In Defense of Silence Not Always Being Golden
How to get comfortable opening up about your emotions
“But everyone worries about how they look!. Even the queen!.” It was my first time talking to a psychiatrist. I was 25 years old and convinced the world would explode if I told anyone how I felt about myself. Nothing happened. Instead, the woman I’d paid to listen to me told me that even the queen has negative thoughts about herself.
I still remember how relieved I felt after this conversation, walking out of her house and sitting on a bench in a park trying to make sense of the feeling of relief. I called my friend and told her about what I’d done. I’d just talked to a psychiatrist! And I told her how crazy it was that things I had thought would blow up the world, did nothing.
Since then, I’ve had many more conversations with paid listeners and have gotten more and more comfortable opening up about my emotions. I’ve had issues I doubt the queen has, and I’ve needed to talk to someone who would understand that I wasn’t ok.
Talking to professionals has made it easier to talk about my thoughts and feelings to friends and my boyfriend too. Up until last year, I’d talked to someone weekly for almost a decade. Even now, I still talk to my coaches a few times every month. It helps me in so many ways, and asking for help is now my go-to.
I wish I’d known how just talking to people about how I felt was possible when I was younger — and how valuable it can be — so here’s what I wish I’d known back then about allowing yourself to open up.
How to become comfortable opening up
Know that the world doesn’t explode if you say something you’re ashamed of or worried about.
I used to worry that something really bad would happen if I voiced my feelings and thoughts out loud. Like things would literally explode. It was more a feeling than concrete thoughts. I’ve learned again and again that nothing happens, no matter what you say, so long as you have the right person listening to you.
You might not always feel better after talking to someone, but that doesn’t mean that you’re doing something wrong.
Sometimes you feel better after a conversation. Sometimes a little worse or ashamed. I’ve left a call or an office feeling embarrassed, relieved, sad, frustrated, energized, empty — all of it.
Who you talk to matters. A lot.
I’ve experienced that the most important thing for getting comfortable opening up has been who I’m talking to. Credentials don’t matter. I didn’t go back to the psychiatrist with the Queen comment because I didn’t feel understood and listened to, and she had a sharp edge. I may have looked fine, but my thoughts were not and hadn’t been for years. Finding someone who makes you feel safe and courageous at the same time is worth its weight in gold. I know it’s hard and can take work. Don’t give up like I almost did. Keep looking until you find the right person.
There’s always more to say. You just don’t know it until you feel safe.
Don’t feel like you need to come up with something new to say each time or cancel if you feel like there’s nothing more to say. Many, if not most, of my sessions started with me saying that I didn’t have anything new to talk about. Again and again, my listener said that I didn’t have to feel like I had to come in with anything new. Whatever was here, was ok. And then, with the pressure off, I’d start talking and wouldn’t stop until my 45-minute time slot was up.
Give yourself permission to be messy and not look good.
Know that speaking and crying at the same time is messy. But it’s ok. I never knew when I’d cry. All red-eyed, warm and in between sobs, I’d always apologize by saying I was exhausted, hadn’t had coffee, or was tired. Know that you don’t need an excuse to not look good.
Not looking at someone might make it easier in the beginning.
It’s ok if you need to turn away from the person you’re talking to, cover your face or hide behind your long hair (I’ve done it all). I naturally hid my eyes when talking about something I found particularly hard or shameful or looked at random things in the room. For me, it worked to not sit directly in front of someone, but more on the side.
It’s healthy to have someone gently challenge your thoughts.
I’m often not right about the things I have strong feelings about. “Yes, you could look at it like that. But what if…?” I used to go into sessions feeling upset, angry, shameful, or sad about something and I didn’t see the situation clearly for what it was. And I remember leaving thinking about what if I wasn’t right and I continued this self-defeating conversation with myself as I walked all the way home.
The bottom line is, silence didn’t make my life golden — talking did. My life and self-esteem have improved in countless ways. I’m so much more comfortable opening up now, and I hope this message also supports you to open up as well as our heads can be lonely.
When I needed someone to talk to over 20 years ago, I had no idea where to start. I just picked a name from the yellow pages. Now you can find lots of platforms with professionals to talk to. Even apps where you can easily find someone who’s right for you.
Choose one. And if it doesn’t feel right, keep looking until it does.
And just another thing before you head off:
Be that person who listens today.
Who doesn’t judge.
Who waits and lets the other person feel seen and understood.
Even if someone hasn’t paid you.
And I’ll promise to do the same.
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