“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”
Brene Brown, “Daring Greatly”
As kids we were (most probably) taught that speaking the truth was good, and not speaking the truth, i.e. telling lies was bad and would be punished accordingly. It was maybe a bit more clear cut back then – when you said you’d done your homework so you’d be allowed out with your friends you knew deep down if you had or hadn’t done it; whether you were actually speaking the truth or not. For many of us though, somehow on the journey to adulthood the ability to know if we are speaking the truth or not has become blurred. And once we’ve got that figured out, having the actual courage to speak our Truth – well that’s a whole other ball game altogether! Since when did Truth speaking become so damned difficult?
I have to admit, I am sometimes on occasion left wondering why I bothered to speak the truth at all; if having the courage to speak truth is a challenge, likewise so can our willingness to hold space to hear the truth be equally so. I recently spoke the ‘Truth’ to a health professional I had been working with. When asked if I had been following a series of exercises I had been given, I answered truthfully in the negative and explained why. In the past, I would have let myself fall into the trap of playing the ‘good girl’ role – giving the expected response, justifying it in a way that totally negated what I was actually really feeling. I decided there was no point in pretending I am doing something I blatantly haven’t been doing, just to tick the boxes on somebody else’s list. Part of me feels like I’m acting like a naughty child who won’t eat their vegetables, not doing said exercises, the other part of me feels that there is a good reason why I haven’t been doing them – they aggravate the injury that took me to see that professional in the very first place. Exercises aside (the psychology of that one I’m sure possibly warrants a whole blog post of it’s own), that’s not what I’m talking about here. What’s up is this – I spoke the truth, and I didn’t try to people please for the sake of it. The response I got was, as you have probably already guessed, not a particularly receptive one. The result: I sat and read the email feeling like I wished I’d never been honest in the first place. I know I’m not the only person sat reading this who has had this kind of experience. So, yes, it’s no wonder as adults that we have lost our ability to speak the truth – for many of us, it’s been over shadowed by the need to appease others.
In thinking about truth speaking, I was drawn to look back at The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. The first agreement he describes is to “Be impeccable with your word”. He says:
Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.
On paper this doesn’t sound so difficult, we’re all thinking “well of course I’m impeccable with my word…most of the time anyway….” The second agreement presents the flipside of the truth speaking experience though – “Don’t take it personally”. As Ruiz explains;
Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.
So, if we are opening ourselves to truth speaking – our Truth – it’s equally important to examine our response to hearing the ‘Truth” of others. Our reaction to other people’s truth often says more about us than it does them. My reaction to the email response I had to my truth speaking is not really about the person who wrote it; they were (hopefully) just speaking their truth back to me. It’s really about the trigger it was for me – it peeled back a delicate layer of my own insecurity in speaking my truth. And as my teacher Ana Forrest says, “Never waste a good trigger” – so I decided to delve deeper into the paradox and complex mystery of “Truth”.
On a similar vein to Ruiz, when Brene Brown discusses worthiness in “The Gifts of Imperfection” she says:
“When we can let go of what other people think and own our story, we gain access to our worthiness”
So, here’s another twist about truth speaking – it’s not just about hearing other people speak the truth and our reactions to it, but also about our reactions and fears to hearing our self speak our own Truth. The trigger I experienced has made me sit with the question – “how do I actually feel when I speak truth, about speaking the truth – am I actually prepared to hear my own truth, never mind anyone else? I’ve started to acknowledge the little tricks I’ve employed to conceal my Truth from myself – completely giving up drinking any alcohol full stop is maybe one of the bigger ones (and once again probably another blog post in its own right), as are the other little ways I distract in order to numb from what I’m actually feeling. I’ve decided to make a concerted effort with seated meditation to explore the intricate workings of my mind further – to sit with what my truth is and what triggers my barriers to it, as a regular check in as to what I am actually feeling right now, rather than what I think everyone else expects me to feel.
Speaking our truth takes courage, and hearing it just as much so. Brown describes courage as speaking ‘one’s mind by telling all one’s heart”, and highlights that this ‘ordinary’ courage involves us putting our vulnerability on the line, speaking honestly and freely about what we’re feeling whether it be good or bad. I feel that this brings us back full circle to our sense of worthiness – can I own my story and my truth enough to speak it and feel that I am enough? Brown also makes another really interesting point – are we speaking our truth to someone who has earned the right to hear it and can hold space for it? Our most vulnerable truths are maybe not meant for everyone’s ears. I think perhaps it’s somewhere between our concept of our own personal worthiness (or lack of), alongside not fully trusting (be that subconscious or otherwise) the person we are telling our truth to hold space for us, that maybe we have ended up turning our back on our truth altogether. Life keeps us busy enough that we don’t find time to ask ourselves “what’s really going on here? What am I really feeling?”
Brown highlights that not everyone we meet has earned the right to hear our story and I agree. I’d take this a step further though by highlighting this: We have earned the right to hear our own personal story and Truth, if only we can trust our authenticity and worthiness enough to sit still and actually listen to it.
Image courtesy of Elad Itzkin London Yoga Photography