Speak Up or Shut Up?

July 23, 2015
Reading time: 3 minutes


Here is the situation: something is going on and you have a strong, opposing opinion. We’ve all been there.


  • Your child has shared a life plan that to your mind will cause only suffering, for you and them.
  • Your work colleague has a new purchase planned that will not only NOT solve the problem it’s meant to, but cost more and create far more problems.
  • You have a moral dilemma with something someone close to you is doing and they refuse to see any perspective other than their own.


Suddenly, you have the overwhelming need to speak up. The burden of your life experience is causing a burning desire to say something, loudly and immediately! But we’ve all at some point spoken our piece, only to have the situation spiral into the realms of hurt, anger, and hostility. Or worse, blame distortion.


So, should we not have said anything? Maybe. Maybe not.


Anyone who has ever avoided a topic of conversation knows how much stress that creates. (Pink elephants do not think about pink elephants!) A thought is a truly powerful thing, especially when you’re desperately trying not to think about it. Studies have shown that over time people who avoid topics are less satisfied with their relationships than people who speak up. Not saying something can even be bad for your health! Trying to suppress uncomfortable thoughts and emotions actually weakens the immune system and correlates with worse outcomes for people who suffer from cancer.


Conversely, if we can discuss an uncomfortable topic and explain our views then we gain some control over it. So, it’s settled. We should definitely talk about it?


Not so fast. At the same, in order to be a healthy, happy person, we all have to tolerate some ambiguity in our lives. There is never a time when everything in our lives is perfectly resolved, and being able to gracefully handle some gray areas will improve the quality of your life overall. Certainly, sometimes doing nothing for the time being is the right thing to do. Researcher Allison Scott from the University of Kentucky shares, “People assume that more communication is better. It’s just not. In fact, talking about an issue in the wrong way can be more detrimental than not talking about it at all.”


This brings me to the kabbalistic concept of restriction. Restricting means we stop reacting, we take a moment and reassess the situation. In practicing restriction we set aside our own feelings of hurt or annoyance and instead we try to see a solution from all angles, not only through the lens of self.


I feel it important to clarify the difference between restriction and repression. Students frequently tell me, “I don’t understand why this situation isn’t changing! I keep restricting and I just feel so angry inside.” This is the first indication that you aren’t restricting, but rather, repressing. To restrict is to take any negative emotion you may be feeling about someone or something and first choose not to react to it. Acknowledge your emotion, but don’t become it. Then choose the response you want (the proactive response). It’s important to keep in mind the other person’s feelings along with focusing on the best outcome of the interaction. Look for the opportunity for growth and awareness for you.




In heated moments, we tend to loudly express what it is that “I” want or need. But in a collaborative, productive and respectful discussion where we are truly practicing restriction, there have to be three goals:


  • What I want
  • What is good for the relationship
  • Creating a message and delivery that is respectful of the views and desires of the other person


It sounds like a mental somersault and it’s no wonder we sometimes end up damaging our relationships even when our intentions are good! Balancing all these factors is tricky and the stakes couldn’t be higher. If we express ourselves well, we not only get an outcome that we deem more favorable, but we’ve strengthened our relationship in the process. Getting it wrong usually means that everyone involved is having a negative experience.


So, is there ever a time when it’s better to not speak up? One survey concluded that people who avoid topics to protect themselves or for fear of the outcome are less satisfied than those who do so to protect their relationship. Which begs the question, is there something that you can keep to yourself that will truly benefit your relationship while not stressing you out (don’t think about the pink elephant!)?


If so, good for you! But, that’s never been my experience!


Thought Into Action

Talking about difficult situations is better than not, as long as you do it in a proactive way. Is there a difficult conversation that you need to have that you’ve been avoiding?




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