You’ve heard the platitudes …

Honesty is the best policy.
Tell the truth and shame the devil.
An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips.

They make it sound simple, don’t they? As if telling the truth was so straightforward. But for those of us who are accustomed to covering up, getting real is … complicated.

When you start speaking up after years of silence, you’ll discover the land mines in your psyche. You probably won’t even know they’re there until you step on one.

The anger and sadness that you stuffed down years ago will rise to the surface … and you will be tempted to turn away.

Afraid to Be Real

Earlier this year, I wrote in my journal, “I’m scared to be the real me and express how I think and feel, because I’m so afraid that the real me is a colossal b%^&*.”

If you think about, this fear makes a lot of sense. Why? Because exploding-doormat or “caged” anger is vicious. And if you don’t address it, it will blow up.

As coach Anna Kunnecke wrote, “… Imagine taking any healthy loving human being and locking them up in a cage for 20 or 50 years. Think how contorted she would get. How desperate. How filthy and furious and twisted.

This is what happens when [you] lock away [your] anger …. The problem isn’t that [you] lost [your] temper. 
The problem is that it took [you] SO LONG to lose [your] temper.”

Kunnecke goes on to say that our job is not to “exile our anger even further”, but instead to “integrate her, to welcome her back to the table.”

So that’s what I’ve been exploring lately: how to feel and welcome anger. How to acknowledge anger’s role, rather than turning my back on her.

Honesty In Action

Here’s what it looks like in real time. A few months ago I agreed to do a video call with a friend. But when the day arrived, I felt anger arise. And for once, I listened to it instead of suppressing it.

I thought, “This is the time when I exercise, but with this call, I’ll be at my desk for another hour. That’s the last thing I need today. I’m so mad at myself for agreeing to this!”

Then – light bulb moment! If I asked my friend to do a phone call, I’d be able to walk while we chatted. Even so, I hesitated to make the request. What if my friend took it personally? Couldn’t I just sit for another hour?

This is the precise point at which I usually give up on setting boundaries. I discover a need that’s not being met and consider drawing a line … but then I ask myself, Well, can’t you just not need that?

Then I come up with several reasons why I shouldn’t need whatever it is I do need. The specter of selfishness looms, and it frightens me so much that I give in.

I cannot tell you how much time, money, and energy I’ve spent on things I dislike just to avoid feeling “selfish”. But I know what happens when I don’t set boundaries: the anger goes underground, but it doesn’t go away.

So I took the plunge and asked my friend if we could forgo video. She said yes, no problem. We had a great conversation as I walked. When I didn’t martyr my needs, the anger evaporated.

As Brene Brown writes in Rising Strong:

“… The most compassionate people … also have the most well-defined and well-respected boundaries …. They say no when they need to, and when they say yes, they mean it. They’re compassionate because their boundaries keep them out of resentment.”

Pretend People Can’t Create a Real Relationship

Of course, these stories don’t always have happy endings. Sometimes, what you fear does come to pass. You voice your truth and get your metaphorical head chopped off.

Once, a friend asked me for a favor. She wanted me to plan an event on her behalf. After careful consideration, I declined the request.

I told my friend my truth: that while I loved her, I did not want to plan the event. Instead, I offered a few alternative ways I could contribute to her success.

She froze me out after that. It hurt like hell, but I don’t regret the decision. Rather, I wish I’d stopped the people-pleasing sooner.

I wish I’d taken the risk of being real, because as author and coach Martha Beck once said on Oprah’s Life Class, “No pretend people can ever create a real relationship.”

The Truth Will Set You Free

That episode of Oprah’s Life Class is, “The Truth Will Set You Free.” My favorite caller is a woman named Heather. She’s terrified to talk with her mom about a taboo topic; namely, her father’s true identity.

Heather’s afraid that her desire to know who her father is will jeopardize her relationship with her mother.

Martha asks, “So you say you have a relationship with your mother?”

Heather says, “Yes, we talk on the phone all the time …”

Martha replies, “Who do you pretend to be when you’re with your mother? A girl who doesn’t care about her father?”

Heather starts getting it. She starts to see that she doesn’t have a relationship with her mother. Her pretend self does.

She fears hurting her mom, so she presents a false self that doesn’t mention her father. Her mom presents a false self too, one that doesn’t have a secret.

Martha sums up the situation, saying, “It’s two pretend people, and no pretend people can ever create a real relationship …. If you’re trying to connect false self to false self, it cannot nourish the soul.”

We’ve all hidden the truth about ourselves in order to “preserve” a relationship. But here’s the thing: it doesn’t work. It’s like going without food for too long. Without real connection, real nourishment, we lose our strength.

Tell the Truth

Martha’s advice to Heather is simple, and spot-on: Tell your mother the truth, kindly. Include the fear. Admit that you have been pretending. Start from a new place, a place of truth.

Oftentimes we don’t do things because we’re scared of being alone in them. We’re scared not so much of telling our truths, but of the loneliness we may face as a result.

But as Martha says later in the Life Class: if you’re always pretending to be someone you’re not, your worst fear has come true. You’re scared of being alone, but sweetie, you already are.

Pretending to be someone you’re not hasn’t brought you closer to the people you love. It hasn’t nourished your soul. So perhaps you’re like me: hungry enough to try another way.

Stop Hiding

Alas, not everyone will react well, because not everyone is comfortable with hearing and telling the truth. Not everyone is ready to love the real you.

Some people will freak out if you say how you truly feel. Some people will fly into a rage or shame you into silence if you dare to disagree with them.

And I don’t have an easy answer for how to deal with that. It’s really hard. It hurts when people you love think you are wrong and bad and crazy.

But something that helps me is to remember that one of my core beliefs is that, in any situation, I might be wrong.

I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t get it right all the time. So it’s increasingly okay with me if someone I love thinks I’m off base. Hey, maybe they’re right! I can live with that, and so can you.

So I want to dare you to do something.

Take a minute, take a breath, and tell yourself a truth you’ve been hiding, be it from others or from yourself. It doesn’t have to be big. It can be small. Just own what is true right here, right now, for you.

Let your truth set you free.


Dear friends, I just wanted to make sure you knew that my fellow writer Julie Barton’s amazing memoir Dog Medicine: How My Dog Saved Me From Myself was recently re-released by Penguin Books!


When Dog Medicine was first released by ThinkPiece Publishing last year, we did a giveaway here on the blog and four lucky readers received free copies.

If you missed Dog Medicine last year, add it to your summer reading list! (Note that I’m not an affiliate of the book, just a big fan.)

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