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Honesty Is a Gift, So We Don’t Have to Hide Our True Feelings

“Never apologize for showing feelings. When you do so, you apologize for the truth.” ~Benjamin Disraeli

I’ll never forget my progress report from third grade: “Jennifer shows disappointment when she’s not called on.”

This must have been a bad thing, because my mother sat me down to talk about it. Apparently when I raised my hand and wasn’t called on, I frowned. I was to work on that, to try to stay neutral, to not show I was upset.

I also clearly remember the day my dad came over to my mom’s house to tell me his father, my grandfather, had passed away. I was twelve, and I started crying. My father told me to stop crying, because it was going to make him cry.

Once again, I felt as if I was being scolded for having feelings and showing them.

Years later, when I was very stressed out at a high-pressure job, I was crying in my own private office. The CEO of the tiny company walked by and then came in to talk to me for a few minutes, then left.

The next time I had a performance review, I was told, in not so many words, that crying was not allowed. If I had emotions to express, I should go outside and walk around the building until I felt better.

All of these incidents made me feel embarrassed and ashamed. I shouldn’t show my emotions of disappointment or sadness. I shouldn’t allow myself to feel stressed out, especially if it meant shedding tears.

These experiences seemed to be the world showing me that it was my job to stay still and quiet, and that I should smile even when I didn’t want to, and that I should prevent my messy emotions from ever impacting anyone else.

The trouble was, and is, that I have a terrible time hiding my emotions. I’m an emotional person, and if I’m sad or overcome with emotion, I cry. If I’m disappointed, I frown. If I’m happy, I smile or laugh.

Still, I’ve gotten good at trying to moderate my emotions, especially in social or work situations, in order to present myself a certain way. A way that does not allow me to be my true self.

Luckily, though, something happened that made me realize trying to mask my emotions was ultimately taking me out of alignment and out of touch with everything I’m here to learn and experience.

One day, I heard the author and spiritual teacher Martha Beck talking about her “integrity cleanse,” and something clicked in me.

She said that a couple of years ago she started attempting to live in complete integrity—always telling the truth (in a kind way, of course)—and that it has changed her life in profound ways. She said for her, even if the expression on her face doesn’t match up with how she’s feeling in her body, she’s out of integrity.

Boom! That’s exactly what I needed to hear.

I finally realized that showing and expressing my emotions was actually a good thing, probably one of the most important parts of my healing journey and time on this planet.

Instead of walking through this life pretending I’m okay when really I’m heartbroken, or acting like I’m not offended by a racist joke, or smiling when someone says something that makes upset, I need to honor and express my feelings.

I’m going to tell you a secret, though: It’s freaking hard. As much as I say I don’t want to hide my true feelings, in many ways it’s a habit.

Who wants to upset their parent or spouse? Who wants to ruffle feathers at work? Who wants to walk away from a boring conversation and worry about being perceived as rude?

The thing is, any time we’re hiding our emotions or pretending we do or don’t feel something in order to protect ourselves or someone else, we’re lying. We’re lying to ourselves, we’re lying to the other person.

And lying? It’s bad for the body, mind, and spirit. It breaks you down and stresses you out. It causes rifts and gaps in your family and with your friends.

Here are some things you might want to keep in mind if you decide to allow your true feelings to show no matter who you’re with or what the circumstance:

Sometimes you’re going to upset people. The thing is, if you always tell the truth, some people are simply not going to like it.

There are some people in your world who likely want you to stay small, or to stay emotionless. If you are going to start expressing what you feel, know that some people will end up exiting your life.

You’re not going to be immediately good at this right away, and it’s going to take time to feel comfortable expressing yourself in every situation. I am so, so not there yet. I still find myself smiling politely when really I want to run away or answering a question in a way that doesn’t feel true to me.

Yet, in many other ways I’ve created beautiful relationships where I don’t have to say “I’m fine” when they ask me how my day is going. I can tell them the real, scary feelings I’m having.

I believe the best way to approach this is notice and acknowledge to yourself when you’re denying your emotions, even if you’re not ready to say it out loud. At least you’re telling the truth to yourself, and that’s an incredibly important first step.

This is going to be very scary. If you’ve been hiding your real self and real emotions for a long time, or if you hide them from a large number of people, this is probably going to be the most frightening thing you ever do.

Take it slowly. Practice not smiling at that coworker who always insists you smile. Tell him or her “No thanks, not right now.”

Allow yourself to cry in front of a friend, even if you’re normally too embarrassed to do something like that.

Let yourself express anger to someone who says something offensive or dishonors you in some way. You can do it.

If you have kids, start teaching them to express their true emotions as early as possible, as it will make their own emotional lives much easier.

My daughter is three, and though I sometimes catch myself trying to distract her from negative feelings, she responds so beautifully to me sitting down at her eye level and acknowledging her angry or sad feelings.

I believe it’s a gift to allow others to feel what they feel, and that it creates honest, open humans.

Ask for help in being absolutely true to yourself. Ask a friend or your partner to support you in your journey. If it’s in line with your belief system, ask a higher power for help in being open and honest with your feelings.

Set the intention each morning that you wish to honor your own feelings, emotions, and truth, but that you also wish to do so in the kindest, most loving manner possible.

You can do this. You deserve to do this, and the people you interact with deserve to know you in your truest form.

This is not easy, but it does get easier, and I believe it’s the greatest gift we can give to ourselves and each other, even if my third grade teacher would disagree.

About Jen Picicci

Jen Picicci is an artist and writer. She creates inspiring artwork for healers and those on a healing journey, and when she's not busy with a paintbrush, she can be found wrangling a toddler, petting a cat, or hugging a tree. To learn more about her and get free uplifting art for your mobile devices, visit www.jenpicicci.com.

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  • Cate

    Great post! We’re encouraged to be not-exactly-truthful in so many settings, especially where the emotional stakes are high. Of course, these are our closest relationships, the ones in which honesty is most critical. Thanks for stating clearly that some people will discourage honesty by withdrawing emotionally or exiting relationships; I’ve experienced that, and as hard as it is, connections in which honesty isn’t welcome need to end.

  • Chris Crandall

    Thank you for sharing this article! I absolutely agree that we all need to show our true nature and emotions. If we don’t, we are not being our authentic selves.

  • Let Me Be Real

    Ok, so more often than not, I would say emotions should be embrace. However, this can actually be harmful advice. If you are someone who has unregulated emotions, whether due to hormones, mental disorders, under-developed social skills, or circumstances, there needs to be some self-monitoring and emotional regulation. Unfortunately, the world does not revolve around our needs alone. And by not recognizing this, there can be very real consequences to our security in this word and to the relationships we forge. In fact, doesn’t our “President” let his emotions go unchecked each and everyday? Some of his reactive Tweets are putting real lives at stake. And that is really scary. (That’s not fake…he’s the one posting.)

    So, yes, we should not be ashamed of feeling things, and yes, being vulnerable is a good thing and it can free us up. But this is not an all or nothing thing. There is an idealism in the article that does not honor the full picture. I get your intent, but I think it is important to not make such a blanket statement about whether or not to open our doors.

  • Jen

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts (and real emotions!) about this topic. It’s a sticky one, and I appreciate your candor.

  • Jen

    Thanks for your comment!

  • Jen

    Yes, it can be very hard for people who are used to you being one way if you start to speak up for what you really believe in. Relationships built on the truth are so much more fulfilling, though!

  • Cate

    Indeed. And those that aren’t are frightfully unstable. Thanks again for a great piece!

  • Chio MiMi

    Beautiful.. this is what I need. Too much of hiding & managing leads to emotional toxic & resentment.

  • Sarah

    I wonder if you could explain more about why it is important to express truth “in the kindest, most loving manner possible” rather than just in the form it comes? I see this a lot in articles about being honest. We are encouraged to be honest and open, but only if it’s “kind”.

    Sometimes my honest reaction is not kind, or at least may not be what others think is kind, for I’m sure we all have a slightly different conception of kindness. Do I have to hide these parts of me? If I am hiding these parts then how will I ever live in full integrity?

    It’s like @Let_Me_B_Real:disqus says below – there is a view that some people need “self-monitoring and emotional regulation.” I am one of those people with a mood disorder so this hits home because it is something I’m working on in therapy.

    But sometimes I wish I could just be me, like I thought this article was going to give me permission to do, but again there was the caveat of I can only be me “in a kind way,” which sometimes isn’t me.

    Does this make sense? Hoping you would share your thoughts with me @disqus_iFUXRWheie:disqus. I really appreciate you reading this and thank you for the article & sparking the discussion! Happy to hear from you as well, Let Me Be Real.

  • Sing Sing

    A couple of things come to mind when I read your comment.

    I believe it’s important to express the truth “in the kindest, most loving manner possible” so I do not add more hurt and pain to the world. I want to live in a world that is compassionate and gentle with me, so, I try to act in that way. (I find this hard sometimes and I slip up a lot).

    Why not just express the truth in the form it comes? Because sometimes it’s a reaction. A reaction is when you have been triggered and you want to lash out, fight, hit back or squash someone. A reaction is important for our self insight (reactions point to our wounds) but a reaction isn’t the whole truth – only part of the truth. A reaction is hiding what’s really going on for you deeper down. For example, when my partner ignores my fourth announcement that “Dinner’s ready!” and doesn’t come to the dinner table, I want to berate him and sneer “You’re such a rude and unappreciative so-and-so”. Notice my reaction is focused on him and what’s wrong with him. The truth is deeper down: I am feeling unappreciated and taken for granted and I want to feel valued, noticed, important and like I matter. Notice this statement is focused on me (not him).

    I think focusing on being open and honest about YOURSELF is the key. “Being kind” is more applicable when you are giving someone your opinion of them or their behaviour (and in these situations, I think most of the time a better approach is to talk about YOU and how YOU are impacted).

    Good luck Sarah. It’s taken me years to come to this understanding and everyone’s journey is their own so your’s might be quite different to mine. x