Is Honesty Always the Best Policy?
~ George Bernard Shaw
I am fully aware that there are many therapists who believe that pure honesty, in every circumstance, is imperative. I am not one of them.
Honesty holds the power to set us free from the bondage of self. We all have secrets, to one degree or another. Secrets we keep from others, and secrets we keep from ourselves. Secrets have the power to keep us sick with shame, depression and fear. Secrets can keep us, or make us, physically ill. In keeping secrets from ourselves, we have been suppressing shame, and that shame becomes laced through the fabric of our self-worth. Honesty with others matters. Honesty with ourselves, and with whatever our concept of a power greater than ourself is, really matters. Honesty always precedes acceptance; without honesty there can be no acceptance.
When we have been keeping secrets and we finally find the courage to get honest there can be a natural tendency to begin projectile vomiting the truth. This often leads us to tell our story in all the wrong places and to all the wrong people. It's as though a bottle of champagne has been uncorked; the bottle overflows uncontrollably, spilling everywhere. It can, to say the least, create a mess that requires cleaning up. I don't know about you, but I like to clean up as few messes as possible.
There are a few critical "who/what/when/wheres" I find genuinely helpful to remember when considering speaking our truth...
1) We have the right to tell others our story. We never have the right to tell anyone another's story. For me this most certainly holds true as a therapist, but it holds equally true as a mother, a wife, a friend, an aunt, and a sibling. If we are not diligent about this it can creep easily into our lives leaving us feeling, well, icky. Speaking to a friend about another friend, or to a family member about another family member? Simplicity and integrity requires us to remember that if the other person is not present we are likely engaging in gossip. Gossip can be really seductive. It can be a delightful distraction from dealing with, well, ourselves. We may convince ourselves that it is born out of concern, or love, and while it can be, it can have consequences that do not reflect this motive. It is, at best, a dicey game to play.
2) Life does not require us to spit out every thought that flashes through our minds. In fact, I believe, the universe would prefer we learn the fine art of keeping our mouth closed 99% of the time. For real. Many who know me well have told me they love how unfiltered I am. What many are unaware of is how filtered what exits my mouth actually is. Years ago I was having lunch with a friend. She and her husband were going through a hard time. They were in therapy and encouraged to be brutally honest with one another. She told me she had recently informed her husband that sometimes just looking at him made her want to throw up. I asked her if anyone had told her she didn't need to actually say stuff like that out loud.
3) Who we speak our truth to matters... a ton. If we consult our intuition we almost always know who in our lives can be trusted, and who will respond with love, compassion, and without judgment. Our therapists should always be one of those people. In our personal lives this can be more of a trial and error process, and in light of that taking baby steps is crucial. We all have that one friend or family member that always (and I mean always) tell us the opposite of what we need to hear. But those people can also be our greatest spiritual teacher in that moment. Through their apparent coldness, or lack of awareness, they can remind us who we really are and what we truly believe. They can be our reality check.
About 17 years ago I shared a detail about my life with someone I knew very little about. She told no one... until we were at a fundraiser 3-4 years later. After a few glasses of wine she loudly announced it to a group of people I had never met. She announced it as a way of letting everyone know how great she thought I was. Her heart was in the right place, I know that. As she and her friends wandered off, I went to open my mouth to my husband. He held up his hand and pulled one of those brilliant spouse moves, saying "You handed her that bat years ago," and I had.
When someone begins a sentence with any version of "I'm telling you this out of love"... run. For real. Run. Hang that phone up straight away. Nothing loving or helpful ever follows that intro. Ever.
4) People need to earn the right to hear our stories. Had the woman I just mentioned earned the right to hear a part of my story? Absolutely not. As such, the consequences of telling her are on me. My truths are sacred and do not belong in the hands of others who would judge me, violate my trust, or make me feel anything less than loved and supported. Social media can be a tempting place to dump our truths and every single time I witness people use this medium as a means of releasing their deepest, darkest secrets I thank God Facebook and Twitter did not exist when I was learning who could be trusted with my truths.
Typically my deepest truths are met by those I trust with unabashed humor. What a gift. Humor is a delightful little smack across the face that leads us to this beautiful space of humility. It helps us get over ourselves. It helps us take ourselves and life less seriously. Brilliant.
5) Never tell anyone a truth until we are emotionally and spiritually prepared to deal with the consequences of how they may respond. Ever. As one who has spent years helping others recover from addiction I have lost count of how many conversations I've had concerning this issue. People early in recovery experience a near compulsion to tell everyone (family, friends, bosses, law enforcers) that they are an alcoholic/addict, with no thought of how they will handle the potential fall-out. It frequently leaves individuals feeling emotionally bruised, rejected, and misunderstood. It is important to remember that once a truth is out there, it's out there. Protecting ourselves is essential if we wish to continue growing.
6) Finally, one of my absolute favorite steps of any 12 step program is Step 9: "Make direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others" (P.S. you are included in the "others"). We do not have the right to be honest with another if that honesty would cause them unnecessary and permanent suffering. We have no right to injure the soul of another. There are a million ways to make amends to another without damaging their sense of safety or of self-confidence. When we share a deep truth with another what we are often subconsciously looking for is forgiveness, and when we are searching for forgiveness from another we run into two problems...First, no one can forgive you but you and second, our truth now has an agenda, a desired outcome. It has become about ego and manipulation.
The purpose of honesty must be about beginning, or continuing, our greatest journey: finding our way back to ourselves. Learning to love and accept ourselves for precisely who we are in each moment, mess and all. Being seen, really seen, makes us feel vulnerable and uncomfortable. I get it, I really truly do. However, it is a crucial step towards getting over ourselves. How can we expect to release, or forgive, what we have yet to acknowledge about ourselves? Lean in, be brave....and breathe.
Peace & Love Always,