Has anyone ever lied to you? How did it feel?
Have you ever lied? How did that feel?
I won't guess how either of those felt for you, but I will bet that you answered 'yes' to the first and third questions. I would venture to say very few humans reading this have never told a lie or been lied to at some point in their lives. I mean, we did all have parents of some form or another.
I lied recently and I was surprised as anyone when the fib flew out of my mouth so readily. I have been consciously making an effort NOT to lie for many years now. I was "busted" rather quickly and the person on the other end was hurt, understandably so.
Besides my own experience, lying (and trust) has come up a lot lately, both with clients and in personal conversations. Is my employee lying to me? Why wasn't soandso truthful about that silly little thing? How come I never feel like soandso is giving me the whole story? We're also seeing a boatload of lies and coverups coming to light in the media. It's all around us.
People lie for countless reasons. One of the most popular being "I didn't want to hurt the other person" which most often translates to:
"I want to avoid the conflict that I believe telling the truth would cause".
More on that later.
To rationalize lying, we tend to break them down into degrees of severity. There are the big "OMG, I can't believe he said that, bald-face lies" all the way down to the "little-bitty, teeny-weeny white lies" we tell about something minute. And don't forget the "omission of truth", that's not quite a lie, but we know it may lead someone to believe something that isn't true.
Lying. Is it ever okay?
As a life coach I don't claim to know what is right or wrong for another person nor can I be the moral compass of any other human. That has to come from within. What I do know and want to share is how lying affects relationships, both with ourselves and others. I want to share how lying (not the behavior being lied about) isn't always as malicious as it seems. Sometimes it is another old habit we picked up earlier in life that needs attention and practice to change. Lastly, I want to share how we can set boundaries to create safety as an alternative to lying.
If you value something and aren't honoring that value, there will be turmoil within. If you value honesty and are still in a habit of telling lies, even the little white ones, there will be internal conflict. And inner conflict consumes our most valuable resources - energy and thoughts. These resources could be spent on things more important to us. Inner conflict (or not honoring our values) also leads to distrust within ourselves. It's hard enough to trust our intuition and inner wisdom in a world that spends millions telling us to look outside ourselves for value and truth. But when we aren't doing what we say is important to us, we learn that we can't trust ourselves, which sends us looking outside ourselves for peace, value and answers, which we will never find.
In relationship to others, lying causes disconnect and distrust. Even if the other person doesn't know the truth, there is still this thing that's between you which makes it very difficult to maintain connection and intimacy; not just romantic intimacy, but intimacy between friends and with family. If you are someone who values connection, this is one of the fastest ways to lose it with another person.
We didn't start telling fibs as adults. Like many old habits that no longer serve us, we started lying as kids when at some point in out little kid psyches we got the message that telling the truth was not safe; whether we feared physical, verbal or emotional repercussions or maybe even withholding of love. Whether these fears were a real threat or just perceived in our developing minds, somewhere one of these messages stuck: "If I tell the truth, I won't be loved". "If I tell the truth, I will be hurt". "If I tell the truth, I will no longer be accepted". "If I tell the truth, they will know I am bad".
(Please note, I am not blaming parents in any way for doing their job of disciplining and keeping kids safe. I am explaining how we so often learn a survival skill as kids that we forget to unlearn as adults once we have fully developed cognitive and emotional functioning. Also, I am not condoning any behavior that is being lied about. I am solely focused on how lying affects us).
If honesty is something you have been wanting to work on, perhaps looking at it as a mindfulness practice may help. First, be aware of when you say something untrue. Next, instead of going straight into feeling bad about yourself or becoming defensive, hit the pause button. Take some time thinking about why you said what you said. Was it a habit? Was it fear? What are you really afraid of? Is that a very young fear or a valid adult fear? Is it to avoid conflict? What conflict (are you believing) will it cause?
Conflict is considered a dirty word in so many realms. Conflict in itself is not a bad thing. Yes, it can cause discomfort and it isn't always resolve-able. But very often, when given the chance, conflict can clear the air, correct a misunderstanding and ultimately lead to more connection and trust.
One really important thing I have learned during my practice of honesty is that not everyone needs to know everything about me. In Brene Brown's beautiful book, Daring Greatly, she talks about how, along with cultivating vulnerability (honesty) we must also practice sharing our truth responsibly. She talks about how only certain people in our lives have earned the privilege (by being compassionate, respectful and non-judegmental) of having us open up to them in that courageous way. Which means, YOU get to decide who you share what with.
You don't owe anyone your truth if they haven't earned the right to hear it.
That is not a permission slip to lie, however. This is where you get to put your big kid pants on, practice ownership and empowerment (to create your own safety) and still be honest at the same time. If someone asks you a question or expects information and you don't feel comfortable sharing with them, you can say that.
"I don't feel comfortable sharing that with you".
"It's not important for me to give you that information".
Or something less engaging, like "I'm not available" or "I'm not interested".
Or you can use any other "I" statement that fits. It's important to take ownership and not blame the other ("It's none of YOUR business or YOU don't deserve to know") even if those things are true for you. That may be another conversation for another time.
Also remember that "Yes" and "No, thank you" are complete sentences.
Everything about you is yours; your thoughts, feelings, beliefs, whereabouts, activities, interests, desires. If you don't want to share, you don't have to. But just as importantly, pay attention to the real reason why you don't want to share. Does this person truly not deserve your truth or is this person perfectly safe and willing to hold your truth respectfully, but you are still afraid to share? Or is it something in between?
None of this is black and white. It is as many shades of color as exists in a rainbow. Just as we are all divinely unique people, we create unique relationships with every person with which we connect. This is a practice of awareness, trial and error. And it is a practice. As with every habit we want to change or way in which we want to grow, it doesn't happen overnight. The awareness may be a light switch, but the practice takes time. Be gentle with yourself. Have compassion for yourself and for the people with which you are practicing. We'll never truly know or understand what another person has been through.
Peace, Love and Truth!
(The information above, especially in regards to communication around boundaries, is offered under the assumption that there is physical safety in your relationship. If you do not feel safe practicing this language, then don't. If you need support, you can click here.)
Jacque Saltsman is a Healer and Life Coach who is committed to the empowerment and healing of women locally and globally. Jacque has attended and staffed the Woman Within Training Weekend and sits in an amazing E-circle in her hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. She can be found at jacquesaltsman.com.