You want attention, affection, intimacy. Maybe you want respect, acknowledgment, praise, but you find yourself holding back.
You may think, “What will everyone think if I go for it? Will they think I’m too much? Too aggressive?”
Many of us hold back in our interactions with others. We don’t express our feelings and don’t ask for what we need. All this holding back weighs you down. It keeps you from progressing, evolving, and living the life of your dreams.
Does holding back really weigh you down? The short answer is yes, it does.
This is a really important idea because you can’t have true intimacy until you’re fully known and seen in your relationships with others. In a relationship with your spouse, for example, every withheld thought, judgment, resentment, and everything you don’t say adds more distance.
When I’m working with couples, I often compare these unspoken feelings to pillows. Imagine that every time you hold back, you place another pillow between you and your spouse. Pretty soon it becomes harder to hold them, to touch them, and even to see him or her, right? That space takes you further and further apart. Each pillow is an unspoken communication and it really impedes intimacy.
The feeling of holding back, suppressing our urges, and quieting our desires, starts in our childhood. Think back to when you were small. When you wanted to talk to a new friend or share a toy, what did you do? You probably piped right up!
Kids, especially young kids, rarely hold back. Watch children at a birthday party. Chances are, they all want to take part in opening presents, blowing out candles, and getting the attention.
As you grow up, you learn unspoken and mistaken rules about expressing yourself. Like, “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all,” “I can’t say that or she won’t like me,” “that would be mean,” or “I should just suck it up.”
We have all these rationalizations and beliefs about sharing things, addressing things, and saying what we actually want. It can cause a lot of problems in relationships when we hold back. We may tell ourselves we need to quiet down, we’re drawing negative attention, and we’re upsetting others. These messages stick with us and become powerful forces on our mistaken beliefs.
It’s important to realize we may not even consciously realize when these beliefs formed. Many of them were founded in our earliest years, before we even remember. We may not be able to pinpoint the exact experience that caused us to feel shame, embarrassment, fear, or discomfort. Yet, these experiences build up. They become part of our inner matrix and we carry them with us wherever we go as adults.
You may think you had a perfect childhood. Chances are, you likely had a good childhood, but that doesn’t mean it was perfect. In fact, just like there are no perfect relationships, none of us had a perfect childhood either. We may remember our experiences happily and fondly, but there are still moments from growing up that powerfully shape our later personality, reinforce fears and cause us to form limiting beliefs.
When you’re young, the world is vast. Most of the world is built for adults. There are things you can’t do, like cross the street without a grownup, cook food on the stove, or drive to a friend’s house. That’s simply a result of being a child. But when we face these limitations, we begin to include them in our worldview and self-image.
So you may believe the world is dangerous. You may believe that you face insecurity. You may perceive others as being in competition with you, disapproving of you, or failing to meet your needs.
When these beliefs are carried with us (even unconsciously) we project a certain image to the world around us. We send others the message that we can’t do it, we’re not capable, and we’re not confident.
In a self-fulfilling prophecy cycle, people pick up on our projections. Because we’re putting out the vibe that we can’t do something, people believe us. They think we can’t do it, treating us as incapable and reinforcing our limiting beliefs about ourselves.
As you can see, it’s easy to fall into this pattern and believe the narrative we’ve conjured in our head that says, “I’m not good enough. I shouldn’t put myself out there. Others will think I’m an idiot.”
When we hold back from expressing what we need and want in relationships (both with our partners and at work), we end up unfulfilled. This is a huge huge issue in our relationships.
At the Wright foundation, when we work with couples, we work toward becoming clear and current in our relationships. Bob and I have adopted a “no secrets” policy in our relationship. I’ll admit it’s hard sometimes, but it helps us to stay connected. Yes, there are times when it’s hard to say certain things, but ultimately, we both know that when we hold back, we build up distance (think of those pillows) between us. Yes, of course, there are times when I think, “I don’t want to tell him how much these shoes cost,” or a deeper thought or judgment—something I’ve had about him. But since we’ve agreed not to have secrets, we bring it all to the surface and it keeps us much closer.
