How (and why) to adopt a policy of radical transparency.
If you’re here and reading this, then you already know I am a believer in radical transparency.
Note: I know the term “radical transparency” is most often used to refer to a policy of openness, honesty, and a lack of secretiveness within organizations (like businesses, corporations, and the government), rather than within our interpersonal relationships. But I’m using it here to refer to the latter, just because I can’t think of a better term for it!
I adopted a policy of radical transparency for myself long ago, in both my writing and my life.
Essentially this means that I choose not to hold back or hide any parts of myself, or my truth, from others. Instead of performing, curating, or filtering myself (based on a perception of what other people think, feel, like, want, or expect of me), I choose to show people who I really am, and share what I’m really feeling or experiencing, in any given moment.
It’s tricky to define and describe radical transparency, because it can sound so similar to the out-of-touch behavior of a person who goes around oversharing, trauma-dumping, steamrolling people, or demonstrating a total disregard for the social cues and feelings of others. There’s a big difference between the two, though.
That kind of behavior tends to be rooted in feelings of insecurity and unworthiness, anxiety, and a chronically unmet need to feel seen and known. As a result, this behavior tends to feel frenetic and misattuned, and pushes people away.
Radical transparency, on the other hand, is rooted in a feeling of worthiness, which means it’s accompanied by a high level of self-awareness, embodied presence, and skilled attunement with others. As a result, it tends to feel grounding and connective.
That’s not to say that radical transparency will make everyone like you, of course. You’re not going to be everyone’s cup of tea, and letting people see you means giving them the opportunity to reject you. This can be incredibly scary and uncomfortable (especially at first!) but it’s also part of what makes radical transparency such a powerful tool for healing and liberation— it allows you to cultivate resilience and self-efficacy, so that fear of rejection, failure, or judgment no longer has any power over you.
Do you live in fear of those things, or find yourself constantly worrying about or focusing on other people’s thoughts, feelings, or perceptions of you? If so, you may benefit from exploring and practicing radical transparency.
Imagine a family member always does something that hurts your feelings or makes you uncomfortable, and instead of swallowing your truth and letting it happen, you speak up, let them know how their actions make you feel, and set a boundary.
Imagine you’re about to have sex with someone for the first time, and instead of trying to guess what they like/want, drop subtle hints at what you like/want, or automatically following the cultural script for how sex is “supposed to go” based on gendered stereotypes, you honestly and directly communicate what you like/want, and invite them to share what they like/want, before things get started.
Imagine a friend asks how you’ve been since the baby was born, and instead of trying to answer in a way that keeps things light, protects you from the possibility of her judgment or rejection, or prevents you from “being a burden” on her, you open up and share the whole truth of how hard it’s been.
If this appeals to you, but feels terrifying or impossible, I suggest starting with two major perspective shifts around accountability and vulnerability.
Many of us have been taught, either explicitly or implicitly, that we’re responsible for other people’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences of us. We may link our identity or worthiness to our ability to make other people happy (or to do/be what they want), and feel that failing to do so would lead to rejection or abandonment. We may also have learned to blame ourselves (or our bodies) for other people’s rude, bad, hurtful, or abusive behavior, or imagine we alone have the power and responsibility to make other people treat us with kindness and respect.
There are two problems with this perspective. The first is that it doesn’t work; we simply don’t have the power to control other people’s feelings, experiences, behaviors, or perceptions.
The second is that it causes you harm. Believing yourself to be responsible for those things leads you to constantly feel anxious, disconnected, ashamed, and like a failure. It also disconnects you from your own feelings, needs, desires, and experiences, which leaves you to move through the world in a state of disempowered neediness, just waiting/hoping for someone to save or take care of you.
Luckily, the opposite is true too! When you hold yourself (and only yourself) accountable for your own thoughts, feelings, needs, desires, behaviors, and experiences— and you trust other people (and only other people) to be accountable for their thoughts, feelings, needs, desires, behaviors, and experiences—life gets a whole lot easier, less stressful, and more satisfying. It allows you to reconnect to yourself and your body so that you can be grounded and present when interacting with others, and to make decisions for yourself that actually get your needs met, move you toward your deepest desires, and allow you to thrive.
This perspective shift on who is accountable for what will also help you start advocating for yourself, communicating your feelings and needs directly and honestly to others, and setting appropriate boundaries. It restores a feeling of agency, self-efficacy, and personal empowerment, helps you build resilience and self-efficacy, and frees you from the fear of judgment, rejection, criticism, or conflict. It also gives you permission to express your authentic self, which will lead to less social anxiety, as well as deeper and more nourishing connections. In short, this perspective shift leads to the exact feelings of worthiness, belonging, and safety you’ve been chasing.
2. Emotional Vulnerability.
Most of us learned to be afraid of vulnerability, because truly putting yourself out there comes with the risk of rejection, criticism, humiliation, or abandonment. You may try to hide, suppress, or avoid expressing emotional vulnerability unless you really trust a person, or unless a particular moment is emotionally significant enough that it feels acceptable, such as at a funeral. You may think of vulnerability as something shameful, and worry about coming off as weak, feminine, needy, annoying, or a burden on others. You may also find the feeling or experience of vulnerability itself to be intolerable, especially if you’ve been avoiding it for a long time, or you lack the skill, experience, and resilience needed to handle the outcome. All of that said, emotional vulnerability is the key to feeling seen, known, understood, accepted, loved, and like we belong. It’s the key to intimacy, trust, and secure relationships, and it’s the key to healing, releasing, and even preventing shame, which means it’s a powerful tool for reducing anxiety and cultivating a strong, healthy, and positive self-concept. To be clear, I’m not saying you have to start telling everyone your deepest secrets and feelings. It’s still appropriate to be discerning and have boundaries, and to take into account the information you have in any given moment, through social cues and context, connection to your body and intuition, and your history or experience with a person. But most people would benefit from being a lot more vulnerable, a lot more often. Instead of thinking of vulnerability as something that needs to be earned, try thinking of it as a vetting system, and a gift. The truth is that being emotionally open and vulnerable with people saves you (and everyone around you) a ton of time. By opening up about something people usually keep hidden, they get an immediate and accurate sense of who you are, which lets them decide very quickly if you’re their kind of person… and how they respond to you lets you know very quickly if they’re your kind of person! This allows you to naturally draw more of your people into your orbit, and to quickly weed out people who want you to be something you’re not. Plus, nearly everyone has the same craving to connect on a deeper and more intimate level— whether or not they’re aware of it, capable of it, or willing to take the risk themselves. That means your willingness to express vulnerability is a gift to them; it’s an invitation to go deeper and really connect. If they’re willing (and able) to take you up on the invitation, there is a new possibility of magic. If they don’t, you can just move on. You might not realize it, but one thing I’ve learned as a body image coach is that most people experience some amount of social anxiety, self-consciousness, or insecurity around others, which puts them on the defensive, and can make them inadvertently come off as cold, uninterested, judgy, or boring. Expressing vulnerability has a way of giving other people permission to express more of their true selves, and making them feel trusted, liked, and safe with you, so that their best, most interesting, and warmest self can shine through! (Trust me, nobody is their best self when they feel judged or rejected.) So, yes. Emotional vulnerability can feel scary and uncomfortable, and we’ve all learned to avoid things that are scary and uncomfortable. But by shifting your perspective on vulnerability, and choosing to express it more often anyway, you get the opportunity to feel less shame and anxiety in social situations, and to feel more connected, confident, safe, and authentic.
Give it a shot, and let me know how it goes!