Why are some things difficult to admit? What circumstances do we find ourselves in where we cannot tell the truth? Where in our lives is it problematic or challenging to be honest?
To admit something means “to confess to be true or to be the case” (Oxford Dictionary) A confession takes on a personal tone and feels weightier, perhaps. Wikipedia defines confession as “a statement made by a person acknowledging some personal fact that the person would ostensibly prefer to keep hidden.” Confession is a part of many religions and its purpose, as I see it, is to lift an oppressive weight—to bring lightness into our being, even if just for a moment. A confession or admittance does not necessarily correlate to something of questionable morality. It can relate to the societal code that is pressed upon as “The Shoulds”.
To name something means to mention something without ambiguity. That expression, “let’s call a spade a spade” is exactly that. So why it is difficult at times to name our personal truths? I work with many highly sensitive people. This can be difficult for some people to accept as true about themselves because they see it as a negative. The truths are those things about us that are, but the difficulty can arise if we feel they should not be. There lies that insidious monster, lurking in the corners of our being…shame. We are afraid of how our truths will be perceived by others. According to Brené Brown, shame is an “intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging.” This feeling of shame affects our actions and how we move (or do not move) in the world.
Why is it important to “name our truths?”. I believe that when we don’t do that, we get stuck in our lives, or we find ourselves living someone else’s life, someone else’s truth. So, how do we name our personal truths when sometimes we have learned not to?
When learning something new (or unlearning something old), it can be helpful to break that process down into smaller bits. This is why instruction manuals exist. So, if an instruction manual existed for how to name your truth, it might look something like this:
Step 1: Say it.
Step 2: Accept it.
Step 3: Move forward.
Nope. It is not easy. Our world has a myriad of billboards that holler at us in every space of our external, material lives, screaming to us about “the Shoulds”. It is difficult to drown them out. However, when we get closer to accepting what is true about us, the noise is easier to distinguish as “that doesn’t apply to me”.
So, for Step 1, start with changing “should be” in our thoughts to “I am”. In the therapy world, we call this “reframing”. The word “should” can link to suffering.
I often find my clients struggle with what they perceive to be the truth about themselves. In fact, they view a neutral statement or observation about themselves through the lens of how they “should” be. For instance, a former client said ‘I should be able to have more friends, I should have a more robust social life and be more outgoing in social situations. Can you help me with this?” I looked at them, waited a moment to allow their words to be held in the room, and then gently replied, “You are an introvert, and you want me to help make you an extrovert?” The bit of weight that lifted in that space we held together was palpable. And when that weight lifted, a small, new space was created—one for laughter. And in that space, was also the struggle. Because we both knew at that moment that the question was ridiculous and held the pain for my client of wishing it could be true—that he could be an extrovert because that is what the world tells us we should be. For this client, Step 1 of naming their truth is simply stating, “I am an introvert”.
“Step 2: Accept it” takes more time. My wish for this client, is to come to an acceptance that as an introvert, they prefer to engage with people individually or in small groups, and when they come to that acceptance, they can move forward in their life with this knowledge, transcending into the action of creating deep, fulfilling, connections with a small number of people. And why? Because that is their truth.
Should relates to judgment, and we judge ourselves when we compare ourselves to others. I have read articles and blogs recently around “how to stop comparing yourselves to others”. I believe it’s impossible not to compare. However, I do believe that we can compare without suffering or feeling negatively about ourselves. We experience suffering because of the story we tell ourselves about the comparison. The truth may be that someone is better at something than you are. But that does not conclude that you are flawed. That is a fact. No research or law would hold water to that assumption or argument.
The truth is we are all amazing. We are all wired differently with different strengths, different ways of thinking about things, different perceptions, and ways of creatively communicating and connecting within this world. The great American astronomer, Carl Sagan, said, “The cosmos is within us. We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself.” The truths about ourselves elucidate truths about the universe and all its uniqueness.
Here are a few “Shoulds” I have encountered in my work:
I should be thinner.
I should be able to tolerate my partner’s behaviors.
I should be able to concentrate.
I should like my job and be thankful I have one.
I should like certain movies and TV shows.
I should want to spend time with my family.
Here are the truth antidotes to those “Shoulds”:
My body type and shape are unique to me.
My partner hurts me.
I have difficulty concentrating when there is a lot going on around me.
I hate my job.
I am sensitive to movies and TV shows that are violent.
My family is hard for me to be around.
We name it. We accept it. We move forward with this as knowledge and understanding. We understand how to be compassionate toward ourselves. When we can do this, we can be compassionate toward others. Can we be one without the other? I’m not sure we can.
Prince, the legendary musician, masterfully illustrated the practice of turning neutral comparison into art in a 1999 Larry King Live interview:
Larry King: You are– you would admit to yourself, an unusual personality?
Prince: It depends.
Larry King: Well, let’s say you’re different.
Prince: As compared to what?
Name your truths. It is the starting point to a whole new way of being in the world without being influenced negatively by it. We are all a part of the universe and made of “star-stuff.” Just like Prince.