honesty

Telling the truth…

 

I watched an interesting movie last night called Marguerite (available on netflix). It’s a curious story of a wealthy French baroness, at the beginning of the twentieth century. The basic plot is that she is a long-devoted wife, driven slightly mad by her husband’s lack of love or attention. Her only outlet is music. She is enamored with it, obsessed even, with opera and singing. Yet, despite her insatiable passion for the art, she can’t sing at all. Like not even a little. But she doesn’t know that. 

Oddly, her wealth and status afford her a very sheltered (albeit unhappy) existence, where everyone around her fears telling her the truth. In fact, they lie to her, manufacture signs of public adoration, and bolster her self-image as a unique and glorious coloratura soprano. She performs (very painfully) for private audiences, who also lie to her and applaud her amazing talents.

It turns into something of a farce, with this poor fragile woman serving as the butt of all jokes. Presumably, everyone is protecting her from the devastating truth, but it’s clear that they are also just afraid to admit that they’ve lied to her for years. It turns out later, that it is concern for themselves (each one’s own unique self-interest), not really concern for her, that underlies their behavior.

Marguerite goes so far as to plan a very public recital, a sure recipe for disaster, and not a single person in her life (not even her husband) steps up to tell her the truth. I’m going to spoil the movie for you here, but in the very end, locked away in a mental hospital with delusions of grandeur, she hears a recording of her own voice for the very first time. The shock of it kills her; or so the viewer is lead to believe.

The movie was billed as a comedy/drama, and won lots of European awards. To me, it was tragic. Incredibly tragic. Imagine living your entire life, being made to believe something about yourself, and not one single person ever having the guts to tell you the truth. Not only that, but they manufacture lies to keep you believing it… That kind of self-serving betrayal, under the guise of protection, is devastating. And in Marguerite’s case, fatal.

The truth isn’t always easy. In fact, it’s often very painful. To the hearer, and to the speaker. When it is delivered to someone, it must be done with the utmost care and compassion (sometimes forcefully if they are reluctant to hear it, but still with compassion). Anything less than that isn’t love or kindness. If you believe that you are protecting someone by not telling them a painful truth, I invite you to look honestly inward and ask yourself: who are you really protecting? The honest answers will surprise you.

 

Honesty, instead of eggshells

 

One of the most challenging aspects of love and living authentically is developing the courage to speak with truth. This is a really difficult area of work. It sounds easy, but it’s really not. 

At the outset, the search for truth within can be a scary endeavor. To be honest with ourselves, to admit our real feelings and allow them into conscious awareness, can be terrifying.

Forget big universal truths; I’m talking about little truths, personal truths, aspects of our personality which are in conflict with who we think we are or should be. Most of us are afraid to really look inward, and to be honest with ourselves, to admit the truth to ourselves, because we might find some really shameful and unacceptable parts. We might find some parts that require us to make difficult choices or changes.

Naturally, none of us really want to endure feelings of shame or emotional turmoil, so most of us prefer to live in denial than to face the difficulties that truth presents. Denial has the appearance of safety and stability, and for a while it can certainly help keep things quiet. 

For those of us who are courageous enough to go within, and to do this inner truth seeking privately and make peace internally with who we really are, life offers us the next great challenge and obstacle – other people!!

Sometimes admitting truths to ourselves privately feels ok and comfortable, and we can certainly build up resilience to face greater and more unpleasant truths as we go. But the idea of saying those things out loud to another, or asking that the needs we’ve discovered, or the feelings we’ve found, be accepted, respected, and honored by someone else? That can feel overwhelmingly scary. 

The people in our lives, our most intimate relationships, can sometimes turn out to be the scariest places of all.

We might fear their shame, rejection, invalidation, or ridicule. We might fear that the other person will abandon us if they really knew the truth. Other times, we might be very concerned with the feelings of others, afraid of hurting or upsetting them with our truths, and so we become afraid of being honest, or telling them how we really feel. Sometimes we find ourselves in relationship dynamics with people who are psychologically fragile and explosive. They might often respond to our feelings or vulnerable truths in very harmful, toxic, and emotionally violent ways.

As a matter of course, in destructive dynamics like this, especially if there is a power imbalance, in order to stay safe, we learn how to subjugate ourselves and maneuver around others very carefully. We do everything we can, twisting ourselves into knots, just to avoid their psychological landmines. We learn how to coddle them and their insecurities. We learn how to cater to their unreasonable demands and manipulations. We learn that saying an honest and authentic “no,” or expressing contrary feelings can lead to destructive explosions and retaliations. We never know when we’ll step on some trigger with them, so we make ourselves really really small and unobtrusive. We tread lightly. We forgo our own needs and wishes. We speak less and less. We express ourselves less and less. We keep our truths, our opinions, and feelings suppressed, all in an effort to avoid upsetting them.

This is how we end up on “eggshells.”

Despite our best efforts, when we deny and silence our real feelings to avoid conflict with others, inevitably our resentment grows more and more. We end up feeling a variety of contemptuous feelings towards them, which then has carry over effects in all other areas of our lives. 

But what’s worse than resentment is that instead of moving towards greater and greater courage in expressing our truths, these relationships drive us further into oppressive silence. We can feel suffocated in these dynamics, which don’t allow any space for our real selves to exist.

So part of the spiritual maturation process involves a kind of unshackling within these relationships, and a liberation of our authentic honest feelings. That requires siding with our feelings, making space for them to exist in our relationships, standing by them when they are attacked or disallowed by others, and learning how to express ourselves honestly to other people, especially if we are used to walking around on eggshells.

That’s part of the real terror of this process – working to wisely and prudently heal the shame and fear of being our authentic selves with others, even if that means incurring the wrath and disapproval of those who seek to keep us silent and small.

We have to slowly work to unlearn the eggshell patterns, and as we do this more and more, we begin to develop greater courage with speaking truth.