Illustration by Rebecca Flato
Truth be told: I’m a bit of a fibber. I’m not an out-and-out liar; my deceit is the kind that many of us indulge in—people-pleasing, refraining from telling the whole truth, lying when I’m afraid to be fully authentic, in relationships and in life.
I justify my lies by telling myself that I’m sparing the feelings of others. I don’t want my boyfriend to get mad if I have a complaint about his behavior, or to have a friend be uncomfortable if I ask her to rearrange her schedule to accommodate my needs. But the real truth is that I’d rather compromise my wishes because I don’t want to feel the discomfort of their discomfort. So, “I’M FINE!” is the chirpy refrain of liars like me.
If you too perform this emotional sleight of hand, we need to talk. Here at TMB, 2017 is all about getting real: This is the year to practice more honesty, for ourselves, for the people we love, and even for this messy country of ours, in its supposed “post-fact” era.
Without the truth, we are debilitated.
When I gloss over my personal truth, I do harm to myself by repressing my true, core feelings. Sure, it’s not a big deal to do it every once in awhile, but when this behavior becomes habitual, I stop listening to my intuition or paying attention to what my body is telling me and become more out of touch with myself.
Sooner or later (usually sooner), I eat junk food because I feel like *ish , but you might use other stuff (alcohol, drugs, sex, shopping, workaholism, anyone?) to quiet your psyche. In this culture of distraction, there’s no shortage of ways to check out. How many of us spend too much time Googling the sordid details of the Jolie-Pitt divorce instead of having an honest conversation with our partner about what’s going on in our own romantic life? By numbing out on myself, I am silently withdrawing from my relationships. Thus begins the slow pull toward dishonesty that happens when I am not fully true to who I am.
So how do you start telling more truth?
When I committed to being more honest, I began by telling my truth on paper. I didn’t feel ready to tell my difficult truths out loud, but writing felt safe. And it didn’t take long to discover that my dishonesty was always being driven by either anger or fear. What a revelation! Here I was, being the professional Nice Guy when secretly, I was simmering little pots of resentment and fear over my inner fire. And, because I was taught (like most women) that those feelings weren’t kosher, they would get me to clamp down into some form of dishonesty and guilt.
So I had to come to grips with anger and fear. Here’s some homework to help you do this: Identify a relationship in which you’re uncomfortable, or not fully being yourself. Write down any resentments you may have against that person. Here’s an example, I resent my co-worker for:
Chewing gum really loudly at work
Having a messy desk that spills onto mine
Kissing the boss’s ass
Lethal body odor
Inane coffee cooler talk
TIP: Be exhaustive. You may have ten, twenty or even more resentments against someone. That’s okay. I promise your resentments about the person have a beginning, middle and end, even if they take up a couple of pages. You’ll know when you’re done because you’ll feel nice and relaxed as you’ll see it in black and white. You’ll realize that some of these resentments are small and others are sizeable, some may even be laughable.
TIP: Don’t get complicated or psychological. Just unload the resentments like you’re unloading the bullets from a gun. You are simply dumping energy. You don’t need to understand them or figure them out. Just get them on paper.
TIP: You must write them. Thinking about them or even telling someone doesn’t cut it. I don’t know why, but there is real magic in writing. Pinky swear. Just do it. If you are also feeling fear about a situation, simply list the fears, like this, I’m afraid of:
Making that speech at the convention
Screaming at my co-worker for chewing gum so loudly
TIP: Don’t be afraid of being afraid. We are constantly accruing little fears because we live rich, complicated lives. If anything, fears are just the pressures mounting in our bodies as we strive for better and better existences. Instead of telling yourself to “get over it,” acknowledging it to yourself (and especially writing) the fear actually releases it, and your body stops sending out stress hormones like adrenaline and catecholamine that support the fearful thought. Paradoxically, once your fear is staring up at you from your Moleskine notebook, your body can relax. You’ll feel peace and inner space. I find that writing down all my fears is the best sleeping pill I can take.
1. Get back to your life.
By writing down your resentments and fears, you’ve been honest with yourself. Without that, it’s impossible to be honest with the world. Now that the nasty purge is done, you will feel more peace and ease in your relationships because your inner pressure has been reduced. Sure, maybe your co-worker’s gum chewing is still annoying, but instead of screaming “I’M GOING TO RIP THAT FRIGGIN’ GUM RIGHT OUT OF YOUR SKULL!” you can find a way to say: “Hey, would you mind chewing your gum a little quieter… it’s distracting.” Sound scary? I know what you mean. If you’re not ready to have that conversation yet, practice it with a safe friend until you’re ready. Find a way to say your words kindly so the other person is most inclined to receive your comments. The heart of the matter is that you know deep down, if you don’t say anything, this issue will fester and manifest as sideways anger. That’s why they call it passive aggression.
2. Start small.
Instead of telling your crazy co-worker after a long vacation, “It’s so nice to see you,” try: “It’s nice to be back at work in the swing of things.” Notice the difference. It’s slight, but you know one is more honest than the other.
I found that being more honest in my life required baby steps. I wasn’t ready at first to have the harder conversations with boyfriends or family members until I’d gotten really good at being honest with myself, on paper. Sometimes it doesn’t have to be a “conversation.” It can simply be calling someone out within the proper context, like “I feel uncomfortable when you talk about our mutual friend in that way” or “I’m working on not gossiping.”
Finally, by writing out my fears and resentments, I often feel a softening and forgiveness that makes some of those conversations unnecessary, which is cool. By using these tools on a regular basis, I stay more in touch with myself, my body and the people around me. And because the truth is not just an idea, but a force (Luke Skywalker!), telling myself my truth keeps me on the right track of my life.
Here’s to telling our truths, big and small, in 2017!
If you have story about lying, or truthing, share it with us here.