How to have the courage to speak your truth in love
At one time or another, everyone has felt that they wanted to say something to a friend, co-worker or loved one but did not. In this second of four talks in the series Expanding Our Circle of Community, Rev. Joanne explains how in some circumstances this may be the lack of courage to speak one’s truth.
Of course, there are reasons other than lack of courage we may choose not to share what we are thinking – wanting to protect another person’s feelings, not having adequate words to express oneself, or it not being our “place” to say anything at all, for example. When we withhold our thoughts from others because we are feeling vulnerable about the reception of what we say, it is important to recognize that humans are wired for connection and relationship, and it is not only natural, but healthy to share our thoughts in a positive and loving manner.
The need for human interpersonal relationships goes beyond simple social conditioning. In Social: Why Our Brains are Wired to Connect, UCLA psychology professor Matthew Lieberman tells us that when we experience social pain - a snub, a cruel word - the feeling is as real as physical pain and that across many studies of mammals, from the smallest rodents all the way to us humans, the data suggests that we are profoundly shaped by our social environment and that we suffer greatly when our social bonds are threatened or severed.1
This need for social acceptance helps to explain why some people may be reluctant to “put themselves out there,” for fear of the reactions they may receive, especially rejection, and perhaps worse than that, indifference. For some, avoiding the pain of rejection is far more attractive than whatever perceived benefit they might get from sharing.
Rev. Joanne tells us that while it is true that some people are extroverts, and have little trouble sharing their thoughts and feelings, others are introverts and struggle with the confidence to share. In spiritual community, we sometimes get mixed messages about what it means to be our authentic self. On the one hand, we all know that as people with a physical body we have needs and desires that go with that, and have emotional needs that also need to be met. On the other hand, we are spiritual beings that should always take the high road – turn the other cheek, do unto others, always be optimistic, not experience negative emotions.
So what does it mean to be our authentic self? Must we choose between our physical being and our spiritual being? In fact, no. It is not an either/or situation, but rather both/and. These aspects of ourselves are not mutually exclusive. It is beneficial to anyone who would like to access the courage to share to recognize that when we share from our authentic selves there is power in that. By doing so we strengthen our relationships and build confidence that translates to all areas of our lives.
Does sharing from our authentic selves mean that we will always get the reactions we are hoping for? Of course not. Just ask anyone who has been turned down for a date. But if we do not take action there is a 100% chance that we will not get the result we want. In Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work Brené Brown tells us:
The difficult thing is that vulnerability is the first thing I look for in you and the last thing I’m willing to show you. In you, it’s courage and daring. In me, it’s weakness.
This is where shame comes into play. Vulnerability is about showing up and being seen. It’s tough to do that when we’re terrified about what people might see or think. When we’re fueled by the fear of what other people think or that gremlin that’s constantly whispering “You’re not good enough” in our ear, it’s tough to show up. We end up hustling for our worthiness rather than standing in it.2
We learn much more from confronting our vulnerabilities and being uncomfortable than we do from playing it safe. As children, we would never have learned to walk if we were too comfortable simply crawling. The same is true for our adult lives. If you are having trouble sharing from your authentic self, start small by choosing your most trusted friend or family member and share something that may not be the most profound thought or feeling you have. Gradually, you will build confidence and be able to share more with that person. Once that confidence is strengthened, you may be able to share with additional people.
This now raises the question of what is appropriate sharing. Who do we share with and why? What do we share? Do we share everything we are thinking?
Once we have the courage to share, we must be thoughtful in how we do that. It is obvious that we share some things with our spouse that we would never dream of sharing with our parents or children. We share things with our best friend that we would not share with our brother, if we are female, or our sister, if we are male. Also, trying to force an artificial sense of emotional intimacy with someone we do not know well may also be inappropriate (see last week’s Sunday lesson and weekly blog for more information on the five types of intimacy, including emotional intimacy).
Once we have opened up and are sharing from our authentic self with another person, and we are aware that the reactions to our sharing may not be what we expect or want, it is important to understand that we should not ask questions that we do not want truthful answers to. If we are fishing for compliments or validation of our feelings or actions, it is likely that we will get stung. If you have chosen who you are sharing with wisely, they will already be sensitive to your needs and where you are coming from. But if they are truly your friend or confidante they will tell you the truth. Be prepared for that, but do not let it deter you from the sharing from your authentic self.
Finally, do not have ulterior motives in your sharing. Having gathered the courage to share, we should not use our sharing as a tool of emotional or psychological manipulation. It is not uncommon for spouses or romantic partners to share with their significant other something they are thinking or feeling, with the expectation that the other person will fully reciprocate. If you choose to be vulnerable in this way, wanting only to build trust and learn about yourself and the relationship, this is a good thing. But if you do so with the expectation that your partner will now open themselves equally and they do not, then you use their choice not to share against them in that moment or in a future moment to gain some advantage, that is not a good thing. This type of sharing is not coming from our higher selves and actually has the exact opposite effect to building trust.
This week’s lesson was about half of a conversation – deciding to open up and share our thoughts and feelings. We also need to be skillful listeners when we share. Not just in being the mirror for another person who chooses to share with us, but also in hearing what the other person is telling us when we have chosen to share with them. Join us next week for Rev. Joanne’s talk on The Art of Listening.
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ. Ephesians 4:15
This week, pay attention to how you show up in conversation. Choose to speak honestly with humility and an open heart. You have the courage to speak your truth in love.
A lifetime of habit can be extremely difficult to break. If you, like me, have found it difficult to fully share your thoughts and feelings with another, take heart that in Unity we know that we have immediate unlimited access to The Twelve Powers. In this context, for me, the two powers that apply the most are Strength and Wisdom. This week, during my time of meditation, I will focus on my spiritual strength to gain courage and apply spiritual wisdom to know what, when, and with whom it is appropriate to share. Which of The Twelve Powers will you draw from to gain the courage to speak your truth?
1Lieberman, Matthew, Social: Why Our Brains are Wired to Connect, Broadway Books, 2014, ISBN 978-0307889102. Matthew Lieberman is Professor and Social Cognitive Neuroscience Lab Director at UCLA Department of Psychology, Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences.
2Brown, Brené, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, Avery Press, 2015, ISBN 978-1592408412