Abigail needs to tell her adult son Mark that she thinks he has a drinking problem.

Simon needs to tell his wife Lisa that he’s afraid he doesn’t love her anymore.

From time to time, we all find ourselves in a tough spot. Something looks wrong or feels wrong, and we need to say something difficult. Something painful that may hurt someone we care about, but which nevertheless must be said.

Abigail and Simon have some tough decisions to make. Do they speak up and risk hurting their loved ones? How do they say it? Would it be better to just keep it to themselves? At least then they wouldn’t cause anyone pain.

Many people in these situations choose the last option. Sometimes it feels easier and kinder. Unfortunately, that is typically the worst choice. Uncomfortable truths seldom disappear on their own. And they have far more power to hurt when they remain unspoken.

If you grew up in a family that discouraged frank discussion, emotional expression, or honest discourse (this is Childhood Emotional Neglect, or CEN), having a conversation like this may feel simply wrong to you. And even if you do decide to speak your truth, you may not have been able to learn the emotion skills you need to do it right.

Abigail and Simon could easily do this wrong. Abigail could blurt out her message when Mark has been drinking. Simon could pick a fight with Lisa, and leave the house angrily, never explaining why and leaving Lisa baffled and unresolved.

Or each could go about speaking his truth in a caring and compassionate way.

Seven Guidelines for Speaking Your Uncomfortable Truth

  1. Choose your moment: timing is everything. Choose a quiet, open moment to maximize being heard.
  2. Imagine being the other person: put yourself in her shoes. If you were to receive this message, how would you want to hear it?
  3. Keep your own emotions in check: practice helps with this. Practice relaying the message, either in your own head, in the mirror, or to a friend, until you’re able to say it in a compassionate and caring tone. If you are angry or accusing when you relay your message, the other person will feel immediately defensive. And defensive people lose their hearing. They do not take things in.
  4. Avoid extreme words.  The words “always” and “never” raise defenses. Avoid accusations. Use “I feel,” not “you always,” for example.
  5. Listen: after you speak your truth, be quiet and listen to the other person. Avoid arguing, because that will bury your message in anger.
  6. Recognize that most difficult things require more than one conversation: your goal in this first talk is to plant the seed. Don’t expect a plant to spring immediately from the earth. Give it some time to take root, and then have another talk.
  7. Accept that the other person may be hurt: it is okay. Often, the most loving thing we can do is hurt someone. Because honesty shows respect and care, even when it hurts.

Don’t shy away from speaking your truth. That is not loving, and it will not help.

Make yourself uncomfortable. Do the background work. Take the time, put in the effort, and sit together through the pain. Wait for the seed to sprout, and then revisit the topic with care.

That is what true love and care looks like.

To learn more about emotions, emotional needs, and Childhood Emotional Neglect, Take The CEN Questionnaire. It’s free.