Why authentic living involves honesty

Are you denying your freedom when you are discreet, modest or embroider the truth in your interactions with others rather than being yourself?

Example

Imagine a couple are in the process of divorcing.  In an effort to avoid potential criticism or sympathy, one of the parents advises their ten-year old child not to tell people about the break-up. In a conversation with the child, an adult friend asks the child how he is.  The response is the usual ‘fine’, which surprises the friend since she believes the child must be distressed.  It becomes apparent, however, that once the child knows the friend is aware of the break-up, he is able to share his very painful and confusing feelings. What is the cost of the parent’s dishonesty?

By colluding with the desire of the mother to ‘keep things quiet’, the child was being denied his right to engage directly with his emotions and express his needs and concerns. He had appeared upbeat to the friend, maybe in an attempt to mask his real fear and pain.  Once he had been given permission to discuss the situation, he was able to put a label on what he was feeling and process what was happening to him.

Whilst we might be sympathetic to the mother’s distress, the cost of maintaining the pretence that everything in the household is fine, is very high.  Lying, in this instance, is an example of the tremendous price that is paid for lying or colluding with others’ lies. We begin to live in a non-reality and observe our lives from a distance.  In this way, we throw away our freedom.

Alice Miller (1994) has written extensively about the ways in which child development is adversely influenced by having to conform in order to be acceptable.  She suggests that the developing child intuitively conforms to what is required to be accepted in order to guarantee them a measure of existential security.

Whilst not all of us have experienced the extreme emotional deprivation that results in us not trusting our feelings at all and experience of self as separate, social and cultural pressures regularly influence us to modify our truth.  This is where we give our freedom away – all in the name of not upsetting others!

Self-Reflection Exercise

Think of examples from your life where you are regularly modest, discreet or withhold the truth to avoid upsetting someone else.  Write down what the costs and benefits of this behaviour.  Reflect on whether the costs outweigh the benefits and what would happen if you no longer colluded with others’ demands.

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