“Freedom.” That was my immediate reply when, last week, the Finnish therapist and author Anja…
In Radical Honesty, we often talk about “completion talks” or “honest conversations.” We highly encourage people to complete the unfinished business from their past. Yet, what exactly does this mean?
Completing incomplete things from the past is about having conversations with the people in your life with whom you’re still angry/sad/appreciative/etc. without yet having (fully) expressed yourself to that person. Or expressing to them the secrets that you have kept from them. The talk could also be about something you have already expressed to them yet is persistently on your mind and still bothering you. Or it can be about something you regret having done or said in the past and now want to say: “I apologize.”
For many of us, our “unfinished business” lists are topped with parents, children, current partners, ex-partners and close friends. Also making many of our lists are (ex-)employers, (ex-)coworkers, neighbors and school-era bullies.
The most important completion talks I’ve done have been with my parents and my ex-partners. I consider the talk I had with my dad to be the scariest thing I’d ever done.
Beforehand, I spent a lot of time creating a variety of fantasies about how the talk with my dad would unfold. During my childhood and youth, he had been very strict and authoritative with me. And so I made myself worried that he would deny what I was saying, that he would get defensive, that he’d reply to me with sarcasm or passive aggressiveness. I had also worried that I would go blank while talking to him so, in preparation, I wrote out a list of things I wanted to express to him.
Then, one day when my dad was visiting me, I told him I wanted to talk to him about some things that were troubling me. My hands shook and my heart pounded. He said OK.
We sat down at the table and I began by telling him that I had difficulty speaking. I told him I felt nervous. He looked back at me with a “soft” expression on his face.
I then told him I was angry at him for having been strict and demanding when I was a kid. That I felt he only approved of me and cared for me if I excelled at school and with my studies. That I thought all that mattered to him about me was my performance.
I talked and I cried. My dad listened and didn’t interrupt me, which I was surprised about.
When my dad did speak, he said he agreed that he’d been strict and demanding with me, maybe even too demanding. I was shocked to hear him express that. He said he just wanted me to do well in life, to have a good education and a decent salary. He said his father had been demanding and hard on him, and had even been cruel as a parent. He said that was how he learned to be. He told me other details of his childhood that I’d never heard before.
At one point during our conversation, my dad said he was proud of me. I feel teary now as I write this. Maybe he had expressed that previously and I hadn’t allowed it to sink in. I don’t know. This time, though, I did. I felt warm towards him and felt connected to him. I felt ready to let go of my anger towards him about how he had treated me during my youth. I felt relaxed in my body; my hands had stopped trembling. I felt love for him.
At the end of the conversation, my dad said, “This is great. Not all parents and children are able to talk like this.”
None of the fantasies that I had created about how this talk would go came true. That often happens when people think and plan their completions. We can easily convince ourselves of the worst-case scenario. And though these talks can be incredibly tough and scary and embarrassing and nerve-wracking, quite often they are also extremely relieving.
The list I had written out before my talk with my dad? It remained in my pocket during the talk. Though I hadn’t consulted it, it still had served me as a valuable security blanket.
I love my dad. He now has Alzheimer’s disease. He’s slowly losing his memory. One day—a day I imagine will come “soon”—he will die. I make myself happy knowing that I’d had that conversation with him. I feel at peace with him now and I imagine he feels at peace with me. When he does die, I feel I’m ready to let him go.
I’m proud of myself for having talked even though I was scared as hell. And I appreciate Brad for teaching me how to do this in a way that’s not accusatory but rather sharing aloud my feelings and expressing my emotions without attaching importance to who was right and who was wrong.
I have many different experiences with completion talks. With some people, I talked to them just once and felt complete. With other people, I’ve had several talks. I’ve talked to my mom several times and am embarrassed to admit that I sometimes still find myself wanting her to be different. And I plan to continue talking with her. With my husband, Pete, I feel that “old business” between us is complete and now, when something troubling arises, I strive to talk to him about it in the moment and not leave it “unfinished.”
For me, the goal of completing is to let go of my anger, my sadness, my appreciation and, especially, my stories. To stop carrying around the baggage of all that old shit. Saying difficult things out loud does make a difference for me. Something shifts in my body and my mind. I get more peace and freedom when I express and let go of old anger, sadness, secrets, etc. With this newfound freedom, I create the life I want and have energy to be more present in the here and now. I connect with my loved ones more deeply and feel more love and compassion. With sharing out loud comes a possibility to hear, to be heard and to be understood.
Who do you want to complete with? How do you feel in your body when thinking about the completion talks you want to have?