Do you dream in words, friend? I do. The other night, I dreamed full paragraphs of an as-yet-unwritten novel. Not only do I dream the scenes of the book, I also dream the dialogues of the characters, the thoughts they think, and the words they say and write. Often I'm dreaming the actual words, as if someone is writing them and I'm standing and reading over their shoulder.
Is it just me? Lol.
Words have always held value for me, and I was thinking how, despite the worth they hold, how often I don't fully express them. Because there are consequences to words. Using them may cause misunderstanding, or hurt feelings, or even anger.
When we are authentically using our words to speak our truth, we are bound to get reactions. If you state how you are feeling to someone else, you may get push back or defensiveness. If you are voicing a boundary, someone may respond in irritation or even rage. Or if you are asserting a change, that can cause someone else pain.
It's no wonder why we hold back.
But like any other exercise in personal growth, speaking our truth is a practice we need to build. It's a muscle that needs to be trained, and we train it by using it -- consistently and actively.
Because we all deserve to speak our words, and to be heard.
Like 99.9% of US college English majors, I aspired to write the Great American Novel. I dreamed of words that would touch people, fill them with emotion, and move them in a way nothing quite like words could do.
In time, I became cynical and disparaging of this dream, no doubt out of fear of failure and as a way to hide from the pain of not pursuing it. I'd sarcastically laugh it off to people who asked about my writing, or diminish my work as "just something I wrote", to preempt any potential criticism or negative feedback.
But devaluing our words is devaluing ourselves.
Most of us have gotten used to not having our words valued, by ourselves and by others. When we make a request, communicate a boundary, or ask for support -- and it doesn't happen -- our words have not been valued. In turn, we feel not valued.
I'm not suggesting you need to push back every time someone doesn't hear or acknowledge you. But when it happens consistently to the point where it makes you feel bad, it's time to take a look at it.
We all want to be heard and understood. When we understand that at a deep level, it's a little easier to be empathetic, and to practice active listening when someone is talking. In turn, if we are focused and attentive to someone else, we expect the same.
This applies in all aspects of our lives -- work, home, community. But it's often our closest relationships that bring up challenges, heightened emotions, and unresolved issues. We expect those who love us deeply to hear our words, and attempt to understand us.
Yet ask anyone who is in a long-term relationship if they feel this is true. Even life-long friendships often suffer from feelings of not being able to express ourselves authentically,
and to be met with empathy and love.
When that continues to come up in our relationships, it can be hurtful and damaging. There are many things we can do to not only authentically speak our words and be heard, but to do the same for others.
How to Say What You Wanna Say (& Be Heard)
Start with you. When you make a promise to yourself, do you keep it? Demonstrate the value of your words to yourself first by keeping your promises to yourself, doing what you say you are going to do, and maintaining the discipline to listen to and honor your own words.
Find courage. Speaking our truth isn't always easy. It's often scary and uncomfortable. But when you truly know what you need, you need to express it. Dig deep and trust it's the right thing to do.
Expect positive outcomes. You won't always get 'em, but stepping into a situation with positivity and expecting good things to come from you expressing yourself can help you navigate through a tough conversation.
Be open. When someone responds to you speaking your truth, you may feel defensive. Their words may trigger something in you that wants you to ignore them or shut down. This is the challenge. Stay open to feedback and keep listening. When you're calmer, you can return to their words to determine what's useful and what's not.
Acknowledge and thank. Showing up for yourself is hard. Asking someone else to do it can be even harder. Acknowledge their feedback, and thank them (and yourself!) for listening and allowing you to say what you needed to.