We live in a world with a certain moral imperative around truthtelling—at least, in theory.
From an early age, we’re asked to ‘fess up and be honest, especially when the people who are expecting this of us are those in authority.
As adults, we come to realize that telling the truth is much trickier than admitting that we hit our younger sister or stole a cookie out of the cookie jar when Mom and Dad weren’t looking. Because as much as we pretend to honor the truth, there’s a totally different part of us, and our society, that fears the hell out of it.
We live in a world where people commit emotional perjury…all the time. We go from being wide-eyed, unabashedly honest kids to adults who’ve been taught to hide their secrets and swallow down their truth. Many of us learn, early in life, that most of the time, we don’t get rewarded for telling the truth anyway—especially if that truth doesn’t please Mom, Dad, or anyone else who might appear to have authority over us. Years after the fact, their voices might still persist in our heads…leading us to self-silence, to hide, and to cower in the shadows of our own victimhood.
It’s pretty easy to justify the hiding we end up doing. After all, telling the truth is hard. Case in point: have you ever had to tell a friend something that you knew was going to disappoint them—hurt them—maybe even cause them to judge you harshly?
We all know the feelings that come up in those moments: the fear, apprehension, and anxiety that cause our pulse to quicken and our temperature to rise. The same often happens when we share our own truth.
But there are no two ways about it: if we want to reclaim our power and sovereignty, we must first reclaim our truth.
Truthtelling vs. Victimhood
Truthtelling reveals who we really are, including our tender spots, our rough edges, and our shove-to-the-back-of-the-closet secrets.
At first, if it’s not something we’re used to doing, truthtelling can leave us feeling rather defenseless, not to mention fearful.
But fear is actually one of the greatest gifts of truthtelling, because we can alchemize it and use it as fuel for speaking our truth. We can be assured that, where there is fear, there is the opportunity for transformation. Behind the door of our worst-case scenario is our power.
Many of us women aren’t merely affected by fear—we are paralyzed by it. We have grown up with ideas that keep us stuck so deeply in this fear that we don’t even know how to be ourselves: “Just be pretty and agreeable, and stay out of trouble,” “It’s not a safe world for women, so be cautious at all times and don’t draw attention to yourself.” “Nice girls don’t talk too much…especially not about personal matters.”
We all have the need to be heard, and more importantly, to be witnessed with compassion and acceptance. Learning to share, reveal our secrets, and navigate the challenges that arise along the way are important steps on a path toward finding joy and truth.
Wherever you are in your life, it is always possible to gain awareness of how a victim outlook has robbed you of your own freedom.
I define victimhood as the tendency to use blame as a tool for avoiding self-responsibility. Blame can manifest in blaming other people, blaming circumstances, blaming the system, and even blaming ourselves. The energy around blame is stagnant and heavy. It keeps us paralyzed and powerless. It makes us feel small and inadequate. It makes us believe that we are at the mercy of things that are beyond our capacity to change.
Shifting from victimhood to freedom requires lots of compassion and a shift in your perspective. Below are five simple but powerful steps you can take toward reclaiming your power and renouncing your victimhood.
Step 1: Take Responsibility for Your Life
The first step of truthtelling is taking responsibility for your life—and knowing that, no matter what you are going through, you can always make the choice to do this.
If you don’t feel like you have choice—because you’ll get fired from your job, your family will disown you, your friends will judge you, or “the man” will slap you back down—you are operating on a lie.
The lie might sound convincing, but upon further inspection, you will see that it is fueled by a train of thought that goes something like this: “Other people might have power, but I don’t—my life is proof of that.”
Too many women inadvertently fall into a victim mentality that makes it seem like life is happening to us and we’re just passive little puppets on a string, being pulled by whoever or whatever seems to be calling the shots.
Often, the chains we envision around ourselves are self-created. We may not see that we are truly the masters of our fate.
I’m not pointing fingers…because we all do this.
I was 35 years old—recently divorced, a survivor of incest, and at the end of my rope in my quest to find some peace—before I realized that I actually have the power to determine my outlook on life, as well as my connection to joy and power.
Of course, I don’t mean to minimize any of the challenges you have faced in your life. Trust me, I’ve been there. I have deep compassion for the women across the world who are facing oppression on a daily basis.
But that doesn’t take away the fact that we, and we alone, have a choice as to how we will react to those difficulties. In fact, this should strengthen our resolve to find our power and set off a truth-telling revolution that touches all those women who might not be able to use their voices for transformation just yet.
Step 2: Quit People-Pleasing
People-pleasing is a stealthy form of victimhood. We think we are doing what we’re doing in order to be of benefit to someone else, but in truth, the “martyr” attitude is a handy cover for the fact that we’re scared shitless of taking responsibility for our own joy and power.
Way too many of us have learned how to be chameleons—to change our very identities and preferences in order to please others or steer clear of judgment and criticism.
Chronic people pleasers are so concerned with what other people might think of them that they have internalized such false judgments as, “I’m not a good person unless I do such-and-such for so-and-so,” and “People won’t love me unless I sacrifice who I am and what I want.”
If you ever feel trapped in the fear of being judged for living loud, proud, and firmly in your truth, turn the mirror upon yourself.
I promise you this: as soon as your own self-judgment melts away, so will your fear of being crucified by other people. In fact, you will develop compassion for both yourself and all the sh*t-talkers who use their criticism to cover up their own insecurities and unhappiness. Instead of jumping into the knee-jerk reaction of catering to their needs, you’ll remember your own.
Step 3: Embrace Your Personal Integrity
When we release our victimhood, we begin to live in our integrity. Personal integrity is the state of remaining congruent with our beliefs and values, and then acting and behaving in accordance with them.
Integrity also enables us to set and maintain self-honoring personal boundaries, take responsibility for every part of who we are, and perceive ourselves from a vantage point of positive pride and self-worth.
Living in integrity requires awareness at every moment—awareness of our values and beliefs, of our physical surroundings and the people we choose to spend time with, of our internal self-talk, and of where we are directing our attention. Every time we practice asking ourselves, “Is any of this in alignment with who I am and who I want to be?” we ensure that it becomes second nature.
A courageous truth-teller who has given up victimhood always asks herself the question: “Am I living my own dreams and desires—or am I taking on somebody else’s?” Answering this question is a balancing act, and navigating this process requires wisdom and discernment—but the more we ask it, the better we get at recognizing the times we are out of integrity.
Step 4: Take Action
Too many people spin their wheels in talking or complaining about their problems, reading books and taking courses but failing to follow through with their newfound knowledge, or getting stuck in the “dreaming and planning” phase.
But small talk (especially complaining) minus action yields few results. When we connect to who we are and what we value (integrity) and then act from this place, we learn to overcome the “odds” that appear to be stacked against us. We embody our greatness.
Taking action follows a three-step process of owning your truth, sharing it, then acting in alignment with it.
For example, perhaps your truth is that a friendship you’ve had for years is toxic and disempowering but for the past several years, you’ve allowed it to drain you of your energy.
Now that you’ve owned your truth, you are ready to share it. This might mean speaking to your friend in a way that is clear and self-honoring. Maybe you’ll admit that you want to set more boundaries and to practice being in relationship with her in a way that feels good to you. Whatever the case, this is not about blaming her in any way. It’s about taking responsibility for your part in the dynamic, and following through with concrete actions.
You will ensure that the actions you take with this friend are in alignment with the decision you have made. Maybe that means asking her not to call you at all hours of the night seeking a sympathetic ear. Perhaps you will spend no more than an hour at a time with her. Or maybe you will choose to let go of the friendship altogether, recognizing that it doesn’t serve you.
Taking action that leads you in the direction of your truth can be extremely uncomfortable, but the more you do it, the more you’ll want to do it. And remember, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, so if you need to take tons and tons of baby steps, that’s perfectly okay. Simply make a commitment to taking action, no matter how big or small it might be.
Step 5: Be Vulnerable
As you go through all the other steps, be sure to remember one element of truth-telling that is absolutely paramount: keep your heart open.
Often, people fear that setting boundaries and taking decisive action will alienate other people or ruin existing relationships. In truth, it’s just the opposite.
Telling the truth breaks down the armor we’ve built and allows us to be more malleable, open, and vulnerable. It enables us to allow love to flow to and from us with greater ease and allowance.
Vulnerability is a sign of your strength—because vulnerability is your bare, naked truth. When you enter into a space of vulnerability, with your defenses down, you access your truth. What’s more, you honor it so it can reside in you and emerge from you.
Don’t run away from vulnerability. When you feel it, notice it. Take note of how it feels in your body—and welcome it. Your vulnerability is not, as some people might think, a weakness—it is a beautiful gift that is offering you an awareness of the parts of yourself that might feel tender or raw. You can trust this feeling. So many people fear coming across as vulnerable, but when you recognize it as a sign of your power, as an indication that your own truth is surfacing and wishes to be shared, it can be extremely freeing.
So, what are you waiting for? Renounce victimhood. Choose your destiny. Step into the truthtelling revolution.
Author: Kelly McNelis
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Jake Melara/Unsplash