Listening for Your Truth in Cafés and Other Safe Spaces

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“You are only as sick as your secrets.” I heard it on a Law and Order episode. I think it’s an AA aphorism. Yet, have you noticed, in the cultural dialogue on self-improvement (or family strengthening), we are generally only encouraged to speak the positive, trumpet our successes? And we are tacitly steered to align ourselves with one of the unofficial, culturally-sanctioned narratives / tropes.

I understand the value and the power of positive thinking, of positive words and actions. I know how they build Protective Factors and enhance vitality. I also experience the tyranny of disciplining and forcing oneself to conform to the positive and shaming oneself if it feels like you’ve deviated from the path.

I’m learning about the value of actively listening to self-talk, simple witnessing. What is my internal chatter? Tracking to see where the ideas and utterances come from and how they are reinforced. Introducing myself to my truth — even and especially when it’s in conflict with what is socially acceptable or what I believe or value. Sometimes what’s inside is shocking. I am approaching my self-talk with curiosity, instead of blaming, shaming, punishing, and disconnecting from shadow parts of me. Instead of rushing to judgment and extermination.

The step after witnessing? Copping to what is. Embracing and acknowledging whatever emerged as a sanctioned and acceptable part of my experience. Let it be at the same time as I let it go, adopting a neutral and ungrasping stance.

I think that’s what happens in Parent Cafés and Vitality Cafés and #WoWTalk Cafés when they’re deep and good. People share authentically and are able to be vulnerable because they are emotionally safe — held by their agreements to each other and the process. In conversation, we encounter parts of ourselves that we may not be proud of — or even aware of — and there is no pressure to tamp it down. No judgment. My experience is that all these epiphanies are not necessarily voiced. Sometimes listening to others catalyzes powerful realizations and these are not necessarily shared at the table, but are food for thought after.

The step after allowing is consciously owning whatever was surfaced, even if only to yourself. Letting good, bad, and ugly truth come to consciousness allows for authentic connection to one’s whole self. Now love and accept that: Whatever it is. Love and accept yourself: Warts, blemishes, back rolls, cellulite, scars, and all. Not despite but because. Find the beauty in the truth. Find the courage to tell your story to yourself without having to be the hero, the victim, or the villain.

I’m convinced that positive change comes from this, without being willed. Without being choreographed or strategized. In my experience, health, joy, vitality, compassion, lightness of being organically emerge from simply being with truth. Having the courage to know all of oneself. Trusting that what does not serve our highest and best selves will evaporate if we let it come to consciousness and then let it go. Realizing that what we thought was our biggest flaw, weakness, disability and shame could also be our superpower. Embracing it as a unique gift releases the pressure of fronting on the journey to vitality. It is liberating to be authentic.

I cry at almost every episode of America’s Got Talent for exactly these reasons. The brilliant comedian who uses his Tourette’s as fodder for his jokes in a smart and self-accepting way. The 80-year old burlesque dancer. The shy young singer who leaves it all on the stage to a standing ovation and a golden buzzer. The group of dancers who bonded over a dream, supporting each other in transcending their impoverished surroundings with the blending and honing of their individual creativity and extraordinariness. Even the mother-daughter team whose trained cats do gymnastics. I applaud the bravery that it takes to put themselves out there: to be appreciated, to be disappointed, to succeed, to fail. I know all this greatness starts with actively and respectfully listening to the universe within. We need more safe places and quiet moments to do exactly this. We need more Parent Cafés!

Article by Katthe Wolf, President and CEO of Be Strong Families

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