Once the words are uttered, you can’t take them back. And honestly, I hope I never want to take them back. I am typically quite cautious/deliberate about tasting my words before I spit them out … but nonetheless, sometimes the most caring and loving thing any one of us can do is be authentically straight up with another human being. Tactfully. Thoughtfully. Compassionately. Not with the intention to harm, but rather … with the intention to help.
There are times when people inadvertently get in their own way. I see it so often with my clients. I’ve done it myself. I still do, on occasion. But honestly, we can’t see it while we are doing it. So, we tend to blame others for the tattered and tender condition of our heart. And then … we get frustrated, because things don’t change. We can’t see, however, in those fragile moments that our finger might be pointed in the wrong direction.
It is during those tenderly tentative times that we need someone to be loving enough, courageous enough and supportive enough to actually inform us about our blurry blunders. It is never kind, however, to completely blind-side people with these uninvited ‘truths.’ We need someone to gently open our eyes … as kindly, caringly and purposefully as possible, because it can really sting to discover that, unbeknownst to us, we are somehow complicit in generating our own unfavorable circumstances/situation/relationships.
And so, we all deserve a chance to muster the courage it takes to welcome the ‘ache’ that this awareness might invoke. Usually, I will say to my clients: “I have a suggestion for you, if you’d like it?” or “If there was another way to see this, would you be open to looking at it?” or “I’m having a thought … but it might pinch a bit. Would you like to hear it or should I just keep it to myself for now?”
Questions like this give folks a chance to say “no, not interested” … or at the very least … time to emotionally brace themselves. And, it’s important that I both respect their preference and honor their response. I will rarely share potentially prickly perceptions unless I am invited to do so by the recipient. And even though there are times when the invitation is clearly implied (e.g. with blogs, Facebook posts, editorials etc), I know I can’t take the words back once they are uttered. I also know that it’s not usually helpful, supportive or therapeutic for me to persistently press these perspectives onto others (even with the best of intentions).
Not even with my loved ones. Maybe especially with my loved ones. One of my clients once said, “Your kids are so lucky to have a counselor as a mother.” But, that is not the way it plays out. I am not their counselor. I am their mom. And, it is critical for me to honor that distinction. I try to be careful not to push my ‘professionally’ oriented perceptions onto my family members without permission to do so. My ‘wisdom’ might not be welcome.
It’s a disquieting paradox though, because as Martin Luther King points out: “There comes a time when silence is a betrayal.” And, I have learned that our spiritual growth is typically tucked into those unflattering ‘truths’ that often seem too risky for our friends, colleagues and/or loved ones to dare speak aloud. To our faces. Nonetheless, the most salient shifts I have ever experienced were because people were brave enough to risk my wrath and acknowledge something I couldn’t see for myself.
My education with The Ford Institute For Transformational Training was filled moments like this. Achingly hard, but critical moments like this. As integrative coaches, we were trained by the incomparable Debbie Ford, to be ‘ruthlessly compassionate’ when invited to support others. Debbie was an absolute master at candidly shining a light upon the self-sabotaging thoughts, words and deeds that were compromising our best efforts to grow, stretch and transform beyond our perceived ‘stuckness’. And although it really stings to let an unflattering awareness land in our hearts rather than promptly rejecting it, I owe the lion’s share of my personal growth to my coaching family for being such clear mirrors for me.
And I would venture to say that many of us are holding onto ‘undelivered communications’ that we think might benefit someone we know and love … but we are too scared it would hurt our relationship to share them. And it might. Some relationships may not be strong enough to bear the weight of such an honest exchange. But, it may also be true … or even truer … that some of our relationships won’t survive without that level of transparency. Unspoken resentments can be terribly toxic … even lethal. The strongest connections hold precious space for us to be caring catalysts for each other … to help us lovingly lead each other out of our own covert culpability.
But the most important caveat here is this: Our intention in sharing must always be to help not harm … and typically most effective when invited by the recipient. Because … these are words we can’t take back.
Trusting that “sometimes, the healing is in the aching” … Karen
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