Each of us has deep longings, wants, and desires. At the Wright Foundation, we call these our yearnings. Yearnings aren’t cheap. They aren’t wishes or fleeting wants. Yearnings are the deep longings of our soul. These are universal wants that almost all human beings share.
We may yearn to be loved. We may yearn for respect. We may yearn to connect with others. We may yearn to feel secure.
These feelings are experienced by many people. They’re different from “wants.” You may want a new car, a promotion at work, or a big TV. If you don’t get your wants, you might feel disappointed or frustrated. When your wants are met, you’ll feel satisfied…briefly. Then you’re on to wanting the next big thing.
Yearnings are different. When our yearnings are met, we feel deeply satisfied. We feel fulfilled. When we feel loved, respected, cared for, and connected, we feel whole. We feel as though a longing in our soul is satisfied.
If you yearn to feel loved, what’s stopping you from going out, connecting with others and feeling the abundant love that surrounds us all? If you yearn to feel respected, what’s stopping you from speaking up in your team meeting, commanding the respect of your coworkers, and becoming empowered?
When we start to explore these questions, we may find that the biggest obstacle holding us back, is often ourselves.
If you catch yourself holding back, ask what’s the worst that could happen? So you speak up in a meeting, start up a conversation with a stranger in the elevator, or sign up for an art class—what’s the worst that could come of it?
Instantly, you probably have doubts:
What if no one likes me? What if someone laughs at me? What if I’m not good at it? What if I get tongue-tied and make a fool of myself?
And the truth is, most of those things could happen (in theory) but likely won’t. Even if they do, what would happen next?
You speak up at work. Your boss disagrees with your point. She laughs at you, fires you, you end up unemployed and penniless. In reality, how likely is this to actually happen?
As you build out the “worst-case scenario,” you can quickly see how ridiculous this what-if line of thinking can become. The truth is no one can predict the future, but what we can predict is what happens when we opt for the status quo. When we don’t jump in or put ourselves out there, we will be stuck in the same pattern as before.
We urge our students to try living their life as an experiment; to embrace what we call the “assignment way of living.” Each day, and each week, students tackle new assignments. These might be making as many requests as you feel throughout the day, talking to as many strangers as you encounter, or expressing your likes and dislikes freely.
Some of these assignments can be a little intimidating, especially if you’ve been playing it safe for a long time. One way we work through this is by playing what’s called the “feelings game.” We take those five basic feelings (sadness, fear, anger, hurt, and joy) and say one instance of each of those feelings you had during the day. This works wonders for bringing couples together as well. When you express your feelings, you bring in more intimacy quickly.
Another thing we encourage students to do is “name it to tame it.” So if you’re feeling afraid to express your feelings you actually say to the other person, “What I’m afraid to say to you is….” You can build on this technique and keep going. “And another thing I’m afraid to say is…” So much of our miscommunication is rooted in our fear of saying something.
What our students quickly realize is that by putting themselves out there, they stop holding back and start moving forward. They start realizing that the world is a huge playground. We can test the waters, try different scenarios, and stop living beholden to those beliefs we grew up with.
When we shift toward “self-validated intimacy,” we become willing to share ourselves despite what the other person may think. They might not like it, they might not respond well, but the biggest thing is that YOU really want to be known!
In doing that, we often realize perhaps the world isn’t as scary, dangerous, or intimidating as we once thought!
So, if you’re ready to stop holding back, challenge yourself to express what you want and need in your relationships. Speak up at your job and let others know of your feelings. Stop worrying about hurting or offending others—when you feel hurt, scared, or angry, say it!
What you will find is that the world is surprisingly open to meeting your requests. When you express your yearnings, you will find new ways to get them fulfilled. When you jump in and start playing, instead of observing on the sidelines, you will discover greater purpose and fulfillment in all aspects of your life.
For more ways to live your life to the fullest, visit the Wright Foundation. Join us for an upcoming More Life Training weekend, where you’ll connect with others on their transformational journey. Go forth and ignite your world!
Dr. Judith Wright is a media favorite, sought-after inspirational speaker, respected leader, peerless educator, bestselling author, & world-class coach.
She is a co-founder of The Wright Foundation and the Wright Graduate University.
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The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Foundation performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.