Honesty is courageous
Truth is an essential component of growth, wellness, and authentic connection. If I’m unwilling to be honest with myself (and others) it’s unlikely that the situation will change or improve in my world. If I deny health issues, dysfunctional relationship dynamics, or my own weaknesses, these problems will only continue or increase.
Health is defined by Merriam Webster dictionary as “the condition of being sound in body.” What does that mean? Soundness indicates a level of consistency, integrity, or sturdiness. When we consider integrity we look at who one is, inside and out, in every scenario. Integrity means truthfulness, even when it’s risky, painful, and the hard route.
Integrity means telling the truth even if the truth is ugly. Better to be honest than to delude others, because then you are probably deluding yourself, too.
Congruence is a psychology term that describes the alignment of our thoughts, actions, beliefs, and emotions. Typically, when individuals are in a state of incongruence they experience strife, anxiety, or internal angst. This can look like Fred who has an external image he keeps up that is nothing like his internal or personal world. It can be Sally who says she comes from a wonderful, loving family but the relationships are actually toxic, she can’t be who she really is around them, and everyone complains about each other without ever resolving problems. It can look like Eileen who feels that her mind is divided. Part of her wants to do things that another part of her opposes and it feels as if these parts of her are constantly divided. Each of these cases are pictures of incongruence. Part of the reason that incongruence is so uncomfortable to us is that it threatens our sense of integrity, our innate desire to be whole, consistent, and internally unified.
While all of us experience incongruence, those who deny it’s existence are stepping out of sync with integrity and reality. Wellness is limited in the absence of truth. If I pretend that weaknesses, incongruence, or problems don’t exist, they will continue and likely increase. For example, if my business operations are unsuccessful, maintaining that they are successful means they are unlikely to change. If my romantic relationship is toxic but I continue to pretend that this person loves me, the results are painful. If a family system has problems that they are unwilling to acknowledge, dysfunction continues or increases. This is the concept of “sweeping things under the rug” or ignoring the “elephant in the room.”
While it’s fairly obvious that ignoring elephants or continuing to pile our “dirt” under a rug is ineffective in the long run, it’s also immensely common. Why?
Why do we often choose denial verses truth?
Being truthful takes courage.
We are accustomed to hiding.
We don't want the responsibility of truth.
Honesty is painful.
It takes courage to admit weakness
Admitting weaknesses requires humility and courage. Many of us are terrified by the idea that we may have problems, may have hurt others, or may be rejected. A common thread in perfectionism, denial, and addiction is a pervasive avoidance of shame, guilt, or pain. What we find is that those who are willing to look themselves in the mirror and be honest are willing to face the shame, judgment, guilt, or blame necessary for growth. For example, an ability to understand our weakness and the way we have negatively impacted others is so powerful that every 12 step program includes this step. We know that in addiction, the presence of empathy for those one has harmed is often the driving force for change. This empathy is impossible without admitting wrong. Empathy for those we have harmed requires being truthful to ourselves and others.
We don’t want the responsibility associated with honesty
Additionally, this process requires acknowledging that we have responsibility for our actions. Admitting our limitations or problems often means there is something we can do about it. When we acknowledge truth and that we have choices in each situation we are moving away from a victim mentality. Victim mentality is described as perceived helplessness. When we believe we are helpless we are in a state (neurologically) that is stuck. A way to quickly address this feeling is to be honest about the choices that we do have. While there are times that true victimization happens in life, long-term growth requires taking responsibility and an acknowledgement that each of us has a choice. For example, one might be given DNA that predisposes them to a number of health issues. While this situation is immensely challenging, in order to experience positive change, this individual has to be honest in regards to whether their choices are positively or negatively impacting their health. Walking in denial allows us more comfort when we are not at a place to accept the responsibility associated with change.
The cost of truth feels greater than present pain.
Often we are terrified of honesty. Will I lose the person I love if I’m honest about the dysfunction in our relationship? If I acknowledge my leadership failures will my employees respect me? Can I bear the pain of admitting to myself that I have hurt other people? Am I able to love others if our relationship is flawed? Can I survive if I fail? How will I cope with the shame of reality? Will the sorrow overwhelm me if I admit that this person does not care for me as much as I want them to? What if people know who I really am? Honesty and a pursuit of integrity require immense courage. Many times we remain in denial because the truth is painful and we have accepted our current discomfort. At times there are reasons to accept current discomforts but considering the long term cost is always important. What is the impact of being honest with yourself and others? What is the impact of denial?
"most of us avoid clarity because we tell ourselves that we're being kind, when what we're actually doing is being unkind and unfair. Feeding people half-truths or bullxxxx to make them feel better (which is almost always about making ourselves feel more comfortable) is unkind."
Brene Brown, Clear is Kind. Unclear is Unkind.
Embracing the courage to be imperfect
Psychologist Sophie Lazarsfeld describes “the courage to be imperfect” as an essential component of change. Without embracing the idea that I have weaknesses, I will never adequately address those weaknesses and, in turn, those limitations continue to follow me. While we often believe that perfection is strength, the result of our attempts to look or be perfect actually decrease our wellbeing and the quality of our connections.
In addition to limiting our growth, honesty and integrity allow us to connect in a more true, deep way with those around us. If I am presenting a false self, others are connecting with a person that doesn’t exist. Over time this produces loneliness and often increases my own shame. Without truth, life is isolating even in the midst of relationship. While truth is risky, the result of relationships based on reality is that doors are opened for others to connect with who you really are and your vulnerability may invite them to bring their whole selves as well.
“Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It's about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”
Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
This is particularly important in relationships. When I am courageous enough to share the truth about who I am, including an acknowledgement of the painful realities, I create a space where others feel safe to do the same. This is immensely powerful on an intergenerational level. For example, when parents embrace their failures, limitations, and weaknesses to their children with vulnerability, honesty, and courage, the children often experience a sense of healing, a deeper connection with their parents, and the freedom to fail themselves. Those children will often then have space to be courageous with their own children about failures, limitations, and weaknesses as a parent. This pattern can create a ripple effect that opens doors for future generations to break free from denial, to embrace growth, and to have more authentic relationships. What a gift we give the others when we embrace “the courage to be imperfect!”
Failure isn’t fatal, but failure to change might be.