‘You won’t love me if I tell you the truth about me’.
‘I can’t love you if you don’t.’
I can’t remember the first lie I ever told. I can’t remember how I learned it, or the exact moment the idea came into my head to choose to construct a little fiction instead of telling the truth. I’m certain I knew I was about to get into trouble for something I’d done, and that punishment was one I wanted to avoid at all costs.
Psychologists say that we learn lying at the age of two or three years old. It’s a phase in our development; something we learn to do as our cognitive skills improve. Parents punish us when we break the rules, and we learn how to avoid those consequences by lying.
From when we first learn to lie, every time we choose avoid telling the truth what we’re really doing is trying to exert control over a situation. We are trying to manipulate the reactions of the people around us and influence their thoughts and behaviours about us, about themselves, about others, and about the world.
We learn to lie in a thousand different ways – saying yes when we really mean no, saying we’re fine when we know we’re not, by refusing to speak up when someone has angered or hurt us. Perhaps we think that they aren’t bad lies. After all, it’s not like we’re saying something that could hurt somebody else.
But sometimes I think we miss what’s going on with us.
There’s a moment right after our hearts react and before the words come out of our mouths. It’s an opportunity to consider our response, how much of our inner selves we’re going to let out this time, how far open we’re willing to crack the window to our souls. It’s the moment of truth, I guess you could say.
This moment can sometimes be difficult and scary and so we hesitate; we pause just long enough for the fear to get in. We don’t want to risk them leaving or hating us so we refuse to tell them the truth. We hold back. We tighten our grip on the situation and we hang on to control.
By telling the truth we give someone all the information they need to see us clearly and decide for themselves what they are willing to give to us, whether that’s their joy, their sadness, their forgiveness, or their trust.
By telling the truth, we hand over control and allow those in our lives to make their own choices about their actions and behaviour.
And that means that we risk the outcome not being exactly how we want it to be.
But, by not telling the truth, by not showing people who we really are, by hiding our weird, wacky and imperfect sides away from the view of others, we smother the personal, intimate, empowering connections that we all (we ALL) so desperately need for our survival.
I can’t guarantee how the people in your life will react to your truth-telling. I can’t tell you they will stick around, or forgive you, or understand how you’re feeling. I can’t even guarantee you won’t get hurt in the process.
But, I can guarantee this:
The discomfort, the awkward conversations and the healthy conflict will serve you and your relationships. When they do stick around, do forgive you, do understand, and love you in spite of your flaws, you’ll know it’s real.
It takes a tremendous amount of courage, but telling the truth about who you are and how you experience the world will take you closer to being loved and accepted for who you really are – not just who you pretend to be.