The Importance of Speaking Your Truth
Updated: Mar 15, 2021
"...sometimes just allowing someone to speak their truth, and offering them an ear without judgment is the first step in freeing them from that truth."
I did not know it clearly until I was in my late teens, but my entire childhood was wrapped in a secret. One that my parents, my mother in particular, chose to keep. I am not sure what her motivation was - shame, guilt, denial - but I am sure that her choice did irrevocable damage to her, and ultimately had a profound impact on all three of her children, including me.
The secret was that my brother and I had another, older, biological brother by our parents. When I say I did not "clearly" know this, I mean that I was vaguely aware, but I resisted finding out more until I was in my late teens. I had been programmed not to ask.
My parents divorced when I was seven years old. For many years after the divorce there was a lot of acrimony between my parents. I have fleeting memories of snarky remarks and constant criticisms of each other. One subject my father frequently used as a weapon was to tell my brother and I that we had another brother. The first time he told me this, I thought he was joking and laughed it off. Eventually, on one of the occasions he said it again, and I tried to laugh it off again, my father told me quite seriously that if I didn't believe him, to ask my mother. So I did. And my mom completely freaked out. I actually don't remember how old I was, 12 or 13, but I clearly remember the range of emotions that ran over my mother's face: hurt, fear, and then finally anger. She exploded (something that is not in her nature to do) and asked me where I heard that I had another brother. When I told her my dad told me, she did not confirm nor deny, she simply said that he had no right to say anything, and that she was not going to talk to me about it. The message was clear, do not ask my mom about this.
When my parents divorced, I went to live with my mom; my older brother stayed with my dad. My dad was a bit of tyrant when we were kids, and I feared him. I was a very shy, extremely anxious child who was tied to my mom's apron strings. The thought of her being upset with me was more than I could bare. I went out of my way to never upset my mom, so when she said don't bring it up, I listened to her. But the reality was, the cat was out of the bag, and my dad had every intention of leaving it out. I never brought up the subject, but it landed firmly on my lap again at the most inopportune time.
Almost 20 years after me asking my mom about this mystery brother and about six months before my wedding, my father informed me that he had found my older biological brother and had let it be known that if my brother wanted to, my dad was willing to meet him. By this time I had heard the whole story. My dad got my mom pregnant. Her parents, who were upper middle class and cared about things like appearances and reputations, were appalled - it was 1961 after all! So they did what people did back then; they moved her across town to live with her aunt and uncle for the duration of the pregnancy, and when the baby was born, told her she had to put him up for adoption; which she did. All without my dad's knowledge or consent.
However, putting their first grandson up for adoption wasn't enough for my grandparents, they had to disown my mom too. They really did not approve of my dad; they had their eyes on more appropriate suitors for my mom. Her pregnancy sort of wrecked their high society plans. So they punished her by abandoning her. But the grand irony is that this ultimately pushed my mom in to my father's arms. His family accepted and adored her. They gave her the love and support her own parents were denying her. So she married my dad, even though, she told me many years later, she knew he wasn't right for her.
So 35 years after their first son was born and given up for adoption, learning my dad had found him was a little shocking. I asked my dad if my mom knew. Of course, he had not consulted her. Not only did she not know that he had found my brother, he hadn't even told her he was looking. I actually do not remember who ultimately told her, me or my dad, but I do remember that she was adamant about NOT wanting to meet him. Her position was that if had wanted to find her, he would have done so. From my perspective though, he had to give permission to be found, so that was him saying he wanted to find her. But again, I was well trained not to talk to my mom about this subject, so I treaded lightly and didn't ask a lot of questions.
However, as I mentioned, his finding took place about six months before my wedding. My dad and I had both met him, as had my step-mom, step-siblings, and my other biological brother. My dad was trying to get to know him, and he wanted my newfound brother to know he was welcome and included in our large, complicated, blended family. As such, my dad - who was footing the bill - wanted to invite him to my wedding. My mom on the other hand was still refusing to meet her son, and I did not need that drama to unfold at my wedding, so I felt I had to say no to inviting him. Again, I was well-trained to never upset my mom. For me it seemed clear that everything surrounding my brother's adoption was traumatic for my mom. She always framed everything about the experience in extremely dark light, but only through shadowy comments and references; the degree of avoidance she brought to the subject was insurmountable.
Even though my brother came back into our lives 24 years ago, and even though my mom finally agreed to meet him about three months AFTER my wedding, and even though she has developed a relationship with him, stronger than the one my father has developed, she still has never been able to have an open and honest conversation about everything that happened. And she certainly has never taken any responsibility for her own choices in the matter.
My brother turns 60 this November. This means my mother has not spoken her honest truth about this event for six decades! She has also had a fractured relationship with the biological brother I grew up with since she and my father divorced 48 years ago! Although she did connect with my lost brother, in the last year or so their relationship has shown strains - she told me in our last conversation that he "turned out to be a disappointment." That comment, made eight months ago, led to a disagreement between her and I. And now, in her golden years, despite my extreme loyalty and a lifetime of devotion, she has ended her relationship with me.
So all this brings me back to my post. If we are not permitted to speak our truth, it rots us from within. My mother was taught by her parents that her pregnancy was shameful. They would "deal" with it and she should hide it, deny it, and forget about it. She was raised this way. Sweep problems under the carpet, clean up the mess and make things look good on the surface, but never lift the carpet and do the deep clean. This led to future patterns of denying responsibility for the events of her own life: it was her parents, it was my dad, it was my ex-step father, it was my brother, and now its me, who she puts responsibility on for the evolution of her relationships. But what she (we) cannot see through the pile under the carpet is that if she took responsibility for what she has shoved under there, she might reclaim part of herself in the process. And maybe in doing so she will realize that although people may have hurt her or let her down, that in her hurt and disappointment she has hurt and let down others.
