Watching television growing up, it gradually dawned on me that most sitcom plots wouldn’t even exist if people simply told their deepest truth. But no, everybody lies, hides the truth, tries to save face–and makes one hell of a mess doing it. This may be fun to laugh at on TV, but it doesn’t make real life much fun, I can tell you. And I’ve done my share of it, too: when I’m triggered, the Deep Truth is sometimes the hardest thing to tell. Not the superficial truth–that’s easy. But there are layers of truth like layers of fossilized sediment, and it can take some hard digging to uncover the deep truth because we hide it from ourselves, because it is so vulnerable-making, exposing our naked scared selves underneath the mask of self-sufficiency and toughness.
I’ve learned that telling that scary, self-exposing, vulnerable-little-underbelly truth is what transforms things, heals things and, paradoxically, empowers us even in the moment of greatest vulnerability. Telling the deep truth is a profound relief. No more hiding, posturing, blaming. When we tell our deepest truth, it places us on a throne that is unshakeable, with which no one can argue.
So how do we start discovering–and, hopefully, telling–our deepest truth? Here are some steps:
1. Take some time to figure out how you’re really feeling. A classic example: a woman’s husband forgets their anniversary for the third year in a row. She’s angry, wanting to get back at him, hurt him, call him names. That‘s all true. She can acknowledge that to herself. But underneath all that, there is profound hurt, a feeling of being not-cared-for, undervalued. A fear that this relationship, which is so important to her, is not at all important to him. This is her deeper truth.
2. Try to hold on to yourself in compassion for these deeper feelings. If you can, allow your anger to subside. Concentrate on soothing and comforting the part of the self that is hurt or vulnerable. When we do this, we begin to feel stronger. We begin to see that, even if those around us betray or wound us, we are there for ourselves, our own best allies. When we explode in rage at others, we give our power away.
3. Focus on what you really deeply desire. Is it to hurt someone as we’ve been hurt? Or to receive the caring and love we really want? The blaming approach isn’t likely to get more than a defensive response. Speaking from the deeper truth often opens hearts.
4. Make “I” statements, not blaming name-calling “you” ones. Not “You forgot our anniversary again. But why was I surprised? It’s so typical of you, you selfish jerk” but instead speak from the deeper place: “I was really hurt when you didn’t remember our anniversary again. It makes me feel that our relationship isn’t important to you. Then I start to feel unappreciated and unloved. It‘s an awful feeling.” It may be that the husband’s deeper truth is that he doesn’t really care, and that would be hard. But most folks want to please the people in their lives. Chances are that this approach might soften things just a bit, and lead to positive change.
Telling the deeper truth takes practice and more practice, but every time we do, we grow stronger, more in our integrity, more clear. It may be hard work but it’s so worth it!
By Cait Johnson, author of Earth, Water, Fire, and Air (SkyLight Paths, 2003).