The inability to speak one’s truth is a common cause of deep unhappiness.
Not being able to communicate our wishes and needs to those around us in a firm, clear, polite way means that at best, our needs are not met and at worst, we are misunderstood, ignored, side-lined or simply walked all over.
I often ask people if they speak their truth, and point out that it is important to do so if they are to lead a happy, healthy and fulfilled life.
I usually get one of two responses: confusion or fear.
It seems that many people either simply do not know what speaking your truth means, or that they misinterpret this phrase and believe it is about being loud and forceful. This thought frightens them because this is not who they are or who they want to be so they dismiss the issue.
Put simply, speaking your truth is about being assertive. It’s about:
• Connecting with your inner self; • Determining what your thoughts, feelings and preferences are in any given situation; • Acknowledging the validity of these thoughts, feelings and preferences; • Honestly communicating them to others in a calm, respectful, firm way; • Doing so at a time that is relevant; • But, without insisting that these preferences are the only ones that matter.
The principle of equality and the delicate balance of power in any relationship sits right at the heart of being assertive.
Speaking your truth is not about a hedonistic pursuit of your needs to the constant detriment of others. It is not about insisting that you are right and others are wrong, or that your needs and desires are the most important. It’s certainly not about arguing or acting superior in any way.
It’s simply about accepting that we are all equal in worth: we all have the right to be heard and, we are all deserving when it comes to having our needs met.
Note that the ‘all’ here includes us.
Learning how to speak your truth is fundamentally about understanding how power is balanced in our relationships.
At one end of the spectrum there is passive behaviour. This is where a person dismisses their own power and awards it to others. And, at the other end of the spectrum there is aggressive behaviour where a person snatches power from others and forcefully gets their way.
Let’s look at the characteristics of passive behaviour using a fictitious character called Sharon.
Sharon displays passive behaviour in virtually every aspect of her life. She often gets asked to do things for others and, even though sometimes she does not want to (and she knows she does not want to) she still says ‘yes’. She continually fails to express her true feelings and desires and constantly puts the needs of others before her own. She gives her power and control away to others.
Sharon displays all the behaviours and attitude of a passive person.
• She is afraid to speak up and say what she truly thinks and feels. • She outwardly agrees with what others are saying even if she internally disagrees. • She speaks very softly and often in a very rambling, hesitant, approval seeking way. • She avoids looking at people directly. • She shows little or no expression when she talks to others. • She slouches and looks down a lot. • She uses self-critical statements to put herself and her own opinions and preferences down.
Her submissive, passive behaviour makes it difficult for others to catch what she is saying, and easy for them to either misunderstand her views or simply to dismiss them.
When I look back at my younger days, I can certainly relate to this type of behaviour. I lived most of my young adult life behaving passively: never saying what I really wanted; outwardly agreeing with everyone but inwardly vehemently disagreeing; outwardly being ‘nice’ and polite but inwardly struggling to control my emotional reactions to what others were doing or saying. I’m pleased to say that I no longer live this way.
So, what is the alternative to passive behaviour? I often find that initially the opposite of passive behaviour is perceived as being aggressive behaviour. People fear that speaking their truth means being confrontational. They think standing up for themselves and their needs means having to argue and fight with others. It does not.
Just as there is a fundamental imbalance of power with passive behaviour, there is an equally out-of-balance distribution of power with aggressive behaviour.
Aggressive people not only put their needs and wishes over those of others but they demand that these needs are met. They often speak loudly, interrupt and talk over others. Their body language is intimidating and they invade other people’s space. They make intense eye contact by glaring and staring at others. They often use condescending language and speak in a rigid, cold and sometimes patronising tone. They like to control situations and people, and manipulate outcomes so that their needs are met at the detriment of others.
This is certainly not what speaking your truth is about.
The ideal alternative to passive behaviour is assertive behaviour. An assertive person would:
• Speak openly and honestly about their preferences; • Use a steady, warm, conversational tone; • Maintain good eye contact; • Have a relaxed and open body posture; • Use appropriate facial expressions that are congruent with their feelings; • Use “I” statements such as “I prefer to…”, “I’d like to…”, I feel upset when…”; • State their preferences in a clear and succinct way; • Enquire about others’ preferences and opinions; • Listen to and consider other people’s responses in a non-defensive way; • And, value themselves as equal to others in their life.
So, where along the spectrum of passive – assertive – aggressive behaviour do you mostly operate?
Here are a few questions to aid reflection:
Q. In which areas of your life do you feel the most comfortable and relaxed?
Q. Who are the people involved?
Q. How is the power distributed between you?
Q. Which areas of your life do you find it harder to speak your truth?
Q. In which situations do you find it harder to speak your truth?
Q. Who are the people involved?
Q. How is the power distributed in these relationships?
Q. Do they exert power over you or do you give them your power?
In my upcoming book “Speak Your Truth: The Power of Assertiveness and How It Can Transform Your Health and Life” I show you how to gently but surely move from a place of passiveness to a place of dignified, respectful, empowered assertiveness.
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I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this subject. You can email me on firstname.lastname@example.org.