straight talking

Dear Suzie
My new years resolutions is to always be open and honest with people. It’s less of a moral choice, more of a necessity – I can’t read between the lines and I have a really bad memory! I can’t even fib.

However, I have recently found out (the hard way) that this blunt approach can offend people, or deflate them e.g…
They say: ” everything ok? ”
I say: ” no ”
They think: ” 😮 ” (=Shit! Was expecting ” fine thanks, how are you?”)
They say: ” y? ”
I say: ” (insert problem causes- at length) ”
They think: ” 🙁 ” (=Shit! She’s well depressing, I’ve got problems of my own”)

I want to improve my new approach; I need to make it into both a consideration of others and an honesty you get with your best friends. I mean honesty where you never have to say: ” y’ok? ” … ” yeah ta ” more than once to believe people are not just being polite.

What can I do?


P.S Don’t say, “if they’re a good friend they’ll understand”, because I cherish my chums and I want us to work well as team.

Being open and honest is one thing. Being an Ancient Mariner who accosts people, hangs about their neck force feeding a tale of misery and refusing to let go, is quite another.

The difference is in the detail, and assessing the situation. I do know what you mean about the incongruence you feel when someone asks “Are you okay?” and the real answer isn’t “Yes” but “No, I’m feeling miserable. My mum is ill, my cat got run over, my boss is being unreasonable and demanding and I’m stressed.” I do agree that real friendships benefit from being a little less superficial.

Sometimes, we do need to say what we really feel rather than just the knee-jerk “I’m fine” Because if we don’t tell our friends when things are bad, how are they going to support us? But you need to know when to say a little and when to say a lot, and who to say it to.

Some friends are great and we love them and enjoy their company…but they simply can’t manage real emotions or real problems. To them, you might say “Not so good but that’s life, isn’t it?” If they could take the strain, that at least gives them to option of saying “Tell me about it.”

With others, you may say “Not so good and…”, and give them a stripped down version. They may sympathise, they may back off but you haven’t pushed it nor strained the limits of your friendship or their ability to help.

With others you may say “Not so good – got a moment for me to unburden myself?” which again gives them the option to invite you to spill, or to make an excuse, or to set a time when you can sit down for a serious talk.

The essence of friendship is that it’s mutual. If you’re finding your friends shying off when you tell them things ain’t so good you may need to ask yourself if you listen as openly as you talk. When you said in your scenario “They think: ” 🙁 ” (=Shit! She’s well depressing, I’ve got problems of my own”) ” the point is, would they actually think “Wow – she has problems too. That’s a relief cos now I can tell her mine, and together we may help each other”?. People are always more prepared to listen and be sympathetic to you if they are confident you will return the favour. If they think you’re being self absorbed and selfish, of course they’ll back away.

So – what can you do? I’m not sure your friends necessarily feel deflated or offended – they may feel embarrassed or inadequate. Make sure when you do talk honestly, you’re looking for a solution or setting strict limits on how much you’re leaning on them. If you’re really in need of help, a therapist might be more use than a friend, and more used to dealing with it.

Be honest but be tactful. Explore what might be acceptable at any given moment with any given person. Recognise if you want to be more open about your feelings that means you must make it clear what you are doing and that you welcome them coming right back atcha with their own honest explanations of how they feel. Give that a go – let me know if it feels better! Good luck!

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