“He who dares not offend cannot be honest.” – Thomas Paine
“Most of us feel that others will not tolerate emotional honesty. We … defend our dishonesty on the grounds that it might hurt others; and having rationalized our phoniness into nobility, we settle for superficial relationships.” Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am? – John Powell.
What is deep honesty? Ability to communicate our thoughts, perceptions, feelings, body sensations, needs, etc. in a straightforwardand respectful way.
Why aren’t we honest more frequently? Reasons include believing, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all.” Most of us did not learn functional relationship and communication skills. Irresponsibly delivered “honesty” has often led, in the past, to negative outcomes.
Pre-Requisites for Deep Honesty
Know Thyself. Desire to be aware of, and in touch with our thoughts, judgments, interpretations, emotions, perceptions, body sensations, values, etc. and a willingness to reveal and share what we are experiencing with others. We obviously can’t be honest with others when we are not in touch with our inner selves.
Addictive behaviors, which are rampant in modern Western culture, serve to help people disconnect from their emotional baggage sometimes referred to as the “pain body.” Leaving addictive behavior behind if often challenging since the unresolved pain and traumas are bound to surface. The path of personal growth is working towards acceptance and tolerance for all our thoughts and feelings including jealousy, anger, rage, terror, toxic shame and also the positive emotions of happiness, joy, love etc. If you are not in touch with your feelings/body consider therapy including Somatic Therapy.
Bravery. It takes courage to face our fears of being honest and learn to console our frightened selves, which is often a younger aspect of ourselves. Honesty requires vulnerability, the ability to tolerate disagreement/conflict, a willingness to listen and learn more functional relationship/communication skills, let go of the “right/wrong dynamic” (ego) and choose instead intimacy and authenticity. Many of us learn to substitute being “nice” with being “real”. We work towards becoming more comfortable with the unknown, trusting Life and others, and letting go of the attachment to outcome.
Share with safe people. It is a part of self-care to share our deepest selves only with safe people- those we trust to accept and honor our inner truth without judgment. though they may also have their own emotional reactions. Be aware that some people use “not feeling safe” (feeling fear) as an excuse to not be vulnerable; get feedback from friends/mentors/therapists/wise ones. As we become more skillful, we often are surprised that we can say almost anything without others reacting poorly. We also learn we do not need to share everything in our minds/hearts.
Know the “Dangers of Dishonesty”.
- Living an inauthentic life or illusory life
- Disconnection with self, others, Higher Power.
- Fuels addictive behaviors leading to holding resentments, emotional constipation, a relentless quest for love, and even physical harm.
- Denies us the possibility of ever feeling truly loved for who we are. How can I trust that anyone really loves me when I haven’t shown them who I really am?
Know the “Gifts of Honesty”.
- Path to and the result of self-actualization.
- Leads us to deeper connection with our authentic selves resulting in greater intimacy and integrity with self, emotional intelligence, empathy and sense of wholeness.
- Generates connection, satisfaction, intimacy, depth, affection, genuineness in our relationships.
- Can lead to more tenderness, a richer experience of life, peace, joy, love, respect, sexual pleasure
- Weeds out people who aren’t open to authenticity.
- We eventually learn we are loved for who we are.
Know honest communications are short and simple.
Do your own inner work first. Avoid impulsivity. It can take significant writing/processing with mentors/friends/therapist to get clear what to say or not to say. As you gain skill and experience you may get to the place where you can maintain being emotionally responsible “under fire” but this is a long-term goal.
Remember that “honesty without tact is cruelty.” Being brutally honest is a character defect that alienates others. Ask:
- Is this any of my business?
- Am I being sensitive?
- Am I being kind?
- Is what I am saying true? Is it my deepest truth?
- Is it necessary I share this?
Check your motivation. Is your intent to relate or control? When your goal is to relate, you are most interested in revealing your true feelings, learning how the other feels, and connecting heart-to-heart. When your intent is to control, you are most interested in getting things to turn out a certain way – avoiding conflict, getting the person to like you, being seen as knowledgeable or helpful, etc. (From “Truth in Dating: Finding Love by Getting Real” by Susan M. Campbell, Ph.D.)
