Dare to Be Honest

Photography by: courtesy of Shutterstock

Truth or consequences
LIVING truthfully is an avenue to self-healing, says Campbell. It's a crucial tool to help people face old fears of rejection or abandonment and wounds that they may have acquired in childhood. "Being honest helps you stop avoiding emotional pain so you're more able to be with what is," she says. "Getting real is an inner practice for bringing you into the moment." The result can be a clearing away of psychological clutter, greater freedom from fear, and a kind of clarity that leads to a stronger sense of well-being.

Research on the benefits of disclosing versus suppressing feelings suggests that doing the former can reduce your susceptibility to illness. James W. Pennebaker, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, and author of Writing to Heal: A Guided Journal for Recovering From Trauma and Emotional Upheaval, has conducted numerous clinical studies on the psychological and physiological effects of talking and writing about emotional experiences. His conclusion: "Emotional expression may have important links with the functioning of the immune system."

Dale Larson, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Santa Clara University in California, developed a self-concealment scale that is widely used in the helping professions. "We have found that self-concealment is associated with more physical symptoms and higher levels of depression and anxiety," he says. Apparently, both the body and the mind have to work extra hard to lie and keep secrets.

Honest to goodness
TELLING THE TRUTH also does wonders for relationships. When we hold our tongues to avoid a conflict--declaring to our partners that we don't mind yellow wall paint when we really want green--the feeling doesn't just disappear. Presbyterian pastor Mark D. Roberts, author of Dare to Be True: Living in the Freedom of Complete Honesty, believes that the cost of avoiding even superficial conflicts can be quite high. "You lose the ability to be yourself with your own family," says Roberts, "and you sacrifice an authentic, growing, healthy relationship" with a spouse or child or friend.

Of course, knowing what you believe is one thing, but saying it out loud to people who have their own feelings and reactions can be quite another. Such communication requires tact, empathy, trust, good timing, and a willingness to take chances. Campbell has developed specific language for practicing honesty in a safe and productive way. Most important, she says, is that "you cart only be honest about yourself." Truth is rarely objective; therefore, all we can really do is refer to our own perceptions of it.

In addition to its subjectivity, the truth can be messy, distasteful, even painful. "But when we take a risk and speak the truth," Campbell maintains, "we often find out that we can handle it, and we become inwardly stronger. And often the relationship benefits as well, because the air has been cleared."

Practicing honesty in relationships not only deepens intimacy and authenticity, but also produces better results with less effort. Cole, who pens a syndicated column, runs her own business, and tends to her husband and new baby, simply doesn't have the time to lie. "Stalling is very inefficient," she says. "I don't want people coming back to me again and again; I'd rather tell them no at first, rather than hedge things."

Her comment reminds me of my potential landlady. To have avoided rejecting her cottage would have cost me at least one more phone call, plus the guilt of knowing I was leading her on. But as Cole puts it, "Being nice is not nice. Being kind is nice. But playing nice is often a lie."

There are times, even with strangers, when being real rather than "nice" brings unexpected rewards. Perhaps the next person who asks how you're feeling really wants to know. If you answer truthfully, you may be surprised at the sparks of revelation and connection that can be created in a moment of pure honesty.