Truth-Telling, Truth-Hiding, and the Road to Authenticity
Most of us are taught from a very young age to “Always tell the truth.” The adults around us made every attempt to ensure that this value was etched into our fabric, right from the early days of: “HE started it!” We are evasively promised a “Get out of jail free card,” if we fess up to our wrongdoings upon interrogation, although, we really know that what’s on the other side of that confession is typically some form of shaming––at the very least.
Somewhere along the lines though, this seemingly straightforward value of truth-telling becomes a complex compilation of (unspoken) rules. With each interaction and experience, we begin to learn that actually: Some things require truth-telling whereas others require truth-hiding. Things like: Getting an F in a school subject or scratching the side of your parents’ car door while mindlessly entering the garage require truth-telling but for things like addiction, mental health, family breakdown or any remote indication of inner struggle, truth-telling is frowned upon––no, it’s forbidden. This is where we must practice truth-hiding.
I have always been a non-liar––in fact, my friends in high school used to lovingly refer to me as the “Human Lie Detector” because I detested lying so much that I would often call people out for any minute discrepancy in their story; however, I have learned over time that being a non-liar is not the same as being a truth-teller. Although I have always been a non-liar, I have not always been a truth-teller. There were many truths I kept hidden on a daily basis on behalf of avoiding the slightest indication of vulnerability and/or as a means of protecting the “reputation” of myself or my family. Even if I had wanted to, I possessed neither the language nor the comfort level to ever share what was really going on for me––anything other than “I’m fine” or “I’m great” was simply not in my repertoire. Revealing anything about myself or about my life that deviated from the standard of perfection I had created was not something that had been modelled for me. So, I continued to let on that I was fine and everything was fine, and suppressed any inch of realness or authenticity that I may have otherwise projected.
Fast-forward, 15 years and a psychotherapy practice later, I have finally arrived at a place where I can identify and openly express my inner truths, enabling me to be the most authentic and real version of my self, and, I now get to help others to do the same! So, how did I get here? How was I able to trade in the truth-hiding “I’m-fine’s” for a more relaxed, realistic, and authentic way of being? Here is a list of eight things that I came up with––either, realizations or ‘skills’ I worked on––which contributed to my journey towards authenticity:
- I acknowledged and embraced my imperfections. Recognizing that we all have them and that no one is good at everything or “fine” every damn day. I learned to laugh with my friends and family at the fact that I can’t find my way out of a paper bag or do addition without using my fingers to count or that I had a second major in English and cannot, for the life of me, recognize or utilize common idioms appropriately. It took me some time to really know and believe that my imperfections didn’t make me any less of a person. That, in fact, they made me an authentic and approachable person, who I am way more interested in being than some seemingly flawless, unapproachable, avatar that no one can relate to. I began to notice that when I could be open and laugh about my own imperfections, often times, others around me would follow suit. It’s pretty refreshing to learn that the person you thought ‘had it all together,’ left the house with their slippers on this morning or missed last month’s credit card statement.
- I explored past experiences and relationships that contributed to the development of certain self-limiting beliefs and/or behaviours I possessed. I did this through therapy; during the time I was also training to be a therapist myself. I couldn’t very well facilitate a kind of conversation I had never personally had. And, truthfully, self-reflection and introspection only got me so far until I hit a wall and needed a professional to help me dig a little deeper. I learned about where my need for control and perfection in my life stemmed from, and, why I struggled to identify and express my emotions. I had the opportunity to practice vulnerability and imperfection in the safest, and at times, most uncomfortable space I could imagine. But I got through it and I believe, those experiences have made me a better therapist, friend, partner, and all around person today. Gotta do the work, my friends!
- I began to recognize and understand the role of Shame in my life––its patterns, appearances, and impacts. Brené Brown’s work was super helpful for me to understand the role of Shame in my life and how and where it shows up. I had to meet and confront that voice that kept telling me, “You’re not good enough” and basically, tell it where to go! I would never keep a friend or partner around who was saying such things to me, so why was I putting up with this?
- I explored historical narratives––stories we’ve created about ourselves and our lives––and worked towards re-writing and co-creating new ones that were more in line with my values and the person I wanted to show up as every day. For years, I was held back by my over-identification as an ‘anxious person.’ I let that story get in the way of seizing so many potentially amazing opportunities. Today, I recognize that Anxiety will always be a part of my life but I have let go of identifying as an anxious person and Anxiety no longer gets to sit in the driver seat and steer me away from opportunities.
- I learned to (and still work to) surround myself with people who know and celebrate my most authentic self––imperfections and all. I have become astutely aware of the impact or influence certain people have over my ability to remain authentic. Whenever I find myself feeling pulled towards truth-hiding more than truth-telling or perhaps, engaging in a conversation about a dresser at Pottery Barn that I’ve neither seen nor care about, when what I really want to talk about is death, magic, the meaning of life, peoples’ passions and insecurities, etc., etc