I often hear this from clients:

“I didn’t tell my wife I was unhappy because I didn’t want to hurt her.”
“I haven’t told my children I’m sick because I don’t want them to worry.”
“I can’t tell my boyfriend I want to see other people because he’d be upset.”

In other words: “I can’t tell you the truth because I don’t want to hurt you . . .”

You have probably used this reasoning yourself, as justification for not speaking your truth. I know I have. The irony is that in trying to “protect you” by not speaking my truth, I am lying to you. This causes enormous damage, not only to me, but to those I love, the very people I am trying to “protect”.

I first saw this with stunning clarity after my marriage ended. I realized (with the help of a good coach) that I had spent years withholding from my husband just how unhappy I was, because “I didn’t want to hurt him”. This withholding eventually led to the chain of events that ended our marriage. And of course, he was deeply hurt, despite my attempts to “protect him”. The truth will out eventually.

So I know first-hand the devastation that is caused when we don’t speak our truth out of fear of hurting or angering someone. The intention is good, perhaps, but it is based on an incorrect premise: That I am responsible for how you feel.

Our feelings are determined by our thoughts. Feelings are not “caused” by something outside of me.You don’t “make” me angry – I get angry based on my thoughts about what you’ve said or done*.

A simple example: Your ex is late (again) to pick up the kids. How do you react? With anger? (How can he be so inconsiderate of my time?) With worry?(I wonder if something awful has happened!) Or perhaps with pleasure? (This gives me a few more minutes with the kids). One action, three different responses, based on your interpretation of the event.

You are not responsible for my feelings. And am I not responsible for yours.

In his book NonViolent Communication, Marshall Rosenberg calls this confusion emotional slavery, where I think I’m responsible for your feelings, and I hold you responsible for mine. The path to emotional freedom, he says, is to remember whose feelings I AM responsible for – my own. I am responsible for generating them (by the thoughts that I think), understanding them, and learning from them.

The mistaken belief that I am responsible for your feelings (and you for mine) destroys my authentic self-expression and my sense of personal power. It makes me a “victim” of your actions. It keeps the truth hidden and stops the flow of Life.
Out of fear of “hurting” you, I pretend that things are different than they really are. And you do the same with me. We are all lying to each other, out of a false belief that we are protecting one another from pain.

This I know: when I withhold my voice, my truth, I betray myself. And when I betray myself, I betray you. So, the only way I can “hurt” you is by not being true to myself.

I’m reminded of Shakespeare’s words:

This above all: to thine own self be true. And it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.

One last piece:
The other day, my lover admitted that he had kept something from me, because he thought it might upset me. This is my response: If I become upset by your truth… so what? I’m a big girl. I can handle a little upset. (Can you?) Don’t patronize me by “protecting” me from your truth. Give me the truth, and allow me my reaction. Let me make the best decisions for me, based on your truth for you.That is real love: honoring me enough to tell me the truth. Having the courage to face my reaction. Not “protecting me” with withholds.

The truth allows the future to unfold as it is meant to unfold. My mentor used to say: “The truth WILL set you free, but first it will piss you off.” Allow your loved ones room for their emotions in response to your truth. Be true to yourself, true to your loved ones, and true to the unfolding of Life.

* There is a great deal of literature on this topic .If you are interested in learning more, one good place to begin is Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence. Or for a simple introduction, go to: http://www.mental-health-survival-guide.com/cognitive-therapy.htm

Author's Bio: 

Renee Cooper is the co-founder and coach at One Journey Consulting, a coaching and consulting practice dedicated to personal renewal and rediscovery through the transition of divorce. More information can be found at www.OneJourneyConsulting.com.