I am often one to hold my tongue in order to spare another person's feelings. That's not to say that I've never intentionally hurt anyone with my words, but it was usually in the heat of the moment. And chances are that even in those situations, I wanted to say something much worse and chose not to. It bothers me, even in non-confrontational situations, when I'm forced to keep myself from saying what I really want to say. Quite frankly, it can leave me feeling stressed out.
That's not the case for my grandmother, Gaga, who turns 98 this week. Gaga is a pistol. She says whatever she wants whenever she wants, sparing no feelings. This Thanksgiving, I was in the line of fire. Gaga took aim after I asked her about her engagement ring, which she's worn on a chain around her neck since my grandfather died three years ago. I asked why. She told me she was just saving it for me until she died, adding that it was the only engagement ring I would ever get, since I would never marry. Ouch!
My family and close friends have nursed similar wounds over the years. Meanwhile, Gaga is relatively healthy, very much in her right mind and probably preparing to unleash on someone as you read this. It makes me wonder if her lack of tact is what's kept the old girl thriving for so long. Is Gaga-style bluntness one of the keys to a stress-free, healthy life?
Family therapist Maya Gist says yes. "You should let it out," she says. "Holding in feelings can manifest itself through your health."
Other experts concur. In one study, British researchers concluded that keeping your feelings bottled up during stressful times can negatively affect your heath.
I have often missed out on a good night's sleep, tossing and turning over what I wished I had said to someone. Of course, most of these regrets involve men. One man in particular hurt my feelings when he criticized me for wanting to take things slow, calling me prudish and boring. What I told him in response was that we were just not compatible and should not continue to date.
What I wanted to tell him is that although he maintained a strong public following because of his gift of gab, he would lose that support in an instant if his fans knew the true him. I wanted to say that what was holding me back in the relationship was the revelation that he seemed to have hints of schizophrenia, was dangerously insecure and obnoxiously narcissistic, harbored Hulk-like anger-management problems, and had deep-rooted mommy and daddy issues. Gaga would have told him these things long before he even had a chance to insult her. Meanwhile, years later, I'm still frustrated that I didn't tell him.
She doesn't mean any harm, but it drives me nuts when she's around and doing those things we hate. I'm also troubled when I know her feelings are hurt because she's not being included. Gaga would have put this situation to rest the first time she met this lady. But me? I have held my tongue, and the unnecessary stress from our relationship is piling up with other drama in my life and could be sending me to an early grave.
Adopting Gaga's blunt style definitely has some benefits. But there are also consequences. "It could cost you friends, jobs, family and relationships," says psychologist Glorious Dunkerly. "It is good to be honest and up front, but tactfulness is important."
I agree. But I also think there is something to the relationship approach that actress Jenny McCarthy shared with Oprah Winfrey after her breakup with longtime boyfriend, actor Jim Carrey. McCarthy said she plans to be her authentic self and stop doing what so many women do early in relationships: put themselves on the back burner. "All you have to do is just wake yourself up to when you're doing it. When he says, 'Do you like football season?' I go, 'No, I don't.' "
I've been practicing "being my authentic self" a bit in the new year, not just in relationships but in everything. It's my resolution and part of an effort to live a better life. I think speaking out more will help me be a happier person.
Of course, I don't plan to go around cursing everyone out. But then again, if the person deserves it, maybe I will.