Don’t say it! Is the message that floods my head when the truth feels unspeakable. Perhaps you experience that too? Might you be curious to learn more about identifying your unspeakables and maybe even how to go about sharing some of them?
By bringing to the fore that which annoys us/burdens us, or plays out as resentment for another, we have a better chance of processing it and in doing so we can unburden ourselves and let go of the past. We know that suppressing difficult feelings can lead to increased stress levels and ultimately ill health so this can only be a good thing.
So should we verbalise our unpeakables? Would it help? That is for us to judge individually, I think the key is to begin by identifying them and then consider whether to give them a voice. Unlike the ‘Unspeakables’ in the Harry Potter books; Wizards and Witches who work in the Department of Mysteries, you do have a choice! It is important to remember that, because sometimes it doesn’t feel like we do.
Firstly, a minor confession. This week, I was returning from London and having dashed for the train, I was thirsty as kitchen roll. I tried to quickly unscrew the lid of the bottle of Diet Coke I’d just purchased. Gripping really hard, my hands wouldn’t turn the white plastic top; it would not budge. I sighed to myself and sat back, puffing with frustration. The message rebounding in my head its just not happening. I tried again (sometimes I can make it work and get the grip I need using my sleeve) but the sharp pains shooting up my thumb and into my wrist were warning me to stop, now.
There were several people I could ask for help, so what was stopping me? Answer; mostly my vanity – I didn’t want to admit to a stranger I have a medical problem that effects my thumb joints, the thought was strangely revealing and not in a good way.
Moments later, another more sensible part of me took over and I got up and asked an older guy if he would mind opening the bottle for me. As is often the case he was only too happy to respond to my request for help. Back in my seat, sipping the sweet fizzy liquid, I smiled at the irony of my own process, realising I had uncovered one of my own ‘unspeakables’.
Last month, I mentioned the power of journaling to unleash the thoughts and feelings we can’t verbalize. Don’t say it, write it, is one way of managing the emotional material that troubles us. Taking things to the next stage and actually speaking about them can be life changing, in a positive way. Equally there are some things best left unsaid, so on that basis, I would proceed with a healthy dollop of caution!
Do you have any ‘unspeakables’?
Not sure if you have any? Grab a piece of paper or if you prefer just try this in your head.
Step 1: Begin by thinking of some facts (try for three) that you always avoid revealing to anyone. A secret from your past perhaps? Resist the urge to censor what comes up.
Step 2: When you’ve got some things in mind, imagine that you have to reveal them.
Step 3: How does that feel?
Step 4: If you had to reveal your unspeakable truth, is there something you could manage to disclose in confidence but something else you definitely would keep secret at all costs?
Step 5: Think; might it be a relief to unburden yourself? Perhaps it would not seem such a big revelation to someone else. Maybe your load would be made lighter by sharing? What is the nature of the block; is it fuelled by embarrassment or shame.
Step 6: Remember that your unspeakable truth may not be a big deal for someone else and vice versa. It is okay to at least consider that prospect? Might there be someone who you would really trust and safely confide in?
Still think you don’t have any ‘unspeakables’? Below are some topics we often avoid discussing in a social setting for fear of causing offence. That habit can be carried over into our personal relationships and sometimes it’s partly down to cultural norms. In that climate, airing problems can feel impossible and ultimately block our progress. If you are an expat living outside your host culture, the following list may be even more problematic to negotiate:
Sex, money in general/poverty/affluence, political affinity, body shape/weight (fat, thin etc), body odours, health/medical problems, cultural differences, gender, facial hair (women!), graphic details of trauma, addictions, depression, death and so on…
If you would like to hear a little more about the nature of shame and vulnerability, click here for a helpful video by Brené Brown.
In my next blog I will look at the phenomena of ‘the elephant in the room’ and offer some tips on how to help share something important that feels difficult to impart…