I place no blame. We are what we learn, and the more we practice those lessons, the more entrenched they become. But an unhealthy habit began with her parents that, knowingly or not, she carried forward, and it is now infecting generations that follow. Which means she has the power to stop it and begin the process of healing. If she doesn't, the unspoken truths will continue to rot her from within, and the rot will continue to spread throughout her family tree.
Of course this is where this all connects to me and my current life situation. Over the last year (although problems have been percolating for much longer) my three daughters, one by one, have decided they want to distance themselves from me. I have struggled to understand where their problems with me stem from; they insist I am being obtuse and am simply refusing to hear what they are saying. things are at a bit of a stand-off right now. And it is leaving me stressed and broken-hearted.
I spend too much time analyzing my relationships with them, trying to figure out what the heck is going on. I often feel like I live in an alternate reality from them. Their description of me is a person I do not know. It is some alien creature that I have no connection to at all. So where does this come from? I have many theories, but the one that relates to this post is that my daughters have spent their lives denying me permission to speak my truth to them. They have not wanted to hear anything that has any taint of negativity in terms of my upbringing. They know I did not have a happy, rosy childhood. It was not all terrible, I always had what I needed, and I believe my mom and dad love me. But as parents, I don't think they ever considered one way or another whether their kids were happy and thriving. Nor did they ever consider their kids when making life choices, they did what worked best for them, kids be damned. Add in the divorce, a shitty step-father, and the aforementioned tyrant of a father (he has mellowed considerably with age, as we tend to do) and there simply aren't a lot of joyful memories for me. I finally left home when I was 17 because living with my stepfather was so awful.
But that's it, that is the bulk of the story I am permitted to tell. When my girls were growing up, of course I wanted them to know and have a relationship with my parents. I had/have no desire to badmouth my parents to my kids or anyone for that matter. I left home when I was 17, I am now 54, any shit I had to sort out in my own head about my parents I did a long time ago - that is why I have been able to have them be part of my life for all these years. But as my girls got older, they picked up on some of the tension between my parents and I. My dad and I, for example, have had a few big blowouts over the years where we have gone stretches without talking.
One of the first processes I went through in my therapy sessions when I was in my 20s was first to decide if I wanted an adult relationship with my parents. Answer, yes. Second was could I forgive them for the ways in which I thought they failed me? Answer, yes. Third was what do I want those relationships to look like? I won't list that here, but I defined that for myself. And then finally, what boundaries did I need to put up to ensure that the newly defined relationship stays within my definition? On the occasions my father and I have fought, it is because he crossed those boundaries. However, I always made sure he was clear on why I was angry with him, and I never refused to speak to him. But because my daughters have made clear that they do not want to hear anything about my childhood, and therefore have no understanding of the importance of my boundaries or why they exist, what they likely saw, was me getting mad at my dad and cutting him out of my life. There is no context for them. They also have made clear that they never want to know the details of a disagreement, nor do they have any interest in hearing how things were resolved. They judged the situation and me negatively while, for their own comfort, simultaneously stifled me from speaking my truth.
With my mother on the other hand I have had very few disagreements with her over the years. As I have noted, I was well-trained to always consider my mom's feelings and tread lightly. She presents as fragile. If someone asks her a question or disagrees with her, she throws her arms up over her shoulders as if someone has said "hands up" and backs up, like any slight disagreement is far too much for her to bare so she's surrendering at the outset. So when she did or said something that upset or bothered me, I let it go. But over the last decade or so, after I entered my forties and I started to go through some of the life experiences my mom had gone through, I began to question her reasoning, and her treatment of me. So, although I had no desire to upset my mom, or dig up the past, a tension started to rise up in our relationship. I became increasingly impatient with her. I am now in my 50s and there are still so many subjects I have to tip-toe around lest I upset her. And because as I got older I became less adept and less interested in tip-toeing, I tended to upset her more often than I used to.
The thing is though, my girls adore their grandmother. She is sweet, generous and kind to them. I wish I had a relationship with my grandmothers like my girls have with my mom. When my daughters see my impatience rise with my mom, they have no context, they just think I am being a bitch to her. However, I should make clear, there is a big gulf between impatience or irritation and bitchiness. I do not think I have ever been a bitch to my mom. But again, my girls have made it clear they do not want to hear anything from me about why my mom isn't speaking to me right now. They have decided that it must be something I did and refuse to let me speak my truth so the air might be cleared.
To be sure, there is other stuff going on with my daughters; but I believe many of the issues my daughters have with me stem from the fact that they simply refuse to hear my truth. An analogy is like entering a building that has experienced a fire. It has been restored, but the owner chose to keep some of the burnt beams in the ceiling, and some of the burnt hardwood floor. Half the people who visit the building do not pick up the information brochure, do not read any of the wall plaques, and do not listen to what the owner has to say about his restoration choices. When they leave they have only terrible things to say about all the burnt wood, and question why the owner didn't simply tear it all down and start new. But the other half of the visitors read the information provided and listened to what the owner had to say about his choices. They learned that the beams were over 150 years old, and the wood flooring was valuable old growth white oak. They learned that for the owner, looking at the burnt and scarred wood, reminded him of how lucky he was to escape the fire and how precious every day is. Because this group of visitors learned these things, they understood his choices and although they might not make the same ones, they judged them far less harshly for his.
We do not have to, nor should we live in the past. We cannot, nor should we use past experiences as excuses for today's choices. But history matters. It puts things in context. And sometimes just allowing someone to speak their truth, and offering them an ear without judgment is the first step in freeing them from that truth. If you force people to hold in their truth and deny its existence, it will rot and fester, and eventually seep into others. The truth can be scary, but being brave is rewarded with a deep breath of relief that comes after facing your fear.