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Weekly Wellness Word: Honesty

Monthly Theme: Communicating

This week’s word is Honesty

I walked into a shop in downtown Bangalore, India, with a group of friends. We were admiring the beautiful, colorful patterns, materials, garments and shawls offered for sale by the proprietor. Seeing my interest, he showed me one fabric choice that was decidedly pink in color. I responded, ‘I don't like pink.’ He tilted his head quizzically and looked a little confused. He then pointed to the dress I was wearing, which was definitely a shade of pink. Embarrased, I admitted, ‘It was given to me.’ So why, I now ask myself looking back, was I wearing a dress in a color that I don't even like? Probably because I didn't want to hurt the feelings of the person who gave me the dress. I was not being true to myself when wearing that dress. It was not an honest representation of who I am nor of how I want to present myself to the world. A really great question is whether I would have told the truth about not liking pink had the person who gave me the dress been with me in the store. I must admit that would have made it much harder to be honest about why I didn't want to buy the pink fabric. I cringe to think of how many other pieces of clothing I have draped over my body in my life that totally misaligned with my own tastes and preferences.

We've all been in some similar type of situation. We face a decision of whether to be honest or to lie. We fake appreciation and pretend to love something that we really dislike. This type of duplicity has a spiral effect, however. We then have to remember to follow-up our lies with more lies in order to mask the first lie. Consider for a moment about how this type of dishonesty drains our energy. It is wearing to keep up pretenses and constantly produce the appearance of an emotion that we don't feel at all. What if we didn't have to continually do this? What if we could be honest and respond in an assertive way? A way that both shows respect and yet creates a more realistic expectation in the other person’s mind towards us for our future behavior. Being honest from the get go nips the spiral of pretense in the bud before it starts. And just imagine how that frees us for the days ahead. How might we use that energy if it weren't tied up in maintaining the fake masks we wear?

There is a complexity that comes when we try to keep track of our chain of lies. Honesty simplifies our communications by eliminating the effort needed to take mental note of what we've said to whom to try and please others. Imagine how freeing it would be if you just shared yourself with others authentically. Choosing how to respond to people becomes infinitely simpler. You don't have to make mental note of who you are with and whether they will approve or disapprove of your conversation, because you make a habit of being respectful yet assertive. And imagine how much more confident and authentic you might feel showing up to a conversation as you, the real you.

Think back to the last time you said that something was one way when you really felt the opposite. Or maybe you agreed to something that you didn't want to do, or pretended to like or dislike something simply because the person you were with liked or disliked it. Consider what you lost by doing so. There is always a cost to these things. What might you have given up that you might have gained by being honest? Imagine what you might have built or achieved that is now less likely because the opportunity has seemingly slipped away. Think creatively about how you might have been more assertive and authentic in the situation. Practice what you might have said out loud. Notice the emotions that emerge as you say now what you wanted to say then. Reflect deeply on any feelings of anxiety, fear or uncertainty that arise when you say it and see if you can identify their source. Write your reflections in a journal if that is helpful to you.

Quote of the Week

"Assertiveness basically means the ability to express your thoughts and feelings in a way that clearly states your needs and keeps open the lines of communication with the other person. By blocking our feelings, we may create tensions that collect in different parts of our bodies. Eventually they may surface as illness of some sort.

We tell ourselves that we don't want to hurt other people's feelings. Our friend might be insulted if we were to admit, 'I really don't want to go out tonight.' So, instead, we smile and say, 'Sure,' or 'I'd love to,' while inside we churn with anger or sadness or frustration.

It takes a great deal of effort to continually walk the fence, trying to please all the people, all the time. But that's what we must do to remain 'nice guys' or 'sweethearts.' We have to swallow hard, breathe lightly, walk on tiptoe, and maybe end up with stomach ulcers, or arthritis, or cancer. The body will allow just so much repressed emotion to collect. Then it will have its way.

Our reluctance to be assertive often stems from confusing this type of communication with aggression, but they are simply not the same. If someone is talking near your seat in a movie theater, the aggressive response is, 'Shut up!' The assertive response is, 'I can't hear the film. Would you please be quiet?' The first one is hostile. The second is firm but respectful - and probably does the job much more effectively. Hostility breeds hostility. Firmness with respect leaves the other intact.

Taking care of your own needs, taking charge of yourself (or letting others take charge, as appropriate), expressing an unpopular opinion, saying no when that is what you mean, are among your privileges as a human being. To refrain from doing so in situations of importance to you may undermine your peace of mind, your self-esteem, and your body's natural inclinations towards equilibrium."

- Wellness Workbook by John W. Travis, MD, & Regina Sara Ryan

Next Step

Want to explore your level of assertiveness? Check out this assertiveness test from Psychology Today.

Further Information

For a deeper dive on the benefits of honesty and some helpful reflection prompts to discover your personal level of honesty, check out this blog post from Elemental Wellness Coaching.

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