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This YouTube video provides perspective on what you'll read in this article.
The video mentions eight self-improvement lessons. I've reduced that to 7:
This is one of a series of articles in Lesson 4 - optimize your
relationships. These articles build on Lessons 1 thru 3, and prepare you for
Lesson 5 (evolve a nourishing family) and Lesson 6 (learn
to parent effectively).
This article is for people wanting to improve honesty in themselves
and their relationships.
The article offers...
why we all lie at times,
enabling others by lying,
"white lies," and...
honesty and intimacy
four common "dishonesty
options for improving honesty with yourself
This article assumes you're familiar
intro to this nonprofit Web site and the premises underlying
How recently have you lied
to or withheld some truth from someone? Can you say why you did so? How did you feel about yourself? How did it affect your
relationship? Your self esteem? How recently has someone important lied to
you? How did you feel and react?
The Truth About Dishonesty
All adults and kids distort or withhold the truth occasionally. We lie with words and/or with our
faces, bodies, voice tones, and silences.
We also tell ourselves small to major lies - delusions, distortions, denials, repressions, hallucinations, and paranoias.
Why do we all do this?
Early in life,
we learned to withhold, shade, or distort our truth when we
felt it wasn't safe to be honest. Experience taught us that if
we were truthful, someone would cause us significant physical and/or
emotional pain - shame, guilt,
rejection, fear, or loss. The pain could come from...
our tireless Inner
Critic, who causes shaming thoughts
like "You worthless, pitiful, loser;" or...
someone we depended on to fill key current
starting with our parents and other caregivers.
So lying is not a character defect, "weakness," or a
despicable moral "failing." It's a symptom of
wounding and the normal human needs for
security and comfort. So
if you want people (including kids) to tell you their truth,
take responsibility for making it
safe enough for them to do so. If they don't feel safe enough internally (from
self-generated shame, guilt, remorse, regret, and fear), that's beyond your
control how you react to them.
Safe from what?
All adults and kids
need to feel consistently safe enough from the pain of...
private or public shame
("I'm stupid, unlovable, ugly, inept, and worthless");
excessive guilt ("I've done
something really bad or wrong"),
anxieties and fears (loss
regret and remorse;
losses (broken bonds) and
grief; and pain from...
despair - the loss of hope
These may combine at times to cause
the pain of overwhelm.
check: think of the last person you lied to, and identify the
discomfort you needed to avoid ["If I had told the truth, then... (what
painful thing might have happened?)"]. Now recall the last person who lied to you,
including a child. What discomfort did they (probably) fear? Do you respect
their right to protect themselves from pain as much as
your right to do so?
About "Pathological Liars"
Have you ever met a
"pathological liar"? That's a shaming "hand-grenade" label because it
carries powerful associations of mental illness, craziness, sickness,
unreliability, dishonesty, and inferiority. Saying or thinking this label
damages relationships and degrades communication effectiveness.
If you accept that adults and
kids lie because their
ruling subselves feel unsafe, then a more accurate,
neutral label is "S/He's
very wounded, and her/his false self often feels it's unsafe to tell the
truth." If you're uncomfortable with a statement like
check yourself for psychological
This YouTube video offers perspective on "pathological
unaware adults promote dishonesty by justifying and enforcing "family secrets." These can be
hiding the truth from (a) each other
("Mom's a closet alcoholic.") and/or (b) from non-family members ("Don't tell strangers
our family's business!”). Each of these is an attempt to avoid expected pains
(above). Secrets are transmitted through silence and/or verbal rules - "We don't talk about what Uncle Charley did to
Often the ritual
of keeping family secrets passes down the generations, until the original
reasons are lost or gone (e.g. "Divorce is no longer as shameful as it once
was"), and/or some family member decides to tell the truth.
Black highlighted this dynamic in her pioneering book "It
Will Never Happen to Me." She observed that typical dysfunctional (low
nurturance) families silently enforce the rules
ask, don't tell, and don't feel." My experience as a family therapist since 1981 validates her observation. Do these silent rules shape your family
relationships? If so, who makes and enforces these rules? What would it take to
choosing to keep and pass family secrets on, what inherited
fears control you?
What are your kids learning about telling the truth in and about their family?
For more perspective on family
secrets, see this after you finish here..
Protecting Others From Pain (Enabling)
Lying to protect someone else
from psychological pain can be caring and/or selfish. Do you agree? If
you tell the truth and see that it hurts your listener, I doubt
that your Inner Critic praises you as a wonderful person.
Protecting others from discomforts ("hurt feelings") often helps us avoid guilt,
shame, anxiety, and remorse. Do you agree?
