Speaking from Your Heart

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 especially important.)

Inside Yourself

  • Are your intentions good? Fundamentally, is your purpose benign – or punishing, vengeful, argumentative, or mean-spirited?
  • 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 blaming others.
  • 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 own?
  • 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, self-sufficient dignity?
  • 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 country?
  • 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 your truth?
  • 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.

This is an article adapted from the book Mother Nurture (2002) by Rick Hanson, Ph.D., Jan Hanson, M.S. and Ricki Pollycove, M.D.

Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, and expert on the impact of toxic narcissism. She is a Professor of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, and also a Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg.

The focus of Dr. Ramani’s clinical, academic, and consultative work is the etiology and impact of narcissism and high-conflict, entitled, antagonistic personality styles on human relationships, mental health, and societal expectations. She has spoken on these issues to clinicians, educators, and researchers around the world.

She is the author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With a Narcissist, and Don't You Know Who I Am? How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility. Her work has been featured at SxSW, TEDx, and on a wide range of media platforms including Red Table Talk, the Today Show, Oxygen, Investigation Discovery, and Bravo, and she is a featured expert on the digital media mental health platform MedCircle. Dr. Durvasula’s research on personality disorders has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and she is a Consulting Editor of the scientific journal Behavioral Medicine.

Dr. Stephen Porges is a Distinguished University Scientist at Indiana University, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, and Professor Emeritus at both the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Maryland. He is a former president of the Society for Psychophysiological Research and has been president of the Federation of Behavioral, Psychological, and Cognitive Sciences, which represents approximately twenty-thousand biobehavioral scientists. He’s led a number of other organizations and received a wide variety of professional awards.

In 1994 he proposed the Polyvagal Theory, a theory that links the evolution of the mammalian autonomic nervous system to social behavior and emphasizes the importance of physiological states in the expression of behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders. The theory is leading to innovative treatments based on insights into the mechanisms mediating symptoms observed in several behavioral, psychiatric, and physical disorders, and has had a major impact on the field of psychology.

Dr. Porges has published more than 300 peer-reviewed papers across a wide array of disciplines. He’s also the author of several books including The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation.

Dr. Bruce Perry is the Principal of the Neurosequential Network, Senior Fellow of The ChildTrauma Academy, and a Professor (Adjunct) in the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago and the School of Allied Health at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. From 1993 to 2001 he was the Thomas S. Trammell Research Professor of Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine and chief of psychiatry at Texas Children's Hospital.

He’s one of the world’s leading experts on the impact of trauma in childhood, and his work on the impact of abuse, neglect, and trauma on the developing brain has impacted clinical practice, programs, and policy across the world. His work has been instrumental in describing how traumatic events in childhood change the biology of the brain.

Dr. Perry's most recent book, What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, co-authored with Oprah Winfrey, was released earlier this year. Dr. Perry is also the author, with Maia Szalavitz, of The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, a bestselling book based on his work with maltreated children, and Born For Love: Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered. Additionally, he’s authored more than 300 journal articles and book chapters and has been the recipient of a variety of professional awards.

Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith is a child clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma and issues of race. She earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard and then received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. She performed postdoctoral work at the University of California San Francisco/San Francisco General Hospital. She has combined her love of teaching and advocacy by serving as a professor and by directing mental health programs for children experiencing trauma, homelessness, or foster care.

Dr. Briscoe-Smith is also a senior fellow of Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and is both a professor and the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Wright Institute. She provides consultation and training to nonprofits and schools on how to support trauma-informed practices and cultural accountability.

Sharon Salzberg is a world-renowned teacher and New York Times bestselling author. She is widely considered one of the most influential individuals in bringing mindfulness practices to the West, and co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts alongside Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein. Sharon has been a student of Dipa Ma, Anagarika Munindra, and Sayadaw U Pandita alongside other masters.

Sharon has authored 10 books, and is the host of the fantastic Metta Hour podcast. She was a contributing editor of Oprah’s O Magazine, had her work featured in Time and on NPR, and contributed to panels alongside the Dalai Lama.

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