Huffpost Healthy Living
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Dr. Judith Rich Headshot

The Problem With Honesty

Posted: Updated:

Cherish the friend who tells you a harsh truth, wanting ten times more to tell you a loving lie.
-- Robert Brault

Most people, when queried, place honesty high on the list of their core values. We believe that being honest with ourselves and with others is crucial to having relationships work effectively. And rightfully so! Who wants to be in a relationship with someone who is a known liar? Who wants to be with someone they cannot trust? Surely, this is a prescription for suffering.

To say that honesty is the foundation upon which healthy, working relationships are built may sound like stating the obvious, and at one level it is. And yet, when asked to look deeper about their personal relationship with telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, most people, if being totally honest, would also have to admit they "shave" the truth -- they either dress it up or down, usually with a noble reason for doing so.

In other words, when the rubber meets the road, this business of being 100 percent honest, even though held in high regard as an essential quality of character, is not so easy to achieve. Most fall far short of their own standards in this area. And, ironically, because this disconnect is so painful to admit, our own dishonesty lives as a blind spot. We don't recognize ourselves as being dishonest because we have a library of built-in stories to justify our actions. And we believe them. Or least we think we do. But let's look closer at the real purpose of those stories.

Sure, your motivation for shaving the truth, even if just a teensy bit, may sound noble enough. If you said what you really thought, you might run the risk of hurting the other person's feelings. Didn't your mother tell you it wasn't nice to do that? And what would that person think about you if you told them the unvarnished truth? Aren't you just a bit worried about your own image if you laid out the no-holds-barred truth?

We tell ourselves we're being compassionate by sparing someone our honest feelings. Unconsciously, we think they're incapable of being with or handling our honesty, so we're really doing them a favor by dressing it up in nice clothing so it's pretty and palatable.

But whose feelings are really being spared? Who are you really protecting when you "spin" the truth and, in effect, be dishonest: the other person, or yourself? Aren't you really more concerned about your own feelings than the other person's? Tell the truth now. Isn't it your own unwillingness to be uncomfortable and your inability to be with the truth that is the core of the problem here?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting you be a jerk and regurgitate your unexpressed feelings all over someone, leaving them dripping with your venom and anger. That is as irresponsible as telling a lie or shaving the truth.

The challenge of being 100 percent honest lies in navigating our own resistance to exposing ourselves and expressing our true feelings, especially when we fear the consequences of doing so. But somewhere between withholding honesty and using it as a hurtful weapon there is a way of expressing the inconvenient truths, the hard and difficult ones that can bring people closer together, and open new possibilities for the relationship. This is a critical skill to learn.

Anybody can tell the truth when it's easy and doesn't threaten the status quo of a relationship. But as all relationships go, at some point we'll reach a place where things get mired in misunderstanding, where we begin to make assumptions about the other, where our fantasies about each other clash with reality, where we begin to see the other as less than the ideal image we made up about them in the beginning. When those character qualities we initially thought were "cute" or "charming" turn into character "flaws" that now irritate and annoy, we're challenged to address them or look at ourselves with all honesty and recognize those qualities as mirrors of our own shortcomings.

Who Can You Look To As A Role Model?

Looking at the landscape of life today, can you point to anyone who is a role model for honesty and integrity? Surely as we look at the national or international scene, we find few examples. Today we're drowning in an ocean of dishonesty and hypocrisy. No one trusts the politicians. We know they only say what they think will help them get re-elected. Politicians pander to those who wield the most money, who in turn lobby the politicians for access to power. And so it goes. The Rupert Murdochs of the world are not that unusual anymore. They may be lesser-known, but there are many just like him, lurking in the hallways of power.

The banking industry and Wall Street, the Koch brothers, George Soros, all examples of the marriage of money, power and politics, all of which have absolutely nothing to do with honesty, integrity and truth. Honesty is a joke in today's world.

So how do we tell the inconvenient truth? How do we live up to our own standards of honesty, be true to our core values, when doing so seems likely to upset the apple cart? How do we remain true to ourselves and not compromise our integrity when we're confronted with a situation that requires standing in our truth and facing the consequences of doing so? How do you embrace your own truth and speak it without compromise?

Prescriptions For Telling The Inconvenient Truth

  1. Be honest with yourself -- Honesty is an inside job. Recognize your feelings and own them. Don't suppress or avoid what you feel. Suppressed feelings will only resurface in some distorted way, either amplified, blown out of context or as stress in the body, insomnia, headaches, etc.
  2. Be 100 percent responsible -- Recognize that no one is "making" you feel the way you do. Don't shift blame to the other person. The only one who has power over what you feel is yourself. Take ownership of your feelings and express them as such.
  3. Acknowledge to the other person the mirror they are for you -- The truth is, there's nobody else out there. It's all just you and your own projections. Whatever you're upset about in another is showing you something you can't be with in yourself. We're all standing in a hallway of mirrors, seeing our own greatness or smallness reflected back. What we judge or reject in others is a reflection of what we judge or reject in ourselves. Own it and express it as such.
  4. Acknowledge your blindness -- It's much easier to see someone else's faults than it is our own. Many times, the only way we can see our shortcomings is through observing our reactions to others. When we have a "charged" reaction to someone, it's our blindness that doesn't allow us to see what's really going on. In fact, the other person is unwittingly triggering something in you that wants to be healed.
  5. Express gratitude to the other for helping you see yourself more clearly -- We attract to our lives exactly who and what we need to help us become whole. Yes, the other person has their own issues of incompleteness to deal with, and that's why you're in their life. In truth, the two of you are conspiring, probably unconsciously, to move in the direction of wholeness. Why not do it consciously?

George Washington was right: Honesty is the best policy. It is the way to move from being asleep and unconscious and settling for mediocrity to being fully awake and creating the quality of life you really desire.

And honesty will cost you something. Next time: "The Prices of Honesty." Stay tuned.

For now, what do you see about yourself and honesty? How and where do you tend to compromise your honesty? What stories do you use to justify shaving the truth? How has it worked in your relationships?

Blessings on the path.

Please feel free to leave a comment in the space below and/or drop by my personal blog at Rx For the Soul.

Become a fan and be notified when new posts appear each week. For personal contact I can be reached at: judith@judithrich.com.