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How to Know Your Emotional Truth

There's a difference between emotional and factual truth. Find out what that is.

CCO Creative Commons
Source: CCO Creative Commons

There’s a big difference between the emotional and factual truth of an experience or situation. The fact is that everyone has different types of emotional truth. This is something I continually remind my memoir-writing students about in my workshops.

Your emotional truth is what you feel about a situation, and sometimes it has nothing to do with actual facts. Two people can go through the same experience and have two entirely different perspectives. Feelings are real, but they cannot be categorized as fact or truth. Sometimes there can be a conflict between two people who have heartfelt feelings about their emotional truth, especially when those beliefs make up their identities.

Writing or talking about your emotional truth has to do with expressing the voice of your heart rather than the voice in your head, which might encourage you to share the facts about a situation, as you would do in court. When sharing your emotional truth, either verbally or in written form, it’s important to share what you think, as opposed to what others want to hear. While considering your story, say to yourself, “Here is how I see it,” or “This is how it happened to me,” or “Here’s my take on the story.” The focus should be on the story and the details connected to it. Sometimes, small details must be added to liven up an account, but the important thing is that emotional truth is present.

The point is that the story you’re telling should remain true to the way you lived your experience. Author Pat Conroy, who died some years ago of pancreatic cancer, said that truth is relative, and that he didn’t worry too much about it when writing his memoirs. He remarked that if you get wrapped up in what the absolute truth is in a story, then your story won’t be told, and the silence around not telling it is what can rob an individual of bliss. In fact, he maintained (brilliantly) that it is the silence associated with untold stories that can get people into trouble. In other words, what is not said can be more harmful than what is actually spoken.

It’s important to remember that memory is fallible, and that over time, the details about some of your experiences tend to become blurred or distorted. As you recall events from your past, you’ll discover that the emotional truth about an experience stays with you longer than the intellectual facts about the event, which can be more objective.

When you’re not telling your emotional truth, chances are, you’re hiding your truth, either to protect others or to deny your own feelings. It’s like telling your story with a veil hanging over it.

When you simply share the facts of your story, chances are that it will sound like a journalistic report and might not be compelling, because people usually want to hear how you feel about your lived experience. Revealing your inner truth involves taking risks, but there are also great rewards. As writer Anaïs Nin said, “The closer a writer keeps to emotional reality, the more alive the writing will be.”

Perhaps you’re trying to figure out what your emotional truth is. Here are some ways to help you do so:

  • Ask yourself: What are some dark secrets about myself, including my beliefs or experiences, that I haven’t told anyone?
  • Trust yourself. Look back over your life, and examine what scares you now and what might have scared you in the past.
  • Make a list of words that relate to a dark secret you haven’t wanted anyone to know. Chances are, this will inspire you to reveal your deepest emotional truth, and you’ll see that it’s not as bad as you might have thought!

Remember, life is a journey, and the more honest you are about your emotional truth, the greater your chance to attain lifelong happiness.

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