How authentic are you? How true are you to yourself? How often do you cheat on yourself? We cheat ourselves every single time we adjust our words and our behavior to meet someone else’s expectations. It seems like a white lie, it is totally acceptable to avoid hurting someone’s feelings by softening our words.
But, the world is full of adults, especially women who are altering their opinions, softening their words, adjusting their positions on very important subjects to fit a role and meet others’ expectations. On the rare occasions we actually say exactly what we think, a person is deeply offended even though our words are absolutely true. The discomfort is felt within us, they may be offended, but we are the ones who feel bad. But the bad feeling isn’t because we offended the other, the bad feeling is that we hurt ourselves not being comfortable with speaking our truth. Should I be true to you, or should I be true to myself?
Do I exist to meet your expectations? Is it my responsibility to make sure you don’t get offended? I didn’t come to this planet to meet other people’s expectations. I am not a fairy, it is not my job to make your wishes come true. Who are you to demand I be who you need me to be? What right do you have to ask that of me? ‘But, I am your father, I am your mother, I am your husband, I am your child, I am your boss, I am your boyfriend, and if you want to be on good terms with me, you should be making me happy’. If you want to get along with others, you must continuously meet their expectations, without complaining and do it with a smile. You must never offend or you are a bully, disagreeable, a bad girl, a bitch, a witch, a scary woman.
Ask any woman how she is doing. The standard reply is: my husband is working too much, my kids are at soccer practice, my dad just had heart surgery. No, how are you? Difficult question, she now really has to consider, how am I? Very often, there is no authentic answer because most women have no idea who they are nor how they are feeling in the moment, and on the rare occasion that they do, the answer is totally unacceptable. Whatever answer she gives, it is quickly corrected by the other who knows better how she feels that she does. I told my mother I feel run down and tired lately and she corrected me and said it is because I don’t come home and spend enough time with her. Really? Is that really why I am tired? No, the truth is I am exhausted because I spent a week with her in ER, multiple doctor’s appointments, did all her grocery shopping, took her to a specialist, picked up multiple prescriptions at the pharmacy, and drove 200 miles in a matter of days to be good to her. Being true to myself, I actually told her the truth, 100% the truth. Can you guess her response? The response was an explosion of emotions, most of them toxic guilt peppered with insults, and a conclusion that none of her children love her and how unlucky she is to have a daughter like me. So what is easier? I can see why the white lie “I’m fine mom” is easier to swallow than the truth.
But, what happens when we swallow the truth? We are the ones who swallow the toxin, not the other person. My response triggered my mom into an emotional outburst, but those were her feelings, her emotions, her guilt, her stunted growth, her limitations. So how did I honestly feel when I spoke my truth? I’ll begin by telling you how I felt before I spoke it.
Mom fell down on Christmas Eve and hurt her arm. I am not a doctor but I tried to feel for a broken bone. She was clearly in pain, but could move her shoulder, elbow and hand. Something was pinching, the elbow was sore, but the entire arm could move. Clearly it was not broken. She is 75 and obviously at that age bones break easily, so I suggested I take her to her primary physician in the morning and gave her an ice pack. She started crying that if dad was alive she would be taken to the emergency room, but since no one cares for her, she may as well deal with the pain quietly. At 11 pm we checked into ER, she was examined at 3am, and we went home at 6 am on Christmas morning. Apparently, my service to her was not good enough, I did not comfort her, instead I fell asleep by her bed while she suffered in pain, and drove home in silence on purpose to make her feel bad. She refused a home aide which I was willing to arrange to make it easier for her to shower and dress. Instead I did that for a week. My services included shopping, cooking, dressing, serving, meds, and cleaning the house, while her arm was NOT broken and still useable. But when I told her I am tired, apparently that was highly inappropriate and ungrateful of me. The reason I said what I said is because I have been practicing saying my truth for years, and truly felt it was honest. What is wrong with admitting you are tired?
