I was teaching a class how to communicate to relate, not manipulate. We were at the part about honoring our emotions when a woman in the back raised her hand and timidly said, “But if I told them how I really felt, they’d be mad.” A nervous chuckle rolled through the room, and others added, “Yeah, or fire me,” “Or, not like me,” “Or, I might cry.”
I admit those are real possible consequences of honoring your truth. People might not like what you have to say, and saying it might be awkward. But which is worse: smothering your truth to gain approval of your false self, or living in your truth despite others’ disapproval? (Hint: you have no way to guarantee other people’s approval of you.)
We get in the habit of denying our emotions very early in life. As children, most of us were taught to suppress our emotions for the convenience of adults who needed to control us. Until we make the effort to learn and do differently, we continue to suppress our own emotions as an adult. We find ourselves lonely, unable to connect, dissatisfied, depressed, and eventually, ill. Emotions are part of who we are and will not be ignored!
Honoring your emotions in communication is simply a skill, something to learn and practice, just like any other skill you’ve learned. You can do it! Here’s how:
1) Own your emotions. We are complex creatures, capable of having completely contradictory truths, at the same time. We can want to squash someone like a bug, while we wish to experience peace and love. Embrace these contradictions; don’t deny them. Yep! Accept your emotions. Observe your emotions. Journal about your emotions. Be guided by your emotions. Just don’t ACT on your emotions. And, most importantly, don’t blame others for your emotions. That only makes you a victim.
2) Create a gap. Some statements that create a gap between emotion and action:
- “I need some time to process this.”
- “I’m not clear how I feel about this.”
- “I’ve got to get through my emotions on this.”
- “Give me a minute (or day, or whatever) to think about that.”
- “I’m feeling upset and would rather not respond right now.”
Use the gap you created to deal with your emotions. Work through them, journal, talk to a friend or therapist. Your feelings happen as a result of thoughts, beliefs, past experiences. See what they reveal. They are to be observed, honored, and not ignored. Definitely work through your feelings!
3) Separate emotions from actions. You are 100% responsible for what you say and do. No one can make you open your mouth. Give yourself time and space to get clear before acting. Emotions never harm, but actions stemming from unresolved emotions can destroy everything.
4) Chose actions that create the connections and outcomes you seek. As you sort through your emotions, notice how your truth presents a spectrum of behavioral options, from low (acting out of anger, hurt, revenge) to high (acting out of hope, love, grace). Aim high. Present your truth respectfully, responsibly, kindly-yet-firmly, with complete faith that you will get the outcome you need.
One more thing…just because it’s broken down into 4 Steps, doesn’t mean it’s easy. Speaking our truth is one of the hardest things we ever do. It’s risky. It’s scary. It doesn’t feel natural. Most of us stumble more times than succeed. So, be gentle with yourself. Simply do your best to move in the direction of True You. Baby steps are good! I can promise this: once you taste the sweetness of living in your truth, you’ll never again want to settle for the bland mediocrity of others’ approval.