The idea of speaking your truth can be terrifying, but why? At least part of the answer to that penetrating question lies in the fact that authenticity and vulnerability are inexorably intertwined.
“The most important things are the hardest to say,” the prolific American author Stephen King wrote in his 1982 book Different Seasons, a collection of four novellas. King expands on this idea later in the same paragraph:
The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you’ve said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That’s the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for want of a teller but for want of an understanding ear.
King wrote those words in a work of fiction, but the dilemma he describes is all too real for untold numbers of people for whom the thought of sharing their unique voices and perspectives—speaking their truths—is a bridge too far, even though crossing that bridge might bring at least some measure of personal, societal, or even spiritual liberation.
What does it mean to speak your truth?
The idea of speaking your truth can be like venturing into a world where desires and dreams that give meaning to one’s own heartbeat instantaneously become a target for ridicule, derision, and shaming if exposed to the light of day, especially if the personal truths one espouses fall outside mainstream thinking or the social constructs of a given milieu.
Speaking your truth, then, is an act of courage, and when we factor in the uncertainty surrounding how our words and actions will be received, it’s no great stretch to say that speaking your truth is also an act of faith—faith that despite the potential for negative consequences, it is better to live with integrity and in harmony with one’s own nature than to keep your truth locked inside. The France-born writer Anaïs Nin captured this concept eloquently in her poem “Risk”: “And then the day came, / when the risk / to remain tight / in a bud / was more painful / than the risk / it took / to blossom.”
The details of how to speak your truth vary from person to person, and speaking your truth is no guarantee of serenity or inner peace. But leaving important things unsaid or unexpressed can easily eat away at our sense of self-worth until life begins to lose the sense of promise and possibility it once held. Therefore, it is important to speak your truth not only because it can be self-destructive to repress it, but because giving it voice can lead to a happier, richer life.
What if speaking your truth shatters your sense of belonging?
Belonging is extremely important to humans in all cultures, and it’s always possible that speaking your truth will lead to uncertainty about your sense of belonging to a group that once accepted you, or at least the “you” that you expressed in order to fit in. But this selective repression arising out of our innate quest for belonging can result in self-alienation, and self-alienation can make genuine belonging elusive to the point of it assuming the illusion of being forever out of reach.
Selective repression sometimes starts in early childhood in our interactions with family and friends, when we begin adjusting our behavior as we learn how certain actions are received. Not honoring our emotions is just one example of how we get into the habit of modulating our external behaviors so we can steer away from the likelihood of unpleasant interactions with others. While we may make conscious, situation-specific decisions about what to share and what to keep hidden early on, as time goes by, this self-silencing can become an unconscious habit of mind, making it all the more difficult to break free of in adulthood.
The good news is that through the power of conscious intention, focused awareness, and improved communication skills, we can get to a place where speaking our truth is not inevitably accompanied by trepidation but can instead be delivered with a reasonable expectation of healing and connection. Rather than being something fraught with conflict and confrontation, speaking your truth can become a means of expressing kindness, empathy, and acceptance of self and others—as much an act of altruism, if not more so, than an act of self-care.
Speaking our truths and living our lives while embracing rather than denying basic aspects of who we are is not always easy. Old patterns of self-doubt can reassert themselves, and sometimes others may become visibly uncomfortable at our commitment to authenticity and self-expression. Some situations may call for discretion and measured responses more than others, and, as in anyone’s life, there will be unpredictable rough patches.
But when we begin to live from a place of authenticity grounded in integrity, transformative change for the better has a fertile foundation from which to grow—not only in our own lives but in the lives of those with whom we interact. Rather than receding, our sense of belonging expands. Perhaps by revealing those things “close to where your secret life is buried,” as King put it, we also open ourselves to a wider experience of more shared joy and less inner angst over how our words and actions will be received by others.
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