For the entire week I was silent, doing what was expected. I was resentful when I received texts from my sister who was admonishing me for doing nothing for mom. I was angry when friends and neighbors called because mom told everyone she has no help at all. I was silent, but every cell in my body was seething with quiet rage. For an entire week I couldn’t sleep. I was either delivering her meds, or waking up in the middle of the night angry. My stomach hurt, my heart hurt, my throat was tight, I was explosive, while doing exactly what she expected. Why did she cancel the home care service? It is included in her health insurance plan. Physically and emotionally I felt like I was dead inside, swallowing my truth to make her feel okay, keep my sister calm, play the good daughter to friends and neighbors who have been hearing for years that I am the cold one. But I am the one who visits her more than anyone, more than any sibling, friend and neighbor combined. Why am I not good?
I felt like shit because I was not being true to myself. I thought that in the last ten years I had learned how to protect my boundaries, say no without an apology, be quite alright disappointing people and not regretting it at all. Over the years my honesty started to feel empowering, and once I learned to own my truth 100% without ever backing down no matter what it costs me (friendships, jobs, approvals) I felt like a Goddess. People noticed me, admired me, commended me, wanted to be like me. Sure some were offended because I was not coddling their feelings, but emotionally healthy, strong, balanced people knew what I was doing and respected me for it.
I knew what I had to do. I had to tell my mom the truth. I corrected her, and I said “No mom, I am not tired because I don’t see you enough, I am exhausted because I spent a week being your daughter, your house keeper, your nurse, and you haven’t said thank you”. Silence. Disbelief, And then an attack. But never mind the blood bath. Getting all these toxic, bottled up emotions off my chest felt like such a relief. A week’s worth of anger, resentment, tension and tears gushed out of me. I didn’t exaggerate a word, I spoke accurately, truthfully and without a personal attack. Yes, she exploded in anger, but she could not argue with a word I said because it was 100% true.
Bottling up emotions hurts- we all know that. But what does adjusting our everyday opinions so we can fit other people’s reality do to us? What is the price of congeniality, of getting along? If we want to fit in, we have to meet other people’s expectations or suffer the consequences.
Who are you? Do you even know? How often do you get in touch with your true feelings, not the appropriate feelings you learned to express on Facebook, but your own feelings? Do you have a quiet rage brewing inside you? When was the last time you allowed that rage to spill out and cleanse your mind and body of that toxicity? Has it been so long that you have forgotten what that tight knot in the pit of your stomach is? That tightness in your chest that has become a permanent part of your existence has been getting tighter and tighter for years. I bet you have forgotten what caused it in the first place.
We are sick. We spend lifetimes editing our true selves. It starts in pre-school when we are taught to sit still, not say anything that could hurt the other kid’s feelings, to not say anything that might embarrass our parents. Women have it harder, because you want to be a good girl, not just to your parents but also to society, your lovers and especially to all those men who cannot have you. Yes, you have to please them too, because their bloated egos are not supposed to get hurt, they are the most dangerous and vengeful of all.
Just who the hell am I supposed to be? Being a good daughter means meeting your parent’s expectations of good grades, clean reputation, polite opinions, appropriate degrees, marriage eligibility and willingness to provide them with grandchildren, taking care of them into their old age and never complaining. Being a good employee means striving to be the best but never better than the weakest male, being ambitions but never so much as to be perceived as non-feminine, wanting to succeed all the while keeping the males feeling like men, never outpacing them, only being as successful as they can handle you being. Being a good wife is mindless oblivion, juggling a house, a child, a job, your own health and of course the man. Oh, I forgot, we still have to function in society and be soft, polite, inoffensive, feminine but not too feminine because then we are just asking for it, intelligent but not too intelligent for our own good, we are supposed to stand up for our own rights but never be called a feminist, that’s just going too far. What gives? How much can one human possibly be? How far can I contort myself into the ridiculous expectations everyone has of me? The minute I say No, I get shock, disbelief, automatically I have disappointed someone who shouldn’t have been disappointed. Being a “good” woman means living with multiple personality disorder, trying to keep track who am I supposed to be to every person. The minute she upsets somebody or refuses to meet their expectations she is cited with judgement and proof that she is not a good whatever. You know how tired I am of being good?
