Chances are you’ve read a million things about the importance of responding instead of reacting. Chances are, especially if you listen to my material, you’ve also heard about the importance of validating people’s emotions and perspectives. We’re not here today to talk about those things. We’re here to talk about a shadow that has piggybacked on these teachings that you’d do best to have your eye on.
So you can understand this shadow, let’s imagine that a man is in a marriage but has fallen in love with another woman. He decided to tell his wife, who has been trying to encourage him to authentically share himself and his truth with her. When he tells her that he is in love with another woman, she gets really angry and also cries. This man says to her “see… this is why I can’t be truthful or honest with you. I can’t be myself because this is how you react to my truth”. Though we can always get better at making this world a safe place to accommodate each other’s truths, it must be understood that there are two glaring issues with what happened in this scenario. The first is, the man is making the owning and expression of his truth in the relationship dependent upon getting a positive reaction. The second is he is not making any space for her negative reaction. This means, he is still operating from a “your truth OR mine” perspective where there is not enough room in the relationship for both of them to feel how they feel and think what they think.
Can you imagine how painful and abusive it would feel to have your partner tell you that they have decided they don’t want to be married any more. But if you get angry or start crying about it, you are the one shamed for reacting negatively and you are told that your negative reaction is the reason they had to cheat instead of be open that they fell in love with someone else months ago? I actually watched this happen to a client of mine this week with my own eyes.
The shadow here is that a person’s basic message is: React positively or else. React positively or you’re the asshole. React positively or you’re the narcissist. React positively to the painful truth I’m telling you or I wont tell you the truth. React positively to a truth which hurts you, or you’re the reason I can’t be me. React positively to any truth I share, or you are the one who doesn’t see things from an enlightened enough perspective.
We have an impossible time understanding unconditional love. We misinterpret unconditional love as unconditional positivity. Therefore, if we tell someone a truth about ourselves that hurts him or her, and they react negatively, we decide they don’t unconditionally love us. We decide they don’t love us as we are. This is ridiculous when you really think about it. It is to make unconditional love about a person being able to be positive towards us no matter how hurt they are by us.
For example, I knew a man whose wife decided that her truth was that she didn’t want to be a mother and instead wanted to be an actress, despite having two kids already. When she told him this and that she had decided to move to LA alone for half the year, obviously he was extremely upset. But when he got upset about it, she told him that this is the reason she couldn’t be herself, because he would get upset about it. Suddenly, the entire thing was deflected away from the fact that she had lied to him about wanting kids and wanting to be a housewife and instead the whole thing was put on him because by reacting negatively to the idea, he was discouraging her from being her true self.
It is totally understandable why people learn to be inauthentic and lie and be fake and act like chameleons. The reason is that in our childhoods, we receive serious consequences for being ourselves and expressing our truths and trying to meet our needs directly. Our survival depended on the people dolling out those consequences. So, we abandoned ourselves for the sake of survival. It’s terrifying to consider doing the opposite. But we cannot make doing the opposite conditional upon every person reacting positively to us. We cannot require them to be inauthentic and be positive so we can be honest.
There are many times in our adult life that we will find ourselves in scenarios where some truth we need to share about ourselves or some best interest we need to stand by, will negatively impact others. This is especially true if we’ve committed to the path of authenticity. We may have built a life of lies and people may have based their lives around those lies we told ourselves and them. We cannot require them to react well or even respond well when we tell them these truths. We cannot make them wrong for having a negative reaction and we cannot make the telling of our truth conditional upon them reacting positively towards it. This is a really bad game of leverage. With this shadow, we put people in a muzzle. You’re unconsciously saying “don’t be authentic so that I can be authentic”. This is especially the case with anger. A lot of people have such a trigger around anger that they require no one to ever be angry for them to share their truth.
There is a common misunderstanding in the spiritual field and that is that when people are responding; it will always be positive. In other words, any time someone does or says something negative, it is a reaction. This is not the case. Even after a person has had time to digest a situation, be mindful and conscious about it, and is empowered in terms of choosing their response, the response may be a negative one from the perspective of the person on the other end.
Though it is perfectly understandable why a negative reaction or response from others makes it harder to be yourself, from universal perspective, it is no one’s fault if you can’t be authentic but your own because it is considered to be a choice you are making to not be authentic so as to avoid whatever consequence. People are going to react to things. Those reactions will not always be positive. To expect them to not react is to be in illusion and to make them responsible for you being able to be you.
It may not be easy to do and we may all find ourselves in situations where we don’t own or express a truth because we have consciously decided authenticity is not worth the consequence. But we must also be aware that owning our truth is a decision we can make regardless of negative reactions. Throughout history, people have figured this out and have even chosen to be put to death rather than to abandon their truth. It’s tempting to believe that it’s not worth it in this kind of scenario. But there may be certain personal truths that are worth dying for because living out of alignment with them is not a life at all.
A person is a programmable being. We are susceptible to negative and positive reinforcement patterns. But consciousness is capable of transcending these patterns. It is also capable of intrinsic motivation, which is much deeper than extrinsic punishment or reward. Expecting a person to dance on the table for us and clap their hands when we tell them something that opposes their best interests is cruelty.
If we show or tell someone a truth about ourselves, it will cause them to become more clear about their truth. We have to develop the capacity to make room for both truths. If you have difficulty feeling safe enough to share your truth, practice doing it with people who are not going to be negatively impacted by that truth first. This is one of the main reasons that a good therapist is worth their weight in gold. If your truth is that you are gay, that isn’t going to effect their life at all, they can respond well to it. If your parents on the other hand are convinced you’re going to hell because of it, they will not react well and expecting them to react well is a set up for yourself and them.
If you need to express a truth that is going to negatively impact people, expect them to react negatively. Don’t make them responsible for you being able or not able to speak your truth or be yourself. Accommodate their negative truth about whatever you have expressed in the same way that you are expecting them to accommodate the truth that you are sharing with them, which they perceive to be a negative one. In a relationship, there has to be enough space for both people’s truths, this includes negative emotion as well. Don’t muzzle them by expecting them to react positively to truths that negatively impact them in the same way that you should not muzzle yourself by only telling truths that will be met with positive reaction.