Say What You Need to Say

by Steve Torma

reprinted from The Asheville Citizen-Times, April 18th, 2009

Mother with daughter shying away

Even if your hands are shaking, and your faith is broken
Even as the eyes are closing, do it with a heart wide open
Say what you need to say, say what you need to say...

John Mayer, "Say" 

Are you sometimes afraid to say difficult things to people? Do you and your relationships suffer because of it?

Intimacy isn’t just something we share with a few special people; it’s something to cultivate with everyone because it simply means being honest. Being honest is the best way to get our needs met, and there’s few things more rewarding than feeling safe enough to say what we really feel.

Young woman alone at clubFriendship, romance? It’s all on you

It is so essential to realize that we are the ones who are keeping ourselves from deeper connection.  It is usually not the fault of someone out there doing it to us or some external circumstance.  In the vast majority of situations, it is we who push others away. 

Chasing your own tale

Harvey Jackins, the founder of Re-evaluation Counseling (a.k.a., co-counseling), says “love is the way people naturally feel about each other if they don't have any distress in the way.” Each of us has parts of our internal map of reality that keep us from loving ourselves and others. These are mostly unconscious and rooted in earlier traumatic experiences. Still, it is we who are doing it to ourselves. As Marianne Williamson says, “we are not held back by the love we didn’t receive in the past, but by the love we’re not giving in the present.” Someone else may have hurt you back then; only you are hurting yourself now.

Hand on her shoulderReaching out

If we’re standing in our own way, what can we do about it? One of the best ways to change and heal our blockages is to admit them to ourselves and to others in gentle and loving ways. Here is some practice building intimacy with others. You can do it with someone you know well or with a total stranger.

Start by telling someone something “positive” that’s hard for you to say, like how much you appreciate them, how much you like them, or something about them you admire.  It might sound something like this:

“Hey Joe, this is tough for me to say, but I would like for us to be closer friends.  I really appreciate you for the way you spoke to Bob and held him when he was crying about his dad’s dying.  I like being around you when you are so compassionate.  I think I could learn a lot from you because I want to be more that way myself.”


“Hey Jane, I feel awkward saying this, but something that I have been wanting to say is that I really like you.  I’m not asking you do anything. I just wanted to say it so I could be more relaxed and enjoy being with you more.”

Disappear fear

The next task– and this is often more challenging for most of us– is to express something “negative” to someone that affects your openheartedness with them.  Do this with someone you are genuinely wanting to feel more connected to, and be sure to tell them that this is why you are doing it. Examples of “negative” things would be judgments or uncomfortable feelings like envy, anger, resentment, or fear. This might look like:

“Hey Joe, this is hard for me to share, but because I value our relationship and would like to feel closer to you, I want to say that I’ve been feeling jealous about the promotion you got. It’s tough for me to feel it and even harder to admit it, but I hope that by getting it out there, it might not bother me so much and I can enjoy being with you more.”

Or, walking up to a policeman on the street, you say:

“Hi, can I talk with you a minute? I just want to say that I have been afraid of police since I was a kid. And a couple of years ago I was pushed by a policeman at a peace rally.  Ever since then I have been angry at every policeman I saw.  But I realized that I’m sure not all police are the same, and I don’t want to hold a grudge for something someone else did.  So I am here to say thanks for doing your job.”

Bend without breaking

The point here is not to just shock someone or prove we have the guts to say difficult things. The point is to get over ourselves by admitting our own blockages in a way that increases intimacy. It’s said that the best thing for any relationship, plant, or human being to grow is the greatest amount of stress that can be creatively dealt with. A big part of the art of intimacy is knowing yourself and the other person or situation well enough to know what will help build a relationship and what will hurt it. This includes knowing how to say what might be hard to hear.  My experience is that Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is one of the best tools around for saying difficult things in constructive ways.

The price is right

So don’t be shy. It’s often hard to say what needs to be said, but the payoff is worth it. Like the singer says, just lift your head, and let your feelings out instead. You’ll find the pain of learning new skills is far less than the gain: in self-respect, intimacy, and love of life.


There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.

Elizabeth Appell