But in my quest to take better care of myself, honor myself and maintain healthy boundaries I started speaking my truth ten years ago. At the office, working in an all male environment, I quickly learned that the blunt unvarnished truth gained me more respect. Men hate to hear the word no, especially anything that could pinch their bloated ego. But I worked with a hundred bloated egos, and saw that when I am nice they take advantage of my niceness. If I am polite they mistake that for my weakness. If I am respectful, they take advantage of that too. So, I started stating the blunt truth. Guess who couldn’t handle that.
As long as my blunt truth was accurate, logical, backed up with evidence, they could whine but they could not do anything about it. I got called into HR several times, but I always spoke with provable facts. It was always the guys leaving HR with their tails between their legs.
In dating, speaking the truth is even more important, especially for women. We all know what it is like to be nice to a guy, only to have him misinterpret our niceness for whatever his wild imagination can conjure up. When I mean No, I back that up with at least a dozen displays of I am not interested. For example, I never let anyone I don’t have an interest in to buy me a drink. Allowing someone to buy you a drink implies, ‘I might be interested, I’ll listen to what you have to say for 15 minutes’. I know as soon as I lay eyes on him that I will never be interested in him, so there is no reason for me to imply Maybe. Guys can be morons, and a lot of women are afraid to say the truth, it is easier to sometimes listen politely than have him get lose his cool. But the cost of tolerating a douche-bag for an hour, and allowing your presence to boost his ego is even more painful. Why should a guy who has no chance with you at all believe that he does? Is it better that he is offended or that I endure the conversation? Which option honors me more? I always choose Me.
My dad once said: “You have disappointed me”. I replied “You don’t say. I didn’t live the way you thought was appropriate?” He said “You didn’t. You could have re-married, you could have given me grandchildren”. “Then I wouldn’t have lived my life the way I wanted to live it, I would have lived for you”. He said “You owed me that”.
Our parents are the main reason we are afraid to speak our truth, and the main reason we learn to bottle up our truth over the course of a lifetime. From a young age we are taught to please them, obey them, take their advice, adjust our behavior according to what suits them. Eventually we become good girls and good boys, we become appropriate. We then get into relationships and walk on egg-shells fearing that we will make the other person unhappy. Fairy tales tell us that happily ever after means making your partner always happy. How could we possibly do that without sacrificing our own happiness, and our own mental health?
You will find that when we speak our own truth, no matter how displeasing it is to the other person, we are living honestly, and are being the best version of ourselves. That is the only way we can be 100% authentically in touch with who we truly are. And there is no better relationship than when we have found a human who is 100% in agreement with our inner truth. My best relationships have been with men who could handle my truth. The admired me for it, respected me for it, and knew that I will always honor my own feelings over theirs. I won’t mince words, when a guy is an asshole I show him the evidence. Believe it or not, a real man can actually handle the truth without falling apart.
I don’t abuse men with tantrums and emotional outbursts, but I do say No, that’s not good enough, I’m not buying that, you are acting like a man-child, I’m not your mother, get over yourself. The person who cannot handle the truth is not your friend, it is an emotional manipulator who will always demand you adjust your opinion to make them feel better. Is that a valuable person to add to your life? Nope.
So I was leaving mom’s house after a long week of her sucking every ounce of energy out of me. I was never physically affectionate with my parents, at a certain age it felt artificial to me. As I was leaving she said ‘So, you don’t want to give your mom a kiss?’ I recoiled. Every muscle in me tightened, I walked over, not breathing and gave her a peck on the cheek. She said ‘You hate me.’
I walked away and said “I don’t care enough to hate you, but I don’t like you at all”.
And walked out. It felt good to be honest, and every single one of those words was my truth. I never told my mom how I truly felt, I am glad I finally got that off my chest. I am sure she did not feel good hearing it, but she never wanted to hear anything that contradicted her self-perception.
We can’t teach people how they should feel, our feelings are our own and theirs belong to them. We also can’t be responsible for their feelings without sacrificing our own stability. At this age it does not matter that I have a disapproving mother. I stopped trying to be who she imagined me to be decades ago. I don’t owe it to her to live in her warped reality, I have a reality of my own. I can only be true to myself, and welcome people who are comfortable with my truth into my life.
As always, no apologies, no regrets.