We all practice deceit.
We knowingly withhold information that would make people think less of us. We lie or reframe pesky facts in order to manipulate others into getting what we want. Or we ignore reality in the face of irrefutable evidence.
So we don’t tell our spouse we feel attracted to our colleague to avoid painful discussions about the lack of intimacy. We tell ourselves we love our job, because admitting the opposite means facing up to the fact we’re in a rut. And we brag about our successes for fear others will see us as failures.
Such lies and omissions arise out of self-preservation and are as much part of the social fabric as ironic t-shirts and health fads. Dishonesty insulates us from reactions we fear or emotions we find hard to receive. After all, why not tell a little white lie if it means avoiding guilt trips and the silent treatment?
Dishonesty can also protect us from toxic shame.
When people close to us reject something essential to our sense of self – say our desires, our gender, our very presence – the ensuing shame is unbearable. One effective way to not feel that shame is to not express that part, to deny its very existence or even to actively shame others for being like that.
Dishonesty can mean pretending to be straight when we’re gay or pretending we’re confident about our job when deep down we’re afraid of being uncovered as a fraud. Or it means not showing our intelligence, our bravery or our kindness, because expressions of these qualities were ridiculed or rejected by those closest to us.
Sometimes parts of us get hidden so thoroughly we forget they are there. It’s the ultimate protection from pain: forgetting we’ve hidden a wound that hurts. It’s a common way for dealing with traumatic events like being blamed, shamed, beaten, ignored, violated, bullied or discriminated against.
DISHONESTY IS NOT KINDNESS
Some people would argue that when the truth is harsh dishonesty can be an act of kindness. “I can’t tell him I no longer love him, he would be devastated.” “She already has low self-esteem, if she hears no one liked her presentation it wil send her over the edge.”
You may be convinced you’re acting out of kindness, but chances are you’re fooling yourself. Nine times out of ten (true, because I made up the number) this kindness is actually prompted by the fear we feel for someone’s sadness, anger or whichever emotion it is we find hard to handle.
Telling the other person we no longer love them means having to deal with their hurt. Saying we actually disliked the presentation means having to deal with someone’s disappointment. If we find this too hard, we wil avoid it.
Now, I am not suggesting it’s ok to be brutal or to just blurt out whatever comes to mind. There is a right time to say something and truth expressed with genuine care can be healing, even freeing. But it doesn’t hurt to critically evaluate our angelic intentions when it comes to protecting others from the truth.
PROTECTION, BUT AT A COST
So in one way or another, dishonesty is a way for us to protect ourselves from emotional and existential pain. And while that strategy is effective, it is also immensely costly.
The truth has a tendency to come out, whether as a subtle sense that the other is not being truthful or finding an explicit message from another woman on your partner’s phone. When uncovered, dishonesty can lead to a breakdown of trust or cause resentment, which can undermine relations for decades to come.
Dishonesty also means we’re not fully present and not fully transparent about our values, our motives, our needs. Dishonesty means not taking a stand for what we believe in and not giving ourselves what we need.
On a deeper level, dishonesty means suppressing ourselves, our spirit, our identity, which not only costs tremendous energy but also causes a far deeper, more existential wound, which is self-denial.
The results can be tragic. It can mean not truly living our values and desires, remaining disconnected from our purpose, not being intimate with others and not bringing our goodness and gifts into the world.
EXPRESSION OF SELF-LOVE
Ultimately, dishonesty is the victory of pain and fear over courage and love. Which makes me wonder: what would happen if we begin to see honesty as an expression of self-love?
It we truly, deeply, and unconditionally love ourselves – regardless of what we do and what other people say and feel in response to that – we have no reason to hide who we really are and what we really think or feel.
If we love ourselves, we cannot but act with integrity, in line with our values and beliefs. If we treat ourselves with tenderness and compassion, we allow our shadow parts to emerge, which in turns deepens the relationship we have with others and ourselves.
The more we become free of artifice and secrecy, the more we become peaceful and whole. Living truthfully liberates energy, opens up space for more intimacy and encourages others to do the same.
It’s not easy to live truthfully. It means healing old wounds and looking at our shadow parts, which is hard work. It means dealing with other people’s wounds, which can be tiresome. And living truthfully can mean letting go of the people and places we have feelings for.
So where to start? Perhaps by being as honest as you can with yourself. In the privacy of your own head and heart ask yourself:
- Which parts of me would I love the world to see if I felt it was safe?
- What would I not want others to know about me?
- Which annoying habits of other people do I tolerate?
- What would I need to let go of or develop within me to speak more truthfully?
There is no need to share your findings with anyone else, just have a conversation with yourself. So you can begin to see what you truly need, truly feel, truly miss. Just make sure you do it gently and patiently, as you would be holding an infant in your hands.
Ilja van Roon
P.s. If you are curious to know what prevents you from being more truthful, come in for a half-day Free Exploration.
P.p.s Donald Trump, are you listening?