From simple words to significant conversations or how 30 days of saying nothing but the truth is harder than I thought.
Sharing a flat with someone you really enjoy having late night conversations can make you lose some hours of sleep but it can also result in creating life-changing challenges. I know, it sounds big, but one of those challenges actually changed my awareness of the way how we interact with each other.
So one of those late nights we were sharing stories about work, relationships, family and at one point we realised that all the arising problems were due to the lack of open and honest communication, that it was all small things, few words that were left unsaid, an emotion that was swallowed, a thought that was unexpressed. All of those things bundled up, it was like one dirty dish that attracted many more to pile up and in the result of that we both were feeling unheard, not able to really express ourselves. I see that happen to many people around me, this fear of being honest, especially when it's unpleasant and you'd rather push that feeling away instead of trying to dive into it.
On a different note, from my experience (which is a completely non-scientifical observation of others around me), there are those extremely honest people too, almost to the point of being childlike direct, they will tell you that those pants do not fit you, that the food in the restaurant sucked, you will know when they are angry or tired immediately. A part of me admires this kind of honesty but at at the same time I feel it often comes from a place of insecurity rather than a genuine open-heartednes. And then the rest of us (me and my flatmate being the control group) at some point in our lives struggle to express their feelings, needs and wishes.
Put down your armour
When I started thinking about it and reading this inspiring book by Brene Brown called "Daring Greatly", I realised that this struggle comes (like so many other struggles) from the fear of being vulnerable, the fear of shame and disconnection from others. We grow up with the ideas of how to be "good" children, to please our parents, later on we learn what it means to be a woman in our society (be nice, modest, please don't be too loud..) or a man (take risks, stay stoic, don't you dear crying..) everything that goes out of those boxes requires courage. To take of our masks, to put down our armour and express ourselves as honestly as we can is hard, it seems much easier to talk about insignificant things (thank god we always have weather to talk about). As humans we seek belonging and connection, we want to be heard, valued and accepted without judgment. The moments when I personally feel the most connected to those around me and to myself are the moments when I let myself express uncomfortable emotions, share painful stories or be direct in what I want or don't want, when I accept that I'm this imperfect human being and it's a part of what creates my authenticity.
Vulnerability is the last thing I want you to see in me, but the first thing I look for in you /B.Brown/
As the evening continued (and the amount of wine was increasing), we decided that we have to push ourselves to be more vulnerable and more honest. What's a better way to do it than creating a challenge, something that felt like a game (let's embrace our childishness too). We decided to go on a 30-day honesty challenge which trust me, was harder than a 30-day juice cleanse (I've never tried it but it sounds painful). The idea was to do/to say at least one honest thing everyday for the whole month, to observe situations we would run away from and do the opposite, immerse ourselves in it, say the difficult thing, react in a vulnerable and wholehearted manner.
It started with small things (that were already not so easy), domestic situations of letting my friend know that she should have cleaned up the room when moving out or pointing out the dirty dishes (oh the joys of sharing the house with other people). Then the challenge moved on to my work, I was pushing myself to express my feelings and ideas to people I work with, to notice the daily miscommunications and be conscious about it. To also be able to say I'm sorry when I acted or reacted inadequately. Finally it touched some of the deepest subjects of my life, my relationships, my family, it lead to one of the most vulnerable and loving-hearted conversations with my mom that made both of us cry while strengthening our bond even more. I think it even lead to starting this blog, to daring to talk about my experiences, to share my thoughts without fear of being judged. It's a tightrope, balancing between not caring and caring too much, sharing everything and not being able to share at all.
When we stop caring about what people think, we lose our capacity for connection. When we become defined by what people think, we lose our willingness to be vulnerable. If we dismiss all the criticism, we lose out on important feedback, but if we subject ourselves to the hatefulness, our spirits get crushed /B.Brown/
For 30 days my challenge friend and I kept each other accountable, everyday sharing our successes and failures of being honest. It is crazy how much more aware we became since, aware of the moments of daily miscommunications, moments when we could be more truthful. The beautiful thing about it is that honesty is like a muscle, if you keep training it, it will grow stronger and it will support you better, every time you do or say something sincere, when you choose vulnerability over the facade, when you take away your mask - you do heavy lifting with your honesty muscle (and if you keep going like that you might become the Schwarzenegger of honesty). Of course it's important to create a loving and supportive environment for yourself, because the fear of being open comes from the fear of being judged, of being disconnected, so surrounding yourself with people that are themselves willing to have sincere conversations and support you in this journey will help a lot.
Nothing to fear
The challenge is over but I'm still working to strengthen my honesty muscle and believe me, there are so many opportunities for it, for sharing with others, whether it's a compliment, a feedback or your feeling about the situation. Whenever I'm in a situation that leaves me unsettled, I try to ask myself the following questions:
What emotions am I experiencing?
What are my values?
What do I want to express but hold myself from doing that?
Will this sharing create connectedness?
What outcome am I hoping for this?
Of course, sometimes to answer all of those questions takes more time than what you usually have in a conversation (unless you are able to stop the time, which would be a killer superpower, wouldn't it) and my problem used to be (and to be honest, still is) that I'm too fast to answer yeah, that's fine and then hours later I realise that it's not fine, but the moment is gone and it requires a significant amount of courage to call up someone and say: you remember two days ago when I told you that it was fine if you go on holidays without me, well, it isn't and I'm very angry. So now, I started using this simple but magical phrase: I need some time to think about it and it actually gives me time (surprise, surprise) to process and to answer all of the questions. I'm not the guru of honesty (yet!) but I'm very excited about having at least one really sincere conversation a day, even if it's with myself.
To finish, I'm not going to use anymore smart quotes but I do want to share this line from Nick Mulvey's song "Fever to the Form":
Cause the very thing you're afraid, afraid of It keeps you clean but unclear Clean but unclear
Is the dirt that you're made, you're made of And thats nothing to fear No, its nothing my dear
B.Brown "Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead", 2012.
Illustration: my sister Luka, you can find a lot of her art works here: http://liukajudenkova.tumblr.com
Nick Mulvey singing so very soft: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ab61ypNH8rA