Voicing our opinions and telling our friends, partners and co-workers how we feel does not come easily to most of us. Instead of getting something off of our chest, we opt to stay silent, speak in codes, or stoop to passive aggressive behavior. It is amazing how often we avoid confrontation, as if telling someone how we feel would end with a beheading. This frightening prospect may have been true in Medieval Times, but I can assure you that speaking your mind today, will rarely end at the guillotine. Nevertheless, we keep quiet, dodging altercations at every turn, and as a result, wind up going through life with many things left unsaid.
Looking back on my own life, I remember a rather painful moment in a relationship that now seems almost comical. My boyfriend at the time had been unsure as to whether he wanted to fully commit to the relationship and we had danced around the topic for months, never once speaking frankly about what we should do. Our directionless dance had led us to Puerto Rico where we were now waiting at the airport for our flight to take us back to New York. But where would we be once the plane had landed? It wasn’t clear.
We had spent five days together on a dream vacation and yet, nothing had been said, and the “problem” was far from resolved. What to do? Why not eat? We were both starving and the line at the fast-food restaurant was incredibly long. I told him what I wanted and he stood in line while I saved a space at a table. Twenty-five minutes later, my boyfriend walked toward me with a tray of food, a milkshake, and a sprite. I searched the tray frantically with my eyes, hoping I was mistaken and had missed something. Unfortunately, I hadn’t missed anything, and the poor guy had. You see, I had asked for a diet coke and a cheese burger, and to my utter dismay, I was looking at a sprite and a hamburger. No biggie, right? Wrong! My insides started to churn. I was anxious, angry, hurt, and nauseous. I couldn’t handle it. I got up, excused myself, went to the bathroom and started crying hysterically. “How could he forget my order?” “He didn’t even listen to what I wanted.” These thoughts and plenty others raced through my head and yet, the one thought that had triggered all of this, was buried so deep that it hadn’t even crossed my mind. “He didn’t care. “
It took me some time to understand what had happened at that airport and when I did, my life definitely took a turn for the better. Moments like the one I experienced years ago are painful memories from our childhood, forever etched in our hearts. Feelings from the past are so strong that they stay hidden within, until something triggers them, and we suddenly find ourselves yelling at our partner about how he never picks up his socks. The “diet coke” story, as I like to call it, was an important lesson in my own life. I had waited too long to say what was on my mind. I had sat on my feelings and buried my hurt until it all exploded into fast-food hysteria, fit for an episode of Friends.
I cannot be more clear when I tell you that the key to a healthy relationship is confrontation. Being able to confront someone when you feel uncomfortable, anxious, hurt, or angry keeps things open, honest and out there. Miscommunication and guessing games virtually disappear and the number of arguments decrease dramatically. But why is it so hard? The reason many of us keep quiet is because we are scared. We fear that if we say something, that what happened to us as a child, might, in fact, repeat itself. Hypothetical questions come to mind and prevent us from speaking the truth.
What if he ignores me?
What if she leaves?
What if I get yelled at?
What if he rejects me?
What if she gets upset and I have to comfort her?
What if he hits me?
Avoiding confrontation and keeping your thoughts bottled up will only lead to frustration and more pain. Recognize the fear that prevents you from talking. Figure out the “What if” question that runs your life. Accept that the past is in the past and the present is happening now. Things may not turn out the same way as before. Ask yourself if your fear is realistic in the present. If it is not, then take a deep breath, gather your thoughts, and speak to the person. If your fear is realistic, ask yourself if your life would be better if you had a more communicative relationship with this person. Sometimes, we want to keep people in our lives even when deep down, we know they are not good for us. Other times, it is a struggle to communicate because both people have a hard time speaking their truth. By realizing your own fears, the other person will be able to face theirs and the doors of communication will fling wide open, letting you both breathe a great sigh of relief.
Whether it is at work, home, or with friends, speaking your truth and telling someone what is on your mind can make a world of difference. Be courageous and speak openly when things are upsetting you. Avoid using “You” when explaining how you fee l as it tends to make the person feel like they are being attacked. Instead, preface the sentence with “I feel adjective when…” For example, “ I feel hurt when you say you are going to do something and don’t actually do it.” By stating how you feel in a calm, articulate manner, the other person can hear what you are saying and a discussion can begin. Keep an even tone and have a discussion; people are more likely to listen to a calm voice than to a high-pitched, loud, aggressive one.
This type of communication allows us to cultivate meaningful, healthy relationships, but can also strengthen and heal relationships from the past. By confronting others and voicing your truth, you will see communication at work become direct and honest. Problems that arise among friends will be resolved quickly, and any difficulties you might have had expressing yourself with your partner or family, will start to disappear. Speaking up will changeyour life and every single relationship you have. The person you want to be is only a few words away, so don’t sit on your thoughts or wait for the right time. Recognize your fears, speak your mind and take back control of your life.
Copyright © 2012 by Maggie Steele. All rights reserved.