How often have you received an emotional wound followed by the justification, “I’m only being honest!”?
“Honesty,” like other sacrosanct words such as “love,” “unselfish,” and “caring” has the ability to put our forebrains to sleep. Just uttering the word can make us rationalize many behaviors that would otherwise not stand up to scrutiny. If you are learning how to better defend your privacy and stand up for yourself, then you had better get really clear about honesty.
If you don’t get clear on the concept of honesty, you run the risk of others using your vague understanding against you. Most commonly, this happens when someone is accused of dishonesty because they don’t tell everything. I’m continually amazed at how many clients struggle with feelings of disloyalty because they harbor feelings they haven’t shared.
There is a common idea that sharing feelings is honest, so not sharing feelings, or not sharing all your feelings, must be dishonest, right? WRONG – or at least, not necessarily. Not sharing your feelings may be tactful, or considerate, or maybe just plain careful. Here’s an idea that may help: Honesty is not the same thing as openness.
Suppose you see something that reminds you of an old relationship while you’re with a new partner. Suppose you know your new partner is a bit insecure and somewhat prone to jealousy. You have several choices. One possibility is to tell all about your feelings for the previous relationship. That would be both open and honest. Another choice would be to tell a “white lie,” saying nothing is going on, even though your partner has noticed a difference. That would be closed and dishonest. However, a third choice might be to say that you experienced some old feelings that had nothing to do with the present relationship, but that you don’t feel ready to share them. That would be closed but honest.
Confusing honesty with openness denies you that third option. It’s that third option of closed honesty that allows you to set necessary limits in your relationships. It can also be considered as maintaining your privacy. For some reason I find this practice is especially hard for people when dealing with their parents. For many young couples, not telling their parents details about their present romance feels like a form of dishonesty. I usually get much resistance when I counsel that they can be closed about many details without being dishonest. It is often discovered that they fear rejection if they’re honest about maintaining a separate private life.
Of course it’s possible to be closed and dishonest as well. A clear example is if you secretly break an exclusivity agreement by having an affair. Sometimes agreements haven’t been explicitly negotiated and then we get into gray areas, but that can of worms will have to be a subject for another time.