“If you avoid conflict to keep the peace, you start a war inside yourself.” — Cheryl Richardson
Constant tension with a hint of bitterness. That’s what it feels like to have a habit of holding your tongue.
Not expressing what you really want to say about anything turns your life into a puppet show. You pretend to have different opinions, to be ok with being treated poorly, and to not care when friends are destroying themselves.
You let it all slide to avoid awkward situations. This is wrong. Here’s why:
The Consequences of Holding Your Tongue
Here’s what happens:
1. Your Emotions Have Nowhere to Go
When you hold back what you feel is the truth, you die a little inside. You betray yourself in those moments by saying, “It’s not worth it.”
Now for some reason you can’t sleep, your mood drops randomly, and your thoughts keep coming back to what you should have said.
The passion you could have expressed gets blocked off, and it feels like you have a hot ember lodged in your gut.
When your aggression can’t be expressed, it has nowhere to go but in. You start taking the anger out on yourself.
Gabor Maté is a medical doctor who posits a theory that the stress we feel from trauma or repressed emotion contributes to diseases like cancer.
He is setting out to prove that repressing your authenticity might be as harmful as smoking, and he makes a compelling case.
2. People Will Keep Treating You Poorly
Call me jaded, but it surprises me how many people are willing to cross what should be obvious personal boundaries.
They truly won’t understand what they are doing wrong until you tell them, even if they have you backed into a corner. You give an inch, and they take a mile.
In short, they treat you like garbage until you wake them up. These are the moments when it’s ok to be a little aggressive. Controlled, righteous anger can be your best friend.
Drawing a hard line will let others know what is and is not ok. And having strong boundaries makes people respect you more in the long term.
3. Friends Will Go On Screwing Up
Sometimes, you need to check your friends on their behavior so they know when they’re making bad decisions. You could be the first person to ever tell them how badly they’re screwing up, and that could be their catalyst for change.
Wouldn’t you want them to do the same for you? Out of caring for your happiness, shouldn't they tell you when you are making mistakes, behaving in a selfish way, going down a bad path, or spouting nonsense?
If no one says a word, this stuff will go on forever. And if they don’t like it, then at least you planted a seed.
Holding Your Tongue vs. Having Tact
I know how difficult it is to speak up. It’s never easy.
By expressing yourself honestly, you could be putting jobs, friendships, and romantic relationships at stake.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t have tact in your self-expression, or that there isn’t a wrong way and a wrong time to do it. But what you’re enduring cannot go on. You need to find a way.
You need to approach your confrontations with dignity. For example, say you want to confront a friend about them treating you poorly:
- Address them directly, and speak to them in private. There’s no reason for it to be a show.
- Focus your anger like a laser, and explicitly state why you didn’t like something they did. Be as genuine as you can. Blowing your stack and dumping all your emotion at once might not be wise. There could be more to the story.
- Hear them too. You’re either looking for an apology or an explanation. Sometimes you’ll be able to see a side of someone that puts their behavior in better perspective, and your relationship ends up becoming stronger. Honesty will do that.
If expressing your feelings to someone is entirely off the table (they are no longer alive, or they are otherwise out of your life), you could try writing a letter explaining how you felt about them in vivid detail. This has been shown to be highly therapeutic.
But, if you’ve really had enough, there is a final option.
You can let it rip and tell someone exactly how you feel about them, no matter the context or timing.
Maybe at the dinner table, or in the middle of a party, or at the company meeting. Obviously, there would be consequences here. And burned bridges.
But hey, if you want to go out with a bang, it’s not off the table. It could be the freest you’ve felt in years.
What’s the Worst That Could Happen?
Maybe you have a controversial opinion, or maybe you’re dying to tell someone how wrong they are before they spread their bad ideas to anyone else.
There are a few things that could happen if you start doing this:
- You lose friends.
- People’s opinions of you change.
- You'll attract anger, mocking, and even suspicion.
Honestly, these are worst-case scenarios, but people will respond to you in some way when you speak up.
Here’s the most important thing to remember:
The truth is atomic. It creates massive change.
You will sleep better knowing that you said what you needed to say. And if the people you spent all this time trying not to upset end up leaving you, then maybe you won’t miss them that much.
You’ll have done what most people can’t do. You will have stood strong in your own voice, and even if you end up being wrong, you still told the truth.
Even if they leave, you still told the truth.
Even if part of your life crumbles, you still told the truth.
Even if it hurts, you still told the truth.
Now it’s all out in the open, and you can breathe. Light a cigar with the flames of the chaos you caused, and rest easy knowing you didn’t cheat yourself.
A Final Thought on Holding Your Tongue
"At the tip of our tongue, day and night, was the word ‘Bullshit.’ You were to scream it at the least hint of such material coming near you." – Terence McKenna on what he was taught in college.
Here’s something I’ve learned lately.
Someday is not a real thing. Nothing is just going to eventually happen, except, well…you know.
The world doesn’t care how caged you feel. You can drag the burdens you carry with you until the moment the light leaves your eyes.
It has to start with a decision. It has to start with not hiding. See how it feels not to hide. See how it feels to take a real rejection or judgment.
Stop holding your tongue, and let it out.