Accept that relationships can get messy. The person you are being honest with may get defensive, upset or counter-argue but that doesn’t mean the conversation’s over. Interactions between human beings are less messy when we are straightforward.
Guidelines for Honesty
Warming Up. When we have strong feelings, fears or shame about being revealing, we can venture into the scary waters with vulnerable and intimate lead-ins that tend to createcuriosity, interest, support and lay the groundwork for you to wade in deeper. Some examples are: “I’m taking a risk by telling you the truth,” allows for complete honesty without sugarcoating, but it lets the person you’re being honest with know you’re coming from a place of vulnerability. “I am scared to tell you this. I am afraid you will not listen to me and you will react.” “I want to share something with you but I have a lot of shame telling me not to”. “I want you to know that I am sharing this with you because you are important to me and I don’t wish to harbor a resentment”.
Distinguish facts/data from interpretations. It is essential that we learn to distinguish facts or the raw data from interpretations, which are the meanings our minds make up or the story we create about the facts. Our minds do this at the speed of light so it takes training to separate them. The facts are what you would see if watching a video playback of the situation. “You walked into the room and left in two minutes” are the facts if the other person remembers it the same way. Our interpretation may have been, “You don’t like me.” State the facts or data clearly and concisely. “I lent you $100 with our agreement you would pay me back in one week and it is now 5 weeks later.” “You are not trustworthy” is one possible meaning our minds may have created about the facts. Share the data, you thought/thoughts/interpretations (my mind made the meaning), judgments/emotions, feelings, body sensations.
Don’t confuse thoughts/concepts with emotions. Betrayed is a concept or “false feeling” and not a primary emotion. How did you feel when you interpreted or your mind made the meaning of the data/facts that you were betrayed? Other common concepts that people often try to pass as feelings are “abandoned” and “rejected”. We don’t feel rejected; something happened that we interpreted as rejection. Ask yourself what you felt when you thought you were rejected, abandoned, betrayed. Additionally, people often say they felt “uncomfortable”. You might inquire what emotions are they uncomfortable with? What is under the discomfort? Stick with the primary emotions- fear, anxiety, sad, hurt, happy, angry, frustrated, distrust, disappointed, grief, shame, etc. If you have mixed feelings, expressing them all can add depth to your communication.
Use extreme caution sharing judgments. Expressing judgments generally triggers defensiveness in the other. If you choose to share a judgment preface it with, “I made the judgment that ________.” This can help you move past the judgment into a deeper conversation that is more intimate and connecting.
Use “I” statements. “I think you are a jerk,” is not the most responsible “I “statement. It is an improvement compared with,“You are a jerk,” because you are now owning your judgment of the person.
Hang on to yourself. Many people, especially from dysfunctional homes, dissociate or abandon their inner reality when stressed and check out of their emotional, intellectual and even physical bodies. Work to stay in touch with yourself and if you notice you have checked out, bring yourself gently back to the present moment; consider sharing “I have dissociated, can you please repeat that?”, if in a conversation. Work to stay connected with your feelings and not repress them. Give yourself permission to feel a wide range of emotions. We are complex beings that often feel a combination of conflicting and ambivalent feelings.
Hang in with the other. Be willing to stay connected (relational) and in the process with the other/s. Avoid dumping your honesty and disengaging. If you’re going to be honest with someone, come prepared to express yourself and then to listen to their experience of the situation. These conversations can be a back and forth process as the conversation meanders down to deeper levels.
Go for mediation if necessary.
The Center for Non-Violent Communication. https://www.cnvc.org
Susan Campbell, PhD. Honesty expert, relationship counseling & honesty salons. Tools & Tips for honest relating in love and work. Author of “Getting Real” and “Truth in Dating: Finding love by getting real.” Lives in Sebastapol. http://www.susancampbell.com