Often in my practice, I hear people in conflict about wanting to tell someone something that is true for them, but worrying about hurting the other person’s feelings. This arises regarding needs in romantic relationships, differing opinions with coworkers, and obligation-inducing invitations from acquaintances—from the most intimate to the most impersonal interactions.
We withhold relevant truths about ourselves and our preferences from people we are in relationship with for a litany of reasons: to shield them from pain, to avoid disappointing, to prevent angry reactions and conflict, out of fear of being vulnerable, or out of concern for other potential consequences. There are an infinite number of rationales as to why it may not be easy or enjoyable to speak your truth.
Considering the feelings and well-being of others is crucial. It is the foundation of a democratic, civil, and just society. However, humans can become overly concerned with the feelings of those around them to the detriment of their own welfare and experience. It is possible to be too considerate, too nice.
There is a difference between sincerely and mindfully attending to the experience of others and your impact on them, and over-functioning in a relationship by trying to remove the unavoidable pain that is part of life for all of us, pain we are all built for.
A psychologically balanced person is someone whose thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are aligned and mirror one another. In order to stay connected to your experience and act upon it, you must at times relay parts of who you are or what you want that may be painful for others to hear and digest. This may be difficult, but the alternative keeps you sheltered in a life that does not truly fit.
While being “nice” and “going along to get along” may keep your life stable and seemingly safe, you may also be imprisoning yourself and those around you. Anytime you block what you know to be true from expressing itself, you shut off key avenues to joy, authenticity, and freedom. This avoidance of the truth can have consequences in the form of addiction, hostility, decreased empathy, chronic stress, loneliness, and apathy, to name a few.
When you withhold important truths, you bar yourself from showing up authentically, from really being known. You prevent what needs to happen next in your life from coming to fruition. A significant byproduct of this is you also hinder others’ access to important information about themselves. When fear or resistance to saying something undesirable wins, you may protect people in the short term, but in the long run you keep them in the dark about things they would be better off knowing. This is because your truth directly impacts what is true for someone in relationship with you.
By finding and expressing what is genuine for you, you clear a path for someone to come closer to their truth. They have the opportunity to see you more fully, know where they stand, and decide how they want to live based on what is accurate and real. You offer them the gift of more information about their own lives. What they do with that information is up to them. Your work is yours; theirs is theirs.
Placing truth at a premium requires holding your own pain without medicating it, denying it, or projecting it onto someone else. You may find experiencing difficult feelings such as sadness, anger, and disappointment actually feels better than trying to fend off these feelings, which can lead to suffering.
To be clear, this is not permission to be mean. This is not a go-ahead to bully, to say nasty things, or to act upon an intention to be hurtful or cruel. This is taking a deep breath and conveying what is honest and accurate for you in a way that respects the experience of the other. It is permission to set yourself free and give others the key to their own freedom—the right to know what is happening in the other half of the relationship.
None of this is a walk in the park. This practice requires the ability to tolerate another’s pain without moving to fix it, own it, or run away from it. It also means dealing with possibly not being liked or not being seen as “good.” It requires having your own voice and self-love be enough. It means acknowledging that two conflicting truths can coexist, and honoring what is yours while respecting another’s.
Placing truth at a premium requires holding your own pain without medicating it, denying it, or projecting it onto someone else. You may find experiencing difficult feelings such as sadness, anger, and disappointment actually feels better than trying to fend off these feelings, which can lead to suffering. When emotions are accepted and felt for what they are, there may be a “clean” factor to the experience. It may be raw, intense, and painful, but afterward it can feel renewing and relieving. Tucking in your feelings and denying “what is” is a conduit to anxiety, shame, and guilt.
Is telling the truth scary as hell? Yes. Does it sometimes put important things in your life at risk? Definitely. Can the truth change everything? Bet on it.
Are there other options for operating in life? Absolutely. However, if you want to live an authentic life and have meaningful relationships, psychological health, and spiritual freedom, organize your life around what is true. With a little tact, telling the truth does not have to amount to being mean or bad; it is simply conveying what is and using your reality as your north star. The more your motives and actions parallel your authenticity, the more you are empowered to create the life you want. You must face pain or disappointment, allow truth to be the ground beneath your feet, and move forward not based upon what you should do, but what you want and need.
© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.