Why do we feel the need to share our truth?

prince harry and william
Why do we need to share our truth? Max Mumby/Indigo - Getty Images

“Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood,” sings Nina Simone, in the famed song. Her voice trembles with desperation. She’s just a soul whose intentions are good, after all. The beauty of this song lies in its accuracy. For there is perhaps nothing more frustrating than when a gap appears between what we mean and what others think we mean, between who we are and who others perceive us to be. If others believe us to have done something we haven’t, or not done something we have... how galling that can be.

The relatable fury which lives within these deficits of understanding is an interesting entry point to the rage of Prince Harry. Most of what we have seen is a storm of incredibly British poking and laughing at his memoir, but beneath it all I see a very reasonable desire for a man raised in a quagmire of other people’s opinions about his life, to un-gag himself and speak his truth. If ‘truth’ has become too loaded a word, too heavy with ‘therapy speak’, then let us put it another way. This book is Harry’s call: Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood.

The desire to be understood is, according to psychologist and Relate counsellor Josh Smith, a fundamental human need. “We are pro-social creatures,” he explains. “Studies have long shown that being seen and understood by others, from caregivers like our parents to partners and friends, is how we thrive. It is also how we make meaning of things in the world – not just in our own heads, but through communication with other people. We are socially constructed.”

This can become problematic, and damaging, when our understanding of ourselves is fragmented by what Smith calls "worrying social discourses". By that, he means the ills of our society – from racism to sexism. If society mirrors back who we are, but fundamentally misunderstands us because it views us through these damaging filters, it can cause huge psychological issues. “Awful things can arise out of not being seen and understood, from depression and anxiety to isolation and trust issues,” Smith says. “It can begin to feel very risky reaching out to people, because the expectation is that you won't be understood. So, you keep to yourself, you lose faith in others.”

Smith also explains that having the world misunderstand you can cause a splitting of your self in two. “We have to almost pretend to be a different version of ourselves, and a ‘true’ self and a ‘false’ self emerges,” he says, adding that verifying true authenticity is itself a whole other battlefield. “In that situation, you may well crave being seen as your true self, and will seek out communities who accept and understand you, as well as desiring a way to make yourself and your ‘truth’ seen.”

prince harry and meghan
Chris Jackson - Getty Images

“Speaking ones truth is an art,” says psychologist Natasha Tiwari. “It is important that we stand firm in our emotions and thoughts, and that we share what’s in our hearts with others. Speaking one’s truth is also vitally important for communicating what we need with those around us; when we are not truthful, we risk being inauthentic, which serves no one.” Yet Tiwari recognises that expressing this vital human need has been warped in the age of social media, where myriad ‘truths’ threaten to drown each other out in a cacophony of online voices.

“I think it has opened up a new trend where people increasingly often 'share their truth' with little filter, and without thought to whom they may hurt with their words,” she says. “Sharing one’s truth is best done when the speaker considers their intention and, as such, is more cognisant of the best way to deliver what’s on their mind. When spoken in this way, the speaker is more likely to share with grace, and also find the connection they are hoping for.”

In light of this, she offers her own advice for anyone seeking to tell their version of events without a multi-million-pound book deal. “If you’re not sure if you’re in the right place to share your truth gracefully, and to get the result you intend, first share your thoughts with someone you trust – someone who has your best interests at heart, but is also removed enough from your scenario that they won't have any incentive to encourage you to behave in a way that may not support your best outcome,” she says. “It may even be that in having even just one safe space to share the truth of your heart and mind, you’re able to find some peace and the connection you were craving.”

prince harry and william
Max Mumby/Indigo - Getty Images

Harry’s ‘truth’ has become controversial because, of course, he is not explaining himself in a vacuum. His truth has come at the expense of others and, in so doing, he has perhaps robbed others of theirs, has perhaps misunderstood them. Once we start down this path, it all becomes knotted. For truth has become a slippery thing in our modern world. Post-truth, my truth, your truth, whose truth is it anyway? We could get even more burdened down with philosophical musings once we place our identities within this paradigm. How much is our sense of self defined by us, how much by others? After all, is Harry our Harry or his? Is William his own William, Harry’s ‘Willy-the-breaker-of-necklaces’, or our idea of who he is? You see where the headache begins…

“We, as humans, do have a natural tendency to define ourselves in the context of our relationships with others,” explains Smith. In making ourselves understood, this can be an attempt to carve out our own identity in spite of that. “It’s tempting to spend a lot of time thinking about what other people think about us, and not a lot of time thinking about us, as ourselves. It takes an incredibly secure person to say, 'I am who I am, I don’t care what you think'. That’s not always how we naturally operate as humans.”

This is magnified once a person is a celebrity. The misplaced ownership we have over famous people, especially those as knitted into the framework of our society as the royals, means that this parasocial relationship construes its own ‘truth’ about who this person is. Many feel Harry has betrayed our conception of him, by speaking out against the very thing we viewed him as a bastion of. The British public may never forgive him for that. But, I return to Nina Simone's lyrical plea. What has he done, really, except express this fundamental human need to be understood? He has merely removed his identity from our grasp, and taken it back for himself.

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