In the context of relationships, enabling
is hindering someone from admitting a self-harmful condition
like addiction, self-neglect, or a disabled true Self, by not offering them
the truth as you see it. The line between short-term compassion and long-term
enabling can be hard to see. Has anyone ever impeded your growth by
withholding important feedback about you?
Protecting and comforting
others is considered noble and compassionate. This can be self-serving by
sparing us the discomfort of being with someone in pain.
You cannot hurt someone's feelings - only they can. Do
A fundamental decision
underlying every relationship is
"Who is responsible for the quality of your life and mine?" Taking
responsible for an able adult's comfort and safety is inherently
disrespectful and potentially harmful. It implies "I don't trust you to take
adequate care of yourself, and I know better than you."
From this view,
sparing people from "hurt feelings"
by lying delays their potentially
hitting bottom and healing. The challenge is to
want to help you by not helping you," without excessive anxiety and/or guilt. Can you
maintain this attitude about able people you care about?
For more perspective on
enabling, see this
after you finish here.
About "White Lies"
Do you condone or
tell occasional "white lies"? These are intentional (conscious)
untruths we feel are minor, well-meant, harmless, and morally acceptable ("I
told Marissa I liked her new blouse, but it was really ugly!"). Habitual
white lies ("shading the truth") can be toxic to ourselves and our
relationships because they may...
integrity and diminish our self respect;
people's trust in us, because we "leak" our true feelings and
white lies may...
seduce us into
justifying "bigger" deceptions; and...
impressionable kids to justify "small lies" without guilt.
"white" here is associated with "good," and "acceptable" because "I mean you no harm." By
implication, deceptions which intentionally promote or allow harm to someone
would be "black," often associated with evil and immorality.
Typically, we tell white lies because
(a) it's easy, (b) it avoids discomfort from upsetting others, and/or
we don't know
how to give honest, respectful ("tactful")
feedback. For example, you could avoid pretending to like Marissa's ugly
blouse by saying something sincere like "Well, my preferences in colors and
patterns differ from yours. I'm glad you feel good in this blouse."
and notice your thoughts now. Is
your true Self
your other subselves now?
Honesty, Trust, and Intimacy
Would you agree that
"satisfying relationships" depend partly on mutual
comes from experiencing each other over time as steadily wanting to be "honest"
and "genuine" - i.e. "saying what we mean, and meaning what we say." Trust
grows from behaving in a way that consistently matches others' expectations of us in
various situations ("I can always count on Mei Ling to see the bright side
of things," or "She'll always tell me honestly how she feels.")
Think of someone
you distrust, partially or completely. Can you count on them to want to tell you their truth in
all situations? How do you respond to this distrust - acceptance? Avoidance? Confrontation?
Repression? Justification? Complain? Criticize? Gossip? Excuses? Do you get
your relationship needs met well enough often enough with this person?
Depending on the levels
of mutual trust and acceptance, some relationships achievethe prize ofintimacy. Bestfriendsand lovers strive to
maintain this prize - trusting each other to want to risk being completely
honest ("vulnerable") about their most sensitive feelings, thoughts, limits, failures, and
dreams. Have you experienced this with someone?
True (vs. pretended) intimacy flourishes with (a) self awareness and (b) mutual respect +
acceptance + forgiveness + compassion - i.e. with "love".
These traits usually require each
true Self to be consistently guiding them. Do you have any
intimate relationships now? If so, how would you describe the level of
mutual honesty you share?
For more perspective on
primary-partner intimacy, see this after
you finish here.
I assume you're reading this
Some dominant subselves are afraid to
face your own
truth (denial or repression), and/or...
You're afraid to
tell someone something important because...
that may cause them
significant discomfort (you take responsibility for their feelings),
you may be judged to be "rude," "insensitive," or "selfish;" and/or...
disclosing your truth
may damage or end your relationship, and/or honesty...
may force one or both
of you to face something painful, scary, or overwhelming; and/or...
someone is lying about something important to you, themselves, and/or
someone else; and/or...
Someone accuses you of lying when you're
telling the truth.
Let's explore some options
for managing each
of these common problems...
In any situation like those above,
you have many choices to improve honesty with yourself and with other
people. For example...
In All Situations...
for significant psychological wounds. If you find any, make
a top personal priority - i.e.
patiently progress at
If you skip this or put it off, these other options will be of little or no help.
After you study parts 1 thru 3 of this lesson, then see this parts-work
strategy for stopping
the compulsion to lie.
and reduce any relationship barriers like
options have many relationship benefits, not just improving honesty!
Let's look at additional options for each of the "dishonesty problems"
1) You Fear
Your Own Truth
Three common ways
Grown Wounded Children (GWCs)
avoid their truth are denial, repression, and distortion. The "you" who is
afraid is probably one or more
and their devoted
subselves who don't yet trust your true Self and Higher Power
to keep them (you) safe enough. Each subself may have different fears, and
they may scare each other.
learn how to identify each scared subself, and
work with her or him patiently to (a) develop trust in your talented
Manager subselves, and
(b) reduce their anxieties to normal.
perspective, see this
after finishing this article.
2) You Fear Telling
Someone Else the Truth
Local or frequent fear of full
protective false self dominates you. A related problem may be your
well-intentioned People Pleaser and/or
subselves are taking responsibility for the other person's feelings
(enabling them). If you have this problem now, keep the other person/s in
mind as you review these options...
Get quiet and
undistracted, and identify why the dishonest person's behavior affects
what do you need?
kids and adults lie when truth-telling seems unsafe internally and/or
socially, and regard the other person with
empathy and respect, not
Lying to You...
if and when
appropriate, (a) tell the person you're having trouble believing them
about _____. Expect normal resistance (denial, outrage,
justifications, evasions, denials, attacks, withdrawals, etc.) without
explanations or justifications. They'll only provoke arguments, denials,
counterattacks, and/or withdrawals;
and then repeat your observation briefly and calmly with good eye
asking something like "Am I doing something that makes telling me the
truth feel unsafe?"
when I'm unable to believe you on (this topic), I lose trust in
you in general.
If the other person has lied to you repeatedly, you may
say something like...
I've lost my (situational or general) trust in you. Are you willing to
work with me to
rebuild my trust?" If the other person is significantly
be prepared for evasion, ambiguity (double messages), denials, attacks, arguments, or
Lies to Another Person
In addition to
the general options above...
decide if you
confront the liar. If you do, (a) be clear on whatyou need
(e.g. to preserve your integrity and self respect), and (b)
the dishonest (wounded) person.
- confront the liar calmly, and tell them factually what you observe
(vs. what you assume).
Expect defensiveness, justification, hostility, or other normal "resistance."
empathic listening, and restate briefly and calmly what you observe.
- inform the other person you think they've been lied to. Get very clear
why you're doing this. If you do, consider telling the dishonest person of your
actions and why you made them. First
check to see if they're open to
some constructive feedback.
- tell the scared person how their behavior affects you and your relationship
with them. Typical effects are loss of respect and trust, frustration,
avoidances, and perhaps gossip and social labeling ("Maria is a liar.")
A final common "dishonesty problem" is...
4) Someone Accuses You of Lying When You're
Telling the Truth
are to feel hurt, frustrated, resentful, and angry; and to protest,
deny, explain, vent, withdraw, and/or blame. These usually serve to amplify
the stress between both people, unless each is guided by their true Self.
put your Self in charge of your
to confirm you're hearing the other person clearly;
eye contact, assert
your truth simply and directly ("I'm telling you the truth"), and
calmlyexpectresistance (like accusations, name-calling,
attacking, and/or generalizing...);
assume the other person is
unaware of being controlled by a suspicious
needs to distort reality, so s/he is unable to trust
decide if you
need to use an assertive
If you do, take time to compose one, and deliver it calmly and
you accuse me of lying when I'm telling the truth, I feel hurt,
frustrated, and irritated."
Expect resistance, without
empathic listening, and repeat your I-message calmly,
with good eye contact. Repeat this sequence as often as you need to.
if the other
person knows about subselves and false selves, consider asking something
"Which of your subselves needs to feel that I'm lying?"
avoid getting hooked into long defensive explanations, changing the
subject, apologizing, placating, and/or bringing up other issues ("Well
how 'bout the times you've lied to me about _____?!")
Pause, breathe, and reflect -
do these options seem useful in your situation?
Is there anything
that might block you from using them? What may happen if you try your
version of them?
If you find yourself in other
"dishonesty" situations, use the themes here to evolve effective responses.
The more you use these options, the more automatic they'll become. Reflect -
is there someone else you'd like to discuss the ideas in this article with
and/or to ask to be a mutual-accountability partner as you practice them?
This Lesson-4 article
proposes that dishonesty occurs when a subself or a person fears that
telling the truth will cause themselves and/or someone else significant pain - i.e. shame, guilt,
fear, hurt, grief, regret, sadness, and/or despair. The article suggests thatto
increase honesty among subselves or people, you can intentionally seek to
make it safer to tell the truth.