In Real Love groups, conference calls, and other Real Love interactions, certain phrases have crept into use that are not consistent with the principles of Real Love, or that might cause confusion by their use. Recently I began a discussion of such phrases:
Phrases That Mislead, Part 2
Phrases That Mislead, Part 1
and now we’ll continue. In this blog we will discuss one such phrase, and in subsequent blogs we’ll talk about some others.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR COURAGE IN SHARING . . .
When people share the truth about themselves, we might respond with:
“Thank you for your courage in sharing that.”
“I’d like to honor you for telling the truth about yourself.”
“I really admire your courage in talking about that.”
These expressions sound so positive and affirming, and nearly everyone would enjoy hearing them, so what could possibly be “wrong” with them?
- They’re expressions of praise. I’ve written a lot in other places, especially the book Real Love in Parenting about the disadvantages of praise.
- They’re expressions of the value of the person being praised. All three quotes could be summarized by the single sentence, “You have courage and deserve to be admired and honored for that.” Real Love isn’t about praising people’s qualities. It’s about loving them unconditionally.
- They’re actually expressions about the speaker as much as they are about the person who is being praised. Let’s look at the first sentence: “Thank you for your courage in sharing that.” When we say “thank you,” we’re expressing gratitude that someone has done something for US, so this particular expression is actually a selfish statement that the person sharing has made the praise-giver feel better in some way. Second sentence: “I’d like to honor you for telling the truth about yourself.” The implication would be recognized by few, but the speaker places himself in the superior position of judging the value of the truth-sharer. Third sentence: “I really admire your courage in talking about that.” This is really a statement about what the speaker admires. It’s about the speaker, not the truth-teller, who needs to be the real focus.
- When we praise people for “doing well,” they really notice when we don’t praise them, so without meaning to, we are “loving” them conditionally.
- If you praise someone in a group, the other people DO notice the praise, and very often they then compete—though usually unconsciously—to hear similar kind words about themselves. This competition does not lead to a feeling of unconditional love.
In summary, it is not productive to praise people for telling the truth about themselves. The real reason for people to tell the truth about themselves is to create opportunities to feel unconditionally loved. The “reward” for sharing the truth about ourselves, therefore, is LOVE and happiness, not praise or a valuation of our worth. Truth-telling is self-rewarding. It doesn’t need praise.
So, what CAN we say when someone tells the truth about themselves?
Many responses are possible, but they’re all united by remembering what our primary responsibility is as wise men and women: loving and teaching. Let’s look at some specific examples:
- Confirmation. Most people have little to no experience with telling the truth about themselves, so sometimes they need input when they DO tell the truth. Without that confirmation, how would they know what they’re doing? Most people’s initial efforts at truth-telling are really complaining, victimhood, anger, and so on. An example of confirmation would be to say, “THAT is an example of telling the truth. You shared what was true about YOU, not about other people or what has been done TO you, and you included some feelings and behaviors that were less than flattering, which is remarkable.” This is an example of teaching, and if you say it with kindness, it’s lovingandteaching, the primary responsibility of a wise man.
- Feedback. This is much like confirmation but involves a little more teaching. For example: “Part of that was telling the truth about yourself, which gave people an opportunity to see you and love you. Part of it was not. Can you identify the part of what you said that was not real truth-telling?” You might need to help the speaker see what part of their content was blaming or acting like a victim, for example.
- Correction. This is the flip-side of the “Confirmation” paragraph above. Most people have never really told the truth about themselves, which means telling the truth about who they really are—the choices they make. Why? Because in the past—from childhood, in fact—it was always too risky, exposing them to criticism and rejection. Instead they learned to tell the truth about what other people had done TO them. This is what victims do. So after a victim has spoken for only a short time—maybe a minute, perhaps longer if it’s their first time in a Real Love setting—we can interrupt and say, “You’re telling the truth about OTHER people, not you. You’re describing what was done TO you. If you want to create an opportunity to feel unconditionally loved, you’d need to talk about the choices YOU have made in life.” Almost invariably, we then need to give them examples of what this looks like, since they really don’t know.
- Summarize. People often gets lost in the sheer volume of their words, so by the end of their monologue, even THEY don’t know what they were trying to say. They just vent like a volcano, which accomplishes nothing. So you can summarize what somebody is saying: “You just said that all your life you’ve felt alone and afraid. Nobody has ever really understood you or cared about you.” I can’t count how many people have wept when I’ve said something like this, because they finally felt understood. Until that moment they didn’t realize what they were trying to communicate. This particular example in quotes is mostly about what was done TO someone—as described in the “Correction” paragraph above—and not a great example of truth telling, but it’s a start for most people.
- Identify the effect. Truth telling is not a technique or a ritual. It is done for a PURPOSE, so that people can feel understood and loved. Most people have never had this experience, so the truth telling alone is overwhelming. They need help identifying other feelings that are associated with their truth telling. For example, you might say to someone who has just shared the truth about themselves, “You just shared with us that you XX and YY, and that you feel ZZ. How do you feel now that you’ve done that?” Often they really can’t identify their feelings, sometimes because they’ve never HAD those feelings before. You can help by offering some examples of feelings, asking them if they recognize those feelings within themselves: safe, connected, exposed, afraid of rejection, closer to the group, understood, not rejected, not criticized, loved, and so on.
- Encouragement. If the speaker felt some of the positive feelings listed immediately above, you might consider introducing them to the idea that these feelings could be repeated. For example: “It feels good to be understood and to feel connected to people, doesn’t it? You might consider that the next time you have an opportunity to tell the truth about yourself. If you remember the feelings you’re having right now, you’ll be less afraid to be truthful next time.”
In future blogs we’ll discuss more phrases that can be misleading in our discussions of Real Love.