The infamous John Mayer was onto something when he said: “Say what you need to say.”
Have you ever heard someone say, “I never told them how I really felt,” or “I never got closure?”
I have heard these words uttered by adults who lost their parents. They never had the opportunity to make peace and say what they needed to say.
I have heard these words uttered by couples who ended their relationships but never truly expressed how deeply they felt.
I have heard these words uttered by business partners who never got answers to why they were cheated out of their own business.
I have heard these words uttered by life-long friends who had a falling out and never expressed their deep sentiments.
What do all these scenarios have in common?
Relationships, communication, and remaining in painful silence.
Everything in life revolves around your relationships. From the relationship you have with yourself every waking day, to the relationship you have with your romantic partner, coworkers, friends, family, kids, neighbours, hairdresser, and even complete strangers. We live in a world where we walk into and out of social situations daily—both building new relationships and fostering already existing ones.
The driver of these relationships is communication. But what differentiates healthy, strong relationships from disconnected ones?
Conscious communication consists of a variety of qualities, including presence, curiosity, clarity, compassion, full expression, open-mindedness, confidence, awareness, and so forth. When we integrate these facets into our relationships, we build bonds, understanding, peace, and connection.
So, where does the problem lie?
Simply put: The problem lies in our inability to vulnerably express ourselves or hold space for others to do the same. When channels of communication break down or are shut off, there is little room for clarity and closure. Silence is more harmful to our mental, emotional, and physical health than initiating a hard conversation.
According to a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, people who do not get closure after a breakup are more likely to experience symptoms of depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Another study published in the journal of Psychological Science found that people who do not get closure after a loss of life are more likely to have difficulty trusting others and forming new relationships.
On the contrary, those who are capable of opening up and vulnerably expressing themselves experience a multitude of benefits.
A study published in the journal Brain, Behaviour, and Immunity found that people who were more inclined to initiate an emotionally vulnerable conversation (regardless of how difficult the conversation felt) had stronger immune systems. Ultimately keeping these people in overall better states of health and well-being.
Another study published in the journal Health Psychology, found that those who opened up in vulnerable moments were less likely to experience symptoms of anxiety and depression. These people were found to have a strong sense of self-esteem and an ability to cope with stress effectively.
Conscious communication really is about courageously, compassionately, and gracefully saying what is on your heart. In doing so, you gain greater understanding, clarity, and peace. It is not only hugely beneficial and healing for you but equally (if not more so) for the person on the other end.
A conversation of this nature is not about being “right,” “winning,” looking like “the strong one,” or gaining “the right response.” It is about having a deeper desire for the person to know what you truly feel and to equally understand their reality and emotions. Gaining clarity on someone’s thoughts, feelings, and actions allows for further peace, a removal of anxiety, and no more assumptions or false stories created in your mind.
Difficult conversations feel challenging for a reason. However, silence, and your fear of communicating, are extremely detrimental to your well-being—not to mention the emotional impact it has on the person being met with your silence.
It is important to be mindful of whether you are in a safe space to freely express yourself. Do not be attached to receiving the “perfect” response. Not everyone operates from the same level of awareness; therefore, it’s best not to take things personally. Recognise that opening up may not initially feel comfortable, but it is a muscle we can exercise, and often gets easier with time.
Humans want to feel heard. Do your part in gaining clarity and closure by hearing out others and equally expressing your peace. As the studies show, silence is what kills us in the long term. In you courageously expressing yourself, you give others unspoken permission to do so too, and ultimately repair hurt wounds in the process.
For further guidance on how to move beyond doubt, fear, and silence, and open up authentically, reach out to me by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will send you a free communication guide to help.
Cohen, S., Doyle, W. J., Turner, R. B., Alper, C. M., & Skoner, D. P. (2006). Openness to vulnerability and immune system functioning: A theoretical model and empirical evidence. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 20(1), 94-107.
Howarth, Emily A., Timothy D. Wilson, and Daniel T. Gilbert. "Getting Closure After Loss: The Role of Rumination and Mindfulness." Psychological Science 21.12 (2010): 1480-1485.
Howarth, E. A., Wilson, T. D., and Gilbert, D. T. (2011). “Openness to vulnerability and mental health.” Health Psychology, 30(2), 137-144.
Lepore, Ashley B., Jessica A. Greenberg, and Susan Folkman. "Avoidant Coping and Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms Following Romantic Relationship Breakups." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 90.5 (2006): 984-998.