Is it hard for you to say “NO”, even when you want to?
Are you afraid to sound mean or selfish if you speak up?
Do you ever say, “Everything is OK”, even when it’s not?
If you answered “yes”, to any of these questions, deep down, you may wish that you could speak your truth without fear of turning people off or pushing them away. Sometimes, you may even be confused about exactly what you want.
Imagine being able to identify your thoughts, feelings, and desires and confidently express them without letting your anxiety run away with you.
Speaking your truth in each moment will bring you more of the satisfying connections that you long for with your partner, your friends, and your family members.
The key to achieving high-quality intimacy is growing your ability to maintain your sense-of-self when you are emotionally and physically close to another.
This means that you have developed the courage to speak your truth without needing the person on the receiving end to accept or validate what you have shared. When you accept and validate your own thoughts, feelings, and desires, you are free to stay in connection without having to forfeit your own experience for the needs and wants of another. David Schnarch, one of my favorite intimacy gurus, calls this, “self-validated intimacy”, the ability to hold on to your own truth as you show people who you really are.
On the other hand, when you are dependent on the approval of others to determine what is acceptable to share, you are practicing “other-validated intimacy”.
People who practice “other-validated intimacy” give up their sense of individuality in order to feel safe and connected.
We all want connection! And other-validated intimacy is one way to create it. But giving up our own needs and wants more often than not, will eventually lead to resentment, anxiety and depression, co-dependency, and dead-end relationships. Self-validators, on the other hand, enjoy more freedom, aliveness, and intimacy because they know they don’t have to hide their individuality to stay together.
This reminds me of Sarah, who came to me paralyzed by her fear of having panic attacks in social environments. She was the daughter of divorced parents and raised by a single mother, who managed her sadness and anxiety with frequent and sometimes reckless bouts of alcohol.
As a little girl, Sarah really needed a stable mother to look after her. So she made it her mission to keep Mom happy and sober. She learned that “Mom will be okay, if I am okay” and decided that sharing difficult emotions, saying “no”, or doing anything that might upset Mom was just not worth it.
As an adult, she continued to rank the importance of her thoughts, feelings, and desires behind those of others. Placing herself second was second-nature. In our sessions together, Sarah and I discovered that her panic attacks were an unconscious response to her ignoring her own needs. Her psyche was literally screaming for her truth to be known!
With my help, Sarah learned how to manage her anxiety by listening to her panic attacks because they were giving her valuable information. When she noticed her panic escalating, I instructed her to slow down, feel her feet on the ground, notice her breath and turn her attention inside. Then she could notice what was really going on and hear her heart’s true desire. At first, the thought of asserting herself produced another rush of panic. She worried, “Will you be okay if I speak my truth?”
With time, Sarah could separate her experience as a little girl from the present moment enough to believe that putting herself first was worth the effort. She stopped needing to be a professional people-pleaser. Now she could navigate the world that used to feel unsafe. She no longer felt overwhelmed and drained at social engagements. She found the courage to stand up to a boss who made her feel under appreciated. She quit her office job and applied to grad school to study her real passion, nutrition, and holistic health. She married her long-time boyfriend. And she even began to relate to her mother in new ways, forging a path with her for less hair-pulling and more loving interactions.
When it’s all said and done, being a self-validator is not about shifting from, “what ever you want, dear” to “its-my-way-or-the-highway”. Ideally, you can confidently communicate your unique thoughts, feelings, and desires (even if they are different from those around you!) and also express your true interest in connecting with them. Sometimes you can have both (and other times you can’t), but at least you will like and respect yourself for standing up for what you believe in.