The following is adapted from Free for Life.
Being emotionally open with people and letting them into your vulnerable places can be difficult to do, which is why we often stuff down and hide our true feelings. We are unwilling to shift into the receptive mode, which is an elevated state of connection, where we can connect with people to share and accept honesty.
The greatest gift in life is people who care enough to let us in on the honest impact we are having on them. In this context, honesty is an emotional quality, and emotional qualities are about connection and attachment. Honesty has nothing to do with truth, which is an instinctive quality; it has to do with connecting and allowing others to attach to your feeling body and making them aware about the impact they are having on you, and vice versa.
Honesty is the key ingredient that helps us to grow as people and form healthier relationships, and by understanding how honest, authentic expression can improve our lives, we can make ourselves more open and receptive to sharing our experience of others with them and with ourselves.
First, let’s look at an important facet of honesty you may not have considered before.
The Two Types of Honesty
Expecting honesty from other people without first being honest with ourselves leads to confusing relationships built on fear-based coping strategies. You might be thinking, I am honest, but be aware that there are actually two versions of honesty: inner honesty and outer honesty.
Our ability to communicate with others about how we’re feeling about them is outer honesty. It’s my ability to let you in on how I am feeling about how I am being impacted by our connection.
Inner honesty is how well we communicate with ourselves about how a dynamic, situation, person, or opportunity is impacting us. It’s my ability to let me in on how I’m feeling about the effect a connection is having on me.
Some people are good at being honest with others, and some people are really good at being honest with themselves. Some people feel more comfortable being honest with themselves but they don’t feel comfortable letting other people in on how they’re feeling about them. They want to avoid the punishment, rejection, humiliation, violence, and the feelings of separation that can come with honesty.
Honesty Is a Necessary Path to Growth
Practicing outer honesty means being incredibly vulnerable with other people. We avoid being outwardly honest as a means of self protection, and instead, we numb our feelings with various types of addictions (porn, drugs, alcohol, work, exercise, etc.). This avoidance is a strategy to make us feel safe, but it only gives a false sense of security.
We want to share how other people are impacting us, and to hear how we’re impacting them in return. Hearing outer honesty can be difficult—but it gives us the perspective we need for personal growth. Without honest feedback, our ideas about ourselves can easily become warped. Maybe we’re hurting someone emotionally and we don’t even know it. But if no one ever takes the time to be honest with us, how will we know the depth of our impact, both positive or negative? Even if we’re aware we could do better, without feedback, we don’t know where to direct our efforts.
Practicing inner honesty, on the other hand, means being vulnerable with ourselves. Most people don’t want to be honest with themselves—for example, by admitting that a relationship they have with someone else is harmful—because if they were honest, the nature of the relationships they have with themselves and others would need to change. It’s easier in their mind to continue with the status quo even if it’s not working for them. It’s so easy to get stuck in cyclical patterns of self-sacrifice.
When you have a clear understanding of how someone or something impacts you, you can choose where to put your time, energy, effort, and resources to change, or you can find someone who can help you make a positive life shift. You have the right to choose whether or not you want to participate at any level of connection and without access to inner honesty it becomes very difficult to change the nature of relationships that aren’t working for you.
What Keeps People From Being Honest?
If honesty is an important path to growth, why do people hide their true feelings so often?
We keep quiet about our feelings as a defense mechanism to protect ourselves from conflict. If someone is outwardly honest with you and tells you you’re impacting them negatively, your natural reaction might be to withdraw emotionally, deny their perspective, or worse, lash out at them, and live in quilt later.
This tendency to snap back is the reason people often withhold honesty. They put themselves out there, open up, and choose to be honest, but they get a negative reaction. The next time the opportunity presents itself, they may choose to hide their feelings to avoid the same consequences. It’s easier to pretend that everything is okay. Taking up space takes courage and the only person who can stand up on your behalf is you because deep down inside you are the person who knows what you are desiring to experience.
In one way, they’re protecting themselves and you from the negative emotional fallout of the outer honesty, but they’re also robbing you of the opportunity to shift out of states of being, sensing, relating, and emoting that are sabotaging your opportunity to experience life at the highest levels.
Be Receptive to Honest Feedback
Fortunately, you can train yourself to give and receive honesty with less pain so the people closest to you will share their honest thoughts about how you impact them. Remember when your mom came in at 6:30 in the morning and turned on the lights to get you up and ready for school? In that first moment, the light hitting your eyes hurt, but then as you started waking up and embracing your day, the light of day became comfortable, and maybe even enjoyable.
The next time you’re presented with a painful message of honesty, take a minute to breathe before responding. Focus on the positives of the situation: now that you know how you’re impacting someone else, you have the opportunity to grow and improve the relationship. You gain a clearer understanding of yourself and the impact you have on the world, and it means someone cares about you enough to take the risk of being honest. Cherish the people in your life who are willing to share with you the things that are quite often difficult to hear.
Similarly, if you practice inner honesty, you can acknowledge when someone or something impacts you negatively and take steps to change how you interact and relate to them.
By accepting honesty graciously and openly, you’ll invite even more honesty into your life and be able to use that knowledge to become the best version of yourself.
For more advice on inner and outer honesty, you can find Free for Life on Amazon.
Christopher Lee Maher is a former Navy SEAL who endured intense amounts of physical, mental, and emotional stress as a child and during and after his military career. He has taught himself how to free his energy, body, mind and emotions from pain by developing the emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual aspects of being. Christopher studied Traditional Chinese Medical Practices at the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine and at Yo San University, then continued his studies at The Universal Healing Tao System. He is a student of Grand Master Mantak Chia at the Universal Tao Master School in Chiang Mai, Thailand, and is currently pursuing his Master’s and Doctorate degrees in Traditional Chinese Medicine.