Dear Lauren,

I have a problem that I was hoping you could help me with. Whenever something’s bothering me, I can never tell anyone about it, and that’s really hurting me. Even my parents, as much as I love and trust them and as much as I know they love me too, they would be the last people I would speak to (even if I would be able to talk to anyone). Something’s really bothering me now and I’ve tried countless times to talk to someone about it, but at the last minute I always change my mind and stay silent. Please help me.

Lauren Roth's Answer

In camp, we had an activity called “The Cliff Jump.” It was a wooden platform bolted into a rocky cliff. The platform jutted out over a huge, brown lake, and the activity was jumping off of the platform into the water. The distance between the surface of the lake and the platform was about 15 feet. That’s really, really high. Brave, courageous me signed up for The Cliff Jump and eagerly awaited my turn to attend the activity. After I climbed the steep, rocky path to the platform and looked way, way down, I was… absolutely TERRIFIED!

Then I looked around at all the other kids, laughing and jumping and climbing back up the cliff and jumping again and generally having a rocking good time. I started to think that maybe my fears were stopping me from having an experience I would really enjoy. I thought about that for quite a while as I got hotter and hotter, sitting out in the sun on that wooden platform, watching everyone else splash into the cool lake. Finally, with ten minutes left until the end of the activity, I stood up, walked to the edge of the platform, looked down, thought, “Nooooo way, I CANNOT, simply CANNOT do this,” then closed my eyes and JUMPED!

Ahhh…the exhilaration! The plunge into the cool water! I loved it! I laughed with pleasure, swam to the cliff, climbed the path, and stepped to the edge of the platform to jump again — and just then, the counselor called: “Time to go!”

I’ll never forget that experience, because it taught me an invaluable lesson. Since that day, whenever I’m afraid to do something, but I know I should just overcome my fear and jump, I close my eyes, imagine myself on that platform, and I take the leap. And my life has been enriched immeasurably because of it. There have been times when I wanted to defend someone that other people were picking on, or times when I wanted to stand up for my rights and speak out against someone who was hurting me, or, like you, times when I knew I had to say what was on my heart and mind, but I was terrified to do it. And then I would think of The Cliff Jump and I would just do it.

I think you need to take the leap. There’s nothing else for it. Jump the cliff. Just do it. It will be so hard for you to get the words out, but the only way you can do it is to do it. Practice what you want to say (even write it out as a script and practice it in the mirror), then close your eyes and say what you need to say.

Telling your issues to friends, parents or teachers can feel so exhilarating that you’ll want to do it again.

The more times you practice the thing that’s hard for you, the easier it gets. The more times you face your fears head-on, the less power those fears have over you. The more times you do what you’re terrified to do, the stronger and braver and more powerful you’ll feel. And I’ll bet the help you get from telling your issues and emotions to your friends, parents, or teachers will feel so exhilarating, that you’ll want to do it again and again.

True, there may be times when you’ll speak your truth and get a response that you didn’t want to hear. There may be times when you’ll speak your truth and get hurt by the reaction to your words. But the benefit of telling what’s on your heart and mind will almost certainly outweigh holding in your feelings and thoughts and emotions. Human beings are wired to connect. By holding in our thoughts, emotions, and feelings, we isolate ourselves and make ourselves unnecessarily lonely and disconnected, which usually brings in its wake sadness and hopelessness.

Very often when I have teenagers in my office, it’s hard for them to talk. They’re standing on that platform, looking longingly into the water, but they can’t get themselves to jump. So they wait and they wait… and then, ten minutes before the session is over, they close their eyes and talk. And we have a great conversation. And the next time we meet, it’s a little easier for them to talk, and the next session, it’s even easier, until they become completely used to coming in to my office, sitting down, and having a conversation about their feelings.

The only way to do it is to do it. And I think you’ll feel much better after you close your eyes, take a deep breath, and take the leap. Don’t be afraid. Cliff jumps can be a lot of fun.