the other because it simply is. It’s my belief that our essential nature, the truth of our being, is love. And when I think about the outcome of acknowledging my truth, it feels both loving to myself and to the other person. We know that even if it’s painful, expressing our truth, strengthens the foundation of our relationships because we are fully showing up.
If you’re thinking of a specific experience and your answer is no to all or most of these questions, you’re probably experiencing a story rather than the truth. In my experience one of the best ways to connect to truth is to notice what’s happening in my body and to get curious. Our system is designed for healing and wholeness so when we notice what’s happening and follow it with curiosity, it leads us to where we need to go. In the beach example that I started out with, I might have paused (which unfortunately, I didn’t in that moment–I’m still learning too!) and noticed tightness, constriction and heat in my chest and if I stayed with that and continued to be curious, I probably would have noticed the hurt beneath the anger, maybe tears behind my eyes, and if I got curious about that, I would have realized that I felt disappointed and unappreciated. At that point, I might not have even realized what story I was telling before, but it also wouldn’t really matter. I could then offer myself compassion and could choose to share my experience with my husband or not. The more we practice noticing what’s happening in our bodies and getting curious, the easier it gets to contact the truth in the moment rather than go through all that rigmarole.
As I mentioned above, there are times when contacting your truth can create increased anxiety/stress if you feel like you need to take an action that you’re not ready for. To speak to that, I’d like to share some helpful wisdom Lissa Rankin during an interview on Sounds True: Insights at the Edge with Tami Simon. At the end of their interview, Tami asked Lissa “What if there’s someone listening who’s thinking, I know I’m supposed to do this thing [their truth] but I can’t quite do it, what would you tell them?” and I loved Lissa’s response. Lissa responded “If that person is listening and saying, ‘yes, that’s me’, I would say ‘don’t do it’. You can’t bully yourself into being ready. You don’t have to white knuckle it. It’s okay to wait until you’re ready. Just make peace with what’s true right now. That’s all. That’s no so scary and not so hard. And then there will come a time when you just know.”
So that’s what I’d like to leave you with today: “Just make peace with what’s true right now”. Simple but not always easy so again, be gentle with yourself. Use the 5 questions above to help you clarify what’s true. Get curious about your story and notice what’s happening in your body. You don’t have to do anything you’re not ready for. Hopefully this post has offered you some new tools of coming more into contact with what’s true for you on a daily basis and becoming more fully who you are.
Challenge: Write down the 5 questions or several of them that stand out to you on a post it and put them somewhere you’ll see them on a daily basis. Next time you get worked up or anxious, ask yourself those questions. If you answer yes to most of them, soak in the feeling on connecting with your truth. If you answer no to most of them, notice what’s happening in your body and get curious, follow the sensations to the truth of your experience. I would love to hear from you!
Affirmation: “Make peace with what’s true right now.” -Lissa Rankin