It’s my son’s 12th birthday next week, and we’ve been planning his party. As we were driving to school a couple days ago, we had an interesting conversation about social graces.
First, I should mention my son is super empathic—he can sense peoples’ thoughts and feelings easily, and often becomes concerned about what he’s sensing and tries to compensate.
One of the boys (let’s call him Tom) he’s inviting to his party has a less-than-easy time fitting in to groups, and he said to me “mom—I don’t think Tom will fit in with the rest of the group, and might not feel great at the party.” I said “hmm, why do you think that’s your problem?” He said “well, I don’t want him to feel bad, and I want him to fit in.” I replied “Well, Tom’s feelings are completely outside your control—the best thing to do, is introduce him to the others, let them know what a great guy he is, and let Tom figure out how to interact with the group. You can help him out, but you can’t do it for him.”
This was an amazing revelation to him. He so often worries about how someone else is going to feel, to the degree that he takes on mental and emotional anguish that doesn’t even belong to him.
Now, you might be thinking how selfish and insensitive that advice may be, but I promise, it’s the most healthy and emotionally intelligent way of being in the world.
Practicing Radical Honesty
Most of us will do anything to avoid hurting other people’s feelings, many times to the detriment of our own mental and emotional health.
How often do you get yourself in a situation where someone has asked something of you and you just can’t say no, even though it’s wrecking your gut thinking about it? It may be someone who’s asked you out for a date, a lunch, to a party, or for help in some way? It may be someone who’s asked you for advice, and you just don’t want to tell the truth? Or a client asks you to take on work you’re too busy to do with integrity?
It’s only been recently that I adopted the policy of radical honesty, and stopped taking on responsibility for other peoples’ feelings. While I’ve understood the concept of ‘Perception is Interpretation’ for quite some time, I was never very good at applying it to my social relationships.
Perception is Interpretation
Perception is Interpretation is an NLP concept, and one definition is that two people could have the same experience and come away from it with a completely different idea of what happened. That’s because we each experience the world around us through a filter made up of our values, attitudes, past experiences and belief systems. Meeting a large, friendly dog on a hike could be a terrifying experience for one person and a heartwarming experience for another—same event.
Why is this an important concept to keep in mind? Because it’s absolutely impossible for you to keep track of, or control how someone will interpret any given situation, and when you take 100% responsibility for your own emotional state, you can more easily let go of the responsibility for others’.
Does this give you permission to act like a jerk and disregard others’ feelings? Absolutely not. But it does give you permission to pay closer attention to your own gut, speak the truth, and encourage those around you to do the same—always under the umbrella of kindness and with peaceful collaboration.
Stop Being Polite
As “civilized” humans, we’ve been programmed to be polite. Polite can mean going along with the crowd, even though we feel uneasy about it, doing things we don’t want to because it would be ‘rude’ to refuse, telling someone they’re doing a great job when they’re not—there are many examples. We learn it early too, which is why, in my house, I’ve tried to encourage my kids to follow their gut, when something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it and most importantly, don’t take on the feelings, thoughts or drama of others—it’s valid, but it belongs to them.
When you learn to say no to things that don’t feel good, you make room for the things that do feel good. And when you feel good, you have more energy and love to spread to others—that’s good for everyone.
Once I started practicing (and it does take practice) radical honesty in my daily life, my stress levels have come way down, I don’t get trapped in unwanted, or sticky social situations (I was a mighty-magnet for those) and my heart feels lighter most of the time. Occasionally I slip-up, and catch myself (WHY didn’t I speak up!?), but hey, I’m bumbling and fumbling along like everyone else.
Try radical honesty for yourself. Where in your life do you neglect to speak up? Where do you placate others? Where do you neglect your own needs for the sake of others? And this is a good one—where in your life are you resentful? Resentfulness is a sure sign you’re not speaking up for yourself.
Start telling the truth more often and Bliss will not be far behind.