One year ago, I was in an airport gathering my luggage when I noticed that one of the wheels on my new (and expensive) bag had been brutally snapped off during flight.
Annoyed, I dragged my bag to the customer service center, but since I had no travel insurance, they staunchly refused to do ANYTHING.
I immediately felt a surge of frustration and annoyance, which I carefully hid behind a polite smile and a cheery “Have a nice day,” before shuffling off.
GAAAH! What a coward!
Rather than taking the risk of maaaybe upsetting some random person for a few seconds, I opted for a long-lasting dose of repressed anger, shame, and hostility instead.
Oh, and throw in a bottle of duty-free whiskey to distract me from my nagging guilt and self-loathing.
My phony, non-confrontational behavior falls back on the old adage from good ol’ Bambi, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”
A total lie.
Thumper was full of shit.
This innocent advice reflects the strict moralistic viewpoint with which many people were raised – don’t talk back, don’t brag, don’t complain; be polite, follow the rules, and people will like you.
But repressing our emotions just causes them to manifest in more harmful ways elsewhere in our lives – shyness, low self-esteem, stress, depression, high blood pressure, violence, and psychosomatic illness.
It even shortens our lifespans.
When we try to act according to strict rules and standards, we abandon our true selves in exchange for a canned version of what we think will be socially acceptable.
In other words, we lie.
We lie about how we really feel, what we really think, and what we really want.
According to Radical Honesty, by Brad Blanton, lying is the single greatest cause of stress in our lives.
The only way to gain relief is through radical honesty.
We lie about how we really feel.
To some people, particularly strapping young lads like me, acknowledging our emotions may seem silly, feminine, or new age-y. It’s something that’s often denied or even scoffed at.
However, this denial is a basic and fearful defense against the recognition of one’s own humanity – an attempt to avoid personal vulnerability through ridicule.
We’re taught that expressing anger is rude or that crying is weak, and these ideas are reinforced by guilt, shame, and other rules imposed on us by society.
We develop fears of confrontation, intimacy, and embarrassment.
But there should be no shame or guilt about feeling anger, sadness, or any other emotion.
After all, emotions are just biochemical reactions that have evolved over millions of years to aid in our survival – they’re simply a sign that our brains are in working order and that we’re not psychopaths (apologies to any psychopaths out there).
So rather than feigning strength or insouciance, we can learn to handle emotion through awareness and expression rather than denial and repression.
To me, that means to stop saying things just to be polite or socially acceptable: to stop saying that I love my fantastic job when in fact I’m apathetic and bored, to not pretend to like someone I think is rude or annoying, and to not feign interest in a friend’s product, idea, or network marketing group when I really think it’s completely stupid.
There’s nothing shameful or foolish about being genuine.
The biggest fools of all are the ones wasting their lives pretending not to be fools.
We lie to other people.
We all want to be admired and liked by other people, and we put a great deal of energy into appearing smart, confident, cool, outgoing, talented, or whatever else we think will make us feel important and loved.
Meanwhile, we’re constantly gauging and worrying about how others respond to our little act.
But by adapting our behavior to appease others, we’re devaluing our own opinions and beliefs.
We become shy, subservient, and insecure people, reliant on the opinions of other people to define who we should be.
But what happens when others aren’t impressed or fail to pay attention? What if a close friend outperforms us? What if we fail or make a mistake?
The truth is, it’s painful when you can’t relax and be yourself. It’s painful to feel envious of a friend. It’s painful to feel like every time you meet someone, you have to put on a performance.
Ultimately, it’s painful to pretend to be someone you’re not.
Although building an impressive reputation may give the illusion of strength, true strength will come from humility and learning to be honest with others and show who you really are.
To me, this means admitting fault, ignorance, or naivety, as well as expressing anger, fear, and affection.
It means saying I like reading self-help books, I listen to new age-y lounge music (oh my GOD the truth is out!), and that even though I’m an (extremely alpha and masculine) engineer, I know absolutely nothing about cars.
It means letting go of whatever identity you’re trying to uphold, giving up your pride, and being willing to be honest about who you are.
We lie to ourselves.
The whole idea about expressing yourself is not to encourage you to lash out viciously at anyone who contradicts you or to walk down the street telling people that they’re ugly.
The key idea is to overcome the notion that it is somehow wrong to feel angry, jealous, or afraid.
Most of our behaviors are motivated by fear, but we’ve become so incredibly good at avoiding it that we spend our lives hiding behind a smokescreen of rationalizations and false reasoning.
We project our guilt and jealousy onto others; we blame coworkers and their stupidity for making us angry; we show disgust for other people’s faults in order to shroud our own; we feign disinterest in someone attractive that intimidates us…the list goes on and on.
But until you can confront what’s bothering you, you can’t overcome it.
So rather than denying or repressing our emotions, we can acknowledge, experience, and understand them.
We can do this by giving full attention to them as they arise.
Ask yourself questions as to why you feel a particular way, and be honest in your responses.
What I’ve found is a lot of our negative emotions signal some inner resistance to reality:
- We feel angry when we want to forcibly resist or overcome something that threatens our ego or our core beliefs.
- We feel apathy when we think we have no hope of ever succeeding.
- We feel nervous when we’re worried about achieving or failing to achieve a desired outcome.
As corny as it sounds, if you allow yourself to actually acknowledge and experience your emotions, you’ll allow their energy to dissipate rather than holding it inside of you, and you can start to manage them in a healthier way.
The emotion will pass, and you can move forward without any psychological burden.
“Love your neighbor as yourself” doesn’t mean to lie; it means to tell the petty, unreasonable, unjustifiable truth, good and loud and direct. Try treating other people as shitty as you treat yourself. Telling the truth is loving your neighbor.
***To learn more about how to be more honest, check out Radical Honesty, by Brad Blanton.***
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