I’m a big believer in saying what you mean and meaning what you say. I think semantics matter. I believe the words you choose are important and how you feel deserves to be heard. That being said, I am also a big believer in holding your tongue. Every thought in your head does not require a voice. You shouldn’t speak just to hear your opinions echoed back and your thoughts should not run people over. I touched on the concepts of speaking up for yourself in When Polite Becomes a Problem and, as always, I believe everything we do, including speaking our minds, should be done with Manners and civility, but I wanted to take a moment to emphasize how important I believe it is to be candid with your thoughts.
We have a fair number of friends and family who swallow their feelings. People who won’t acknowledge how they feel despite how obvious those feelings are to everyone around them. People who bottle their emotions and lie to themselves (and others) about what’s really going on. I’ve personally never been able to do that. That’s not to say I’m some highly evolved emotional genius who knows how things should be, but rather that I’ve always been one to wear my heart on my sleeve and my feelings on my face. Over time, I found it was just simpler to put a voice to my feelings rather than pretend otherwise. I wasn’t fooling anyone anyway.
Writing this blog, there have been times when I’ve been accused of “airing my dirty laundry”, of being “too candid”, “too honest” or voicing only MY “opinion“. I’ve had phone calls and emails from people who feel mischaracterized or uncomfortable with the truth I’ve put out in the world and I always feel terrible when this happens. I don’t believe my honesty is wrong, I’m just sorry my observation of the facts has upset anyone. As a result, I’ve spent a fair amount of time talking these situations through and, as uncomfortable as those conversations can be, I think everyone involved (myself included) comes out far better than when the issue was simply tucked away. I’m aware my thoughts and writings are my take on the world, but I try exceptionally hard to be fair and honest in my personal interactions. I do my best to avoid judgement and at the end of the day, I am most critical of myself. That being said, I believe in hitting issues straight on. I’m not one to beat around the bush. I think dirty laundry deserves to be aired. Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away, it just allows it to pile up and permeate your life. Taking things out and cleaning them up is the only way to stop them from festering. It might not be the most pleasant experience but it’s necessary if you want to live an unburdened life.
Ignore. Ignore. Ignore. Deny. Deny. Deny. Stiff upper lip stuff doesn’t work long term. It only serves to mask problems that end up rising up when you least expect them. I don’t advocate going through life telling everyone what you feel at every moment. That would be unnecessary social suicide and as much as I believe in owning your truth, I remain a proponent of “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”. I do, however, feel that biting our tongue to the detriment of yourself, or someone you love, is not helpful. Keeping criticism at bay is a safe bet, but observations and honest truths, even if you know them to be subjective, are essential to our personal self worth and the integrity of our relationships.
There are ways to spare people’s feelings. To find something kind to say that is true without being insincere. But only when we acknowledge the truth of our situation can things begin to change. What’s the worst that can happen by being honest with your feelings? Someone gets upset? The situation becomes awkward? That’s tolerable. You can live through that. What’s unacceptable to me is fake, insincere relationships with people who are close to you. Working though something, no matter how uncomfortable, carries with it the possibility of resolution, growth and improvement. Holding on to resentment only breeds contempt.
Speaking your mind, standing up for yourself, telling people how you feel (in an appropriate way) is an essential life skill. The world is full of people afraid to rock the boat. You can’t solve issues that way and you’ll never be truly happy if you’re not truly yourself. Stamping down your feelings will ultimately only make you feel bitter and misunderstood. That’s no way to go through life.
Having the courage to tell someone you’re upset or uncomfortable should be done just as confidently as letting someone know you appreciate and respect them. We should approach the good and bad with the same level of candor. Without honesty, we’re just acting like ourselves, not being ourselves. Every painful conversation I’ve ever had – be it with my parents, your Dad, a friend, a colleague – has ultimately ended in a positive result. Even if it makes you feel twitchy or you don’t end up with the resolution you’d hoped for – you break up, end up leaving a job or losing a friend – at least you can look in the mirror and know you did everything you could to make it right. You respected yourself and your feelings enough to let them be heard. People who bottle their emotions might seem to coast along without drama, but lack of conflict doesn’t mean you’re not conflicted and being “ok” is not the same as being happy.
Speak up for yourself. Don’t let anyone take your voice from you. Be a kind but not a weak person. What you think, what you want, what you feel, matters. Choose to be an active part of your own happiness. Ask for what you want. Stand up for what you believe in. Choose your words carefully but say what you mean. It may be socially acceptable to suppress your feelings to avoid making waves, but without waves there is no movement, and I don’t want you stuck in a life going nowhere.
I love you forever.