Speaking from Your Heart
I feel like I have to walk around on eggshells
with my husband and his family: If I'm not VERY
careful, they get upset and either blame
themselves or me or both. But the result is I have
all this stuff bottled up inside.
There are natural concerns about really saying
what's on your mind, what's in your heart.
Sometimes, it's appropriate to be careful, like
with someone who's vulnerable, or to stay out of a
rage, or if there is any whiff of possible partner
abuse. But more often than not, the reasons are
not so enlightened. We're holding back simply
because we're scared, or uncomfortable with
feelings in general, or acting out gender training
(boys don't cry, girls shouldn't be pushy), or
transferring patterns from childhood (e.g., fear
of a stern father).
So how can you help yourself communicate
authentically and skillfully - so that the outside
you show the world more closely matches your
insides? Think of the questions below as a kind of
checklist; you may have most of them covered
already, but there could also be some helpful
suggestions. (We've starred a few that are
Are your intentions good? Fundamentally, is your
purpose benign - or punishing, vengeful,
argumentative, or mean-spirited? I
Are you committed to discovering and saying what
is true? Rather than just arguing your case, or
keeping things veiled and foggy?
** Can you take responsibility for your own
experience? This means knowing that different
people experience the same situation in different
ways, that your reactions to the world are
filtered and shaped by your own psychology. It
means saying hard things, but not accusing or
Do you know in your bones that the other person is
separate from you, differentiated, over there
while you're over here? That just because they're
upset doesn't necessarily mean you're implicated?
That their feelings do not have to become your
Do you know that the other person may not
understand you? That your nature might be quite
different from his temperament or personality, so
that he needs your help in understanding you?
Can you stand not being agreed with, understood,
or joined with? Can you risk that?
When You Speak
Can you restrain yourself? Can you listen without
interrupting, modulate anger, keep a civil tongue,
hold back the impulse to hit or break things or
otherwise lash out?
Can you stay centered in a self-respecting,
Can you talk about talking - about what might need
to happen for it to be safe to communicate? Can
you talk about how you and the other person
interact? Being able to comment on your "process"
is a great way to set a foundation that is
comfortable, and ease into difficult topics.
** Can you communicate for yourself, to speak your
truth for its own sake, not to affect the other
person or get a result from them? When you do
this, you may have a little attention on trying to
be skillful and civil, but mainly your awareness
is within yourself and your sense of the other
person recedes to the background.
** Can you share your experience, both the surface
and the depths? Of course, doing this requires
being aware of the deeper layers, including the
younger material that's often stirred up when
there's anything important. But remember that your
experience is a kind of refuge: you're the expert
on it and it has its own validity: no one can
argue with you about it!
** Can you be in touch with your experience while
you speak it, so it's in your eyes and throat and
chest, rather than reporting on it like a
journalist sending dispatches from a distant
Can you say the positive as well as the negative?
It's often not anger or reproach that's hardest to
express, but cherishing, needing, and love.
Can you stay on topic, keeping your eye on the
prize, on whatever it is you want to communicate,
rather than getting sucked into side issues?
Can you appreciate the other person for listening?
When the Other Person Responds
Can you let it in when he agrees with you, is
empathic or supportive? If she gives you what you
want, can you move on?
Can you admit it when you're not clear, or if some
emotional mud got mixed up with the clear water of
Can you re-group and clarify things if the other
person misunderstands you? Can you come back to
your experience, your truth, if the other person
denies or attacks your experience - or you?
Can you give the other person the kind of
listening that you'd like to receive?
* * *
If you can answer yes to most of these questions
most of the time, you've got the best possible
odds of having a great relationship. And no matter
what the other person does - which is, ultimately,
outside your control - communicating your truth,
from your heart, for yourself, feels good in
itself, makes you feel strong and dignified,
increases your self-knowledge, and lets you know
that they know exactly how you really feel.
(Rick Hanson, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist,
Jan Hanson, M.S., L.Ac., is an
acupuncturist/nutritionist, and they are raising a
daughter and son, ages 15 and 18. With Ricki
Pollycove, M.D., they are the first and second
authors of Mother Nurture: A Motherís Guide to
Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships,
published by Penguin. You can see their website at
www.nurturemom.com or email them with questions or
comments at firstname.lastname@example.org; unfortunately, a
personal reply may not always be possible.)