We live in a world where fake news and alternative facts prevail. There has never been a better time to get real.
Have you ever met someone who was excessively nice, yet made your skin crawl? Many of us have had the experience of being around someone who wore us thin with superficial conversation, fluffy nonsense, and smiling - always forcing a smile. Do you find yourself nodding along rather than speaking your mind? In casual encounters, avoiding honest conversation may be fine, but it isn’t a stable foundation for friendship and it isn’t doing you any good.
“Niceness” is not the same thing as kindness. Our culture consistently teaches children to be nice, to share, to say “please” and “thank you,” to avoid pointing out that the lady behind the deli counter has wild chin hairs. That may be useful to keep kids from making social mistakes, but there is a danger in avoiding speaking the truth.
The problem is that long after we develop the impulse control which keeps us from openly acknowledging creepy, odd, or obvious observations, we start lying to protect the notion of “appropriate behavior.” As we grow up, we rarely experience people who are good at being honest and kind. We have no model for compassionate truth telling and what we think of as ‘nice’ behavior becomes a sanctioned form of lying. It is a difficult habit to break, but it can be incredibly freeing to end your participation in judgement and gossip. Eventually you may realize that it is better to be disliked for your honesty than play along with the fakers.
When we begin to mute our minds and ignore our senses to avoid bleating our what we think, know, and feel - it is exhausting! But did you know that you can speak with kindness while being honest and direct? Speaking openly about what people would rather not recognize is not synonymous with being a jerk. As an adult, you no longer have to fear being reprimanded by your parents or being sent to your room. You can still eat ice cream for dessert after you’ve told someone their boyfriend is cheating on them. It is difficult enough to manage the emotions of your own mind, so it’s best not to worry about offending others.
The rules of ‘nice’ include the liberal use of half-truths, pretense, withholding, vagueness, going along with the bullshit, and even outright lying to protect someone’s feelings. However, when we ignore the ill feelings we have from following along with this, we aren’t actually saving the trouble. We are just making more for ourselves.
The consequences of being ‘nice’ leads to suffering in the forms of overwhelm, a burdensome sense of obligation, resentment, self-harm, conflict, drama, anxiety, stress induced illness, and dead end relationships. That’s just the beginning. The list can go on and on!
This makes life for everyone unnecessarily stressful and complicated. Even if the last time you were scolded for speaking your mind was as a child, you still probably feel a tense reaction to thinking about saying something deemed unacceptable. The only time being intentionally dishonest is useful is when you are trying to intentionally deceive someone. Think stereotype of a used car salesman or corrupt politician.
"The chronic worry about other people's judgments becomes an unconscious filter that keeps people hypnotized into feeling that avoiding communication is useful...It seems like outside circumstances and people are causing our unpleasant feeling. Well, it also seems like the earth is flat and that too is an illusion." - Steve Chandler, Reinventing Yourself
Ready to start being authentic and speaking your mind? Only you can give you permission to express yourself. First start by noticing the moment your body tenses when you have something to say, but won’t let yourself speak up. Take a breath and before you talk yourself out of it, simply say what you feel or think.
Practice expressing your opinion in situations where you would usually keep your thoughts to yourself. You get extra points if you speak up when you really think you shouldn’t, and especially if you get excited when you express yourself.
How much energy do you currently spend suppressing yourself by being careful and pretending you are fine with something when you are not? Imagine what your life might be like if you redirected all of that energy towards building strong intimate relationships unfettered by carefulness - relationships grounded in honesty and kindness rather than in pretense and ‘niceness’.
If you begin to feel self-doubt about speaking your truth, use one of these lead-in phrases to help you over the hurdle:
“What I’m afraid to say is . . . “
“What I didn’t say yesterday is . . .”
“I know I said yes and now I realize that . . .”
“I’m making myself anxious about telling you . . .”
“To be honest, I’d rather…”
Once you begin doing this regularly, you may even begin to feel excited by it. That’s understandable after being bottled up for so long. Soon you’ll be able to say what you mean without much difficulty.
Being authentic makes us more accessible and lovable. We can have stronger friendships and communities by being more reachable, more human. When people know that you are just like them, they’ll feel more at ease around you. Life will be more enjoyable.