Honesty vs Openness – Part Two

Another reason to practice keeping some feelings private is so you can exercise restraint when tempted to use your honesty as a weapon.  If we’re truthful with ourselves, most of us can remember times we’ve hurt or manipulated another by sharing our “honest” feelings.

You know how it’s done:

First act like something’s on your mind but only vaguely allude to it. Your partner asks you what it is.  You reply that it isn’t important and you really shouldn’t have said anything in the first place. That double message will really hook ’em. When their curiosity has swelled to a fever pitch, they’ll really press you. Now you have full license and SOCKO! You share your feelings (and a lot of opinions about their shortcomings)…but you’re only being honest.  If I sound sarcastic, let me temper it by admitting I am not excluded from the ranks of the guilty.

A good word to remember in conjunction with honesty is “tact.” Tact implies consideration for others. It means you have to think about what you’re doing, how you’re doing it and the consequences that might ensue. Are you going to share information that will likely hurt the other? Will the benefit from the other’s knowledge outweigh the pain that it will bring? Are you thinking of a compassionate way to share the information? Have you looked at your own anger and your desire to punish? These are all questions to help formulate tact. With tact, we have to exercise more choices. We don’t let our unconscious lead us to impulsive action while we rationalize it as honesty. We can have tact and we can have honesty too.

Also consider this:  Is it really safe for you to “let it all hang out” or is this a situation where privacy can protect (you)? Do you want to give this person that much access to your vulnerable feelings? Have they demonstrated trustworthiness?  Are you confident they won’t manipulate those feelings to bully you in the future?

So remember, honesty is not the same thing as openness and that the latter is a personal choice involving our privacy.  Get clear about what honesty means to you, think about how you use your honesty, and practice using honesty as a means of connection and protection.

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Honesty vs Openness – Part One

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.