Why Keeping The Peace Isn't Best & The Skill I Used For Managing Emotions
For years, I never told the people closest to me how I felt. Growing up in an environment where yelling, door-slamming, then total denial that anything unsavory had just happened was the norm, I quickly decided the best way to avoid conflict in my adult life was to stay quiet and keep the peace. Which was a challenge given my big mouth and penchant for curse words.
But keep the peace I did. In fact, my ex-husband and I only fought twice in our eight years together. Anytime he’d get upset, I’d try to be understanding and diffuse it with "I get it" and "I see your point."
And if I was upset because he came home late or chastised me for being messy, I'd quickly tell myself, This is not a big deal. Get over it. (I should mention I also only cried twice during our years together. At the time I called it strong. I’ve since swapped that for "shut down.")
I also did this with friends. Whenever they asked how I was, I'd say, I was great. I kept all updates light and positive. I told myself, No one wants to be around a downer. Why spew more negativity into the world?
And yet the truth was that I couldn't stomach the idea of my friends knowing what lay underneath my smile. That I was suffocating in my marriage. That I felt stuck in my work. That I felt ungrateful to have so much and still feel empty. I couldn't let myself be vulnerable with them because I had no idea how to be that honest and vulnerable with myself.
Almost all of my clients do the same thing. It's rooted in an honorable goal: we think that if we keep the peace, we'll keep our relationships intact. In fact, the quickest way to feel stuck, trapped and disconnected from your life is to continually avoid conflict, to always try to smooth things over, to do the “adult thing,” to hold your tongue when the truth is eating you alive.
And yet if we’re used to being the peacekeepers, the idea of letting our feelings fall from our face in front of another person is terrifying. So how can we start to speak our truth without any repercussions?
Write it out
When my marriage blew up and I was still desperately trying to keep life looking "normal" and was scared sh*tless to speak up, writing allowed feelings to fall from my hand that I just couldn’t yet let fall from my mouth. It created a safe place to explore conflict without fear of judgement, hurting another’s feelings or feeling compelled to keep the peace.
In fact, true peace came by writing it all out. The more I let myself share without restraint, the more peaceful I felt. I found an outlet to say and feel everything I never had a chance (or the courage) to express in my marriage.
And I now find writing bringing peace to places in my life that I never thought it would. Like dating.
I'd been seeing this guy and after about three months, I knew we were done and I also knew he'd be upset. I didn't want to say it wrong, hurt his feelings, or have him get pissed at me, so I let my fear win and just kept quiet.
And yet that feeling kept eating away at me until I couldn't stand it any more and grabbed my journal. I wrote out my side. I wrote out what I thought his side would be. I wrote out specific language I wanted to use with him and I let the page fill with everything that'd been bubbling inside me.
Two things happened after getting it all out:
- I felt incredibly relieved and at ease having hit upon my truth
- Because I now had the solid language I wanted to use, I felt strong enough to override my fear of disappointing him and compassionately share what was real for me.
The beauty of writing is it gives you space to get it all out and then helps you distills down what you need to say in a way that feels true and empowering. This week rather than avoid conflict or try as always to "keep things positive," let yourself face what's real on the page.
Write. Scribble. Draw.
See what comes out that’s been sidelined as “not a big deal” and really needs to be expressed. See what it feels like to let it out and if an internal sense of peace begins to percolate. No need to share your feelings with others humans yet. That’ll come soon enough. For now, simply start with a forgiving blank page.