This goes out to all of us who are afraid to speak our truth for fear of “rocking the boat.” I’ve spent too much of my life wearing a gag, and there are two primary reasons for it. One is because I didn’t want to step out of my comfort zone and risk losing a relationship, not just an intimate relationship, but any relationship. And the second reason is because, for most of my life, I didn’t have the skills to communicate my observations, feelings, and needs in a way that would lead to connection. Rather I knew how to blame others, shame them, guilt trip them, criticize them, judge them, and make them wrong. And if that wasn’t enough, I would raise my voice until I was screaming at the highest volume my throat could handle. Those were the communication skills I learned in the formative years of my life. No wonder I was afraid to speak for fear of losing a relationship.
Fortunately I began training in non-violent communication (NVC) about 2 years ago. NVC has given me the skills to communicate effectively, but I’m discovering that it’s more than just having the skills. I still needed the willingness to step out of my comfort zone and take a risk.
I watched myself do so this morning when I expressed to a friend that something between us was upsetting me. I didn’t know if it was my intuition or paranoia; all I knew for sure was that I felt a constriction in my chest and some anxiety. In the past I would have forced myself to ignore it and just endured the discomfort until I had managed to successfully bury it, then I’d go on as if I was perfectly content and cheerful when in truth I was not.
As it turned out, my successful self-gagging and repression of my feelings and needs led to being in a relationship for nine years that was unsatisfying, unfulfilling, and never really met any of my needs. Looking back, I see the insanity of it, yet the fear of confrontation was too intense to face. So I endured nine years of unmet, unacknowledged needs. For what? To avoid the unknown?
So now I’m learning to speak my truth, and I even said to my friend, “Hey, I may just be paranoid, but this is really bothering me and I need to know that I’m safe enough with you to just talk about it.”
As it turned out, it was just a bout of insecurity, but afterward I recognized that I at least loved myself enough to express my feelings and needs, instead of ignoring or repressing them. It takes tremendous courage and self-love not to hide one’s insecurities and weaknesses. I’m not suggesting we go overboard and indulge in such things, but just be willing to acknowledge them without shame.
The conversation was a little confrontational, but it was very honest. That’s what my friend calls, “messy connectedness.” It can feel uncomfortable at first because it is messy. We have to be willing to accept our own imperfections (his tendency to over-schedule and my feelings of insecurity) and not shame ourselves or each other, but just build a relationship of trust and safety that lets us be imperfect, messy, and above all, honest.