Honest Relationships: Daring to Tell the Truth
Sep 28, 2011 10:17AM
By Frances Lefkowitz
Small lies are a big part of our lives. We tell them for convenience and comfort, to smooth things over for others as much as for ourselves. “It’s all right with me,” we say, when it’s not. “I’ll call you,” we insist, when we won’t. Perhaps in the most pervasive prevarication of all, we say we’re “fine,” when we aren’t.
“The most common lies are told to avoid conflict,” says psychotherapist and relationship coach Susan Campbell, Ph.D., author of such titles as Getting Real, Saying What’s Real and Truth in Dating. “People want harmony, but this compulsive quest gets in the way of true harmony.”
To admit the truth to oneself and then speak it can be difficult, even though the rewards far outweigh the risks. “The most important thing you can do for your personal growth is to be honest with yourself,” advises life coach and workshop leader Harriette Cole, author of Choosing Truth. Honesty, she explains, begins with the self and emanates outward. Once we face our own true feelings and beliefs, we can start to act on them, bringing our behavior, relationships and professional lives into alignment. She’s found that, “Truth is essential for healthy living.”
Truth and Consequences
Living truthfully is an avenue to self-healing, counsels Campbell. It’s a crucial tool to help people face old fears of rejection or abandonment and wounds they may have acquired in childhood. “Being honest helps you stop avoiding emotional pain, so you’re more able to be with what is,” she says. “Getting real is an inner practice for bringing you into the moment.” The result can be a clearing away of psychological clutter, greater freedom from fears and more clarity that leads to a stronger sense of well-being.
James W. Pennebaker, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Texas, in Austin, and author of Writing to Heal, is renowned for his ongoing clinical studies on the mental and physical effects of expressing emotional experiences. He writes, “Psychologists have a strong sense that talking or even writing about emotions or personal upheavals can boost autonomic nervous system activity, immune function and physical health.”
Dale Larson, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Santa Clara University, in California, who developed a self-concealment scale that has been widely used in the helping professions, further comments: “We have found that self-concealment is associated with more physical symptoms and higher levels of depression and anxiety.” Apparently, both the body and the mind have to work extra hard to lie and keep secrets.
Honest to Goodness
Telling the truth does wonders for relationships. When we hold our tongues to avoid a conflict—declaring to our partner that we don’t mind green wall paint, when we really want yellow—the feeling doesn’t just disappear. Rev. Mark D. Roberts, Ph.D., author of Dare to Be True, sees in his ministry that the cost of avoiding even superficial conflicts can be high. “You lose the ability to be yourself with your own family,” says Roberts, “and you sacrifice an authentic, growing, healthy relationship,” with a spouse or child or friend.
Yet, speaking your truth to others that have their own feelings and reactions requires tact, empathy, trust, good timing and a willingness to take chances. The cornerstone for practicing honesty in a safe and productive way is that you can only be honest about yourself. Truth is rarely objective; therefore, all we can really do is refer to our own perceptions of it.
In addition to its subjectivity, the truth can be messy, distasteful and even painful. “But when we take a risk and speak the truth,” Campbell maintains, “we often find out that we can handle it, and we become inwardly stronger. Often the relationship benefits as well, because the air has been cleared.”
Practicing honesty in relationships not only deepens intimacy and authen- ticity, it also produces better results with less effort. “Stalling is inefficient,” notes Cole. “I don’t want people coming back to me again; I’d rather tell them no at first, rather than hedge.”
“Playing nice is often a lie,” she elaborates. “Being nice is not nice. Being kind is nice.”
Being real, rather than nice, can bring unexpected rewards, even with strangers. By answering truthfully, you might be surprised at the sparks of revelation and connection sometimes created in a moment of pure honesty.