I find it fascinating (and frustrating) that as children we are taught lying is definitely not OK. Ironically, as young girls-then women, we are taught to not tell our truth — at least not fully. Not if it’s something others don’t want to hear, or if it even remotely upsets someone else’s world. So apparently we shouldn’t lie but we also shouldn’t tell the truth. This tangle is what I’m diving into today; inspired, in large part, by my all-time favorite quote:
What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.
~ Muriel Rukeyser
And this one:
We are volcanoes. When we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains. That’s what I want — to hear you erupting.
~ Ursula K. LeGuin
Why telling your truth often feels like a destructive volcano.
When I first heard the Muriel Rukeyser quote above (What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.) I said, “Exactly! That’s why I can’t do it!” I was certain that were I to name what I was experiencing, how I was feeling, what I actually thought, that everything would fall apart around me.
I’m hardly alone in this (though I felt like I was at the time). As women, we have been culturally conditioned to
- “be seen and not heard,”
- keep our opinions to ourselves,
- not upset the apple cart ever,
- distrust our own voice,
- make sure that everyone else’s comfort supersedes our own; and if all this weren’t enough,
- believe we’re probably making a big deal out of nothing.
In her must-read book, Cassandra Speaks, Elizabeth Lesser says this:
…we know the truth of our own experiences, yet we are told we are lying or overreacting; we can see consequences on the horizon, but it’s still “common knowledge” that women’s emotions cloud their vision, that we tend toward hysteria — even madness — and therefore are not to be believed.
See? It’s hard to tell the truth because we’re convinced (and have been taught to believe) that we will, indeed, split the world open. Best to keep it in, hold it back, play it safe. I did this for a very long time — especially in the context of my marriage, but in an infinite number of other places and ways, as well, believe me.
I eventually realized that everything needed to fall apart! Splitting my world open was the only thing that would allow me to breathe, live with any level of personal integrity, and ever hope to grow. But seeing, naming, and knowing this hardly made it any easier!
The fact that it’s hard to trust, tell, and live your truth isn’t your fault. You’re not to blame. You’re not weak. It’s not a reflection of some lack of fortitude or courage or strength. You may feel this way, but here’s what is actually true: you’ve been enculturated to feel that way! It’s what the world (patriarchy, specifically) WANTS you to believe so that you don’t make waves or split worlds open or be a volcano; so that you keep your truth to yourself.
Our work as women is to name this reality and then undo it; to see the ways in which we are silenced NOT as character flaws but as learned behaviors in a world that wants us quiet, compliant, and endlessly serving others’ needs before and instead of our own.
When you tell and live your truth you are disrupting the status quo. That IS the world splitting open, the maps changing, the new mountains being made, the volcanoes erupting. Yes, please!!!
It is understandable, even to be expected — your fear of what might happen when/if you tell your truth. Still and always, it deserves to be spoken and lived — no matter what, all the time, endlessly, and in every single context and conversation possible. You cannot convince me otherwise.
You also cannot convince me that there is some magic formula or “easy” 3-step plan through which you can tell yourself and others the truth and come out of it without some kind of unearthing or overturning along the way. In fact, I’d go so far as to say this:
Knowing/anticipating the “havoc” that will potentially result when you DO tell your truth is all the data you need to know this is EXACTLY what is required for you to be fully yourself and fully sovereign.
What you fear serves you. It’s a powerful form of discernment. It’s the evidence that you can trust yourself and your truth enough to speak and live it.
No, no magic formula or 3-step plan, but 3 practical-practices to help you in a process that will, undoubtedly, last a lifetime . . .
1) Inventory the lies.
- List out all the messages you’ve internalized; the ones that reinforce the belief you’re better off keeping your thoughts (and your truth) to yourself — from childhood, adulthood, education, religion, social media, TV, movies, magazines, novels, bosses, boyfriends, girlfriends, spouses, significant others, etc. Sayings. Cliches. Repeated phrases. Lessons-learned. Even the voices in your head.
- Take a red pen, fat black Sharpie, or Shift+Command+X (on a Mac) and cross out every one that is NOT actually true, relevant, helpful, supportive, or remotely applicable now that you are older, wiser, and the amazing-and-empowered woman that you are!
- Journal: What shows up for you when you walk through this exercise — elation, resistance, frustration, doubt? What do you feel when you realize just how much of not telling the truth has come from the assertions and demands of others and your culture? What if your experiences of keeping your truth to yourself aren’t your fault? How then might you respond?
2) Tell yourself ONE truth.
- What is the truth that’s sitting closest to the surface for you right now? You know the one. You know it needs to be acted on, spoken, lived. Yep, that one.
- Write it out. Type it out. Give yourself space, time, and permission to say EXACTLY what you already know. You don’t have to act on it (yet). Just write and write and write. Let yourself feel what it’s like to express this truth in unedited and uncensored ways. No keeping it in, holding it back, or playing it safe.
- Telling the truth (*only* to yourself) is not insignificant or inconsequential. It’s everything.
3) Take the tiniest steps.
- Often what keeps us from acting on our truth is the very long and legitimate list of risks, costs, and consequences we’re certain will ensue. You might be right. And if you are, as I stated above, that’s reliable data and discernment. But for now, all I’m advocating is one small, almost invisible act that aligns your internal and external truths; that closes the gap.
- Give an opinion. State a definitive “yes” or “no.” Answer a question without side-stepping the voice in your head. Just one truth. Spoken out loud. Acted on. Every day. That’s it. (And then watch what happens over time. It’s like compounding interest, I promise!)
An encouraging thought:
After I got past my initial reaction to the Rukeyser quote about the world splitting open, I realized that she meant it as an invitation and a powerful expression of hope. LeGuin offered the same when talking about volcanoes. Here she offers even more truth:
One voice speaking truth is a greater force than fleets and armies.
Mmmmm. That’s the force you hold within and wield; the strength and impact that is yours. Yep, it is difficult. We’re not all that crazy about incurring the disruption. But I am convinced that when we do tell and live our truth, the world DOES change — conversation by conversation, behavior by behavior, action by action. And, as Gandalf said in The Lord of the Rings, “That is an encouraging thought.”
Every Monday I write you a letter (and send it via email). It’s filled with truth-telling, to be sure — and encouragement and story; it’s from my heart to yours. I’d be honored if you’d subscribe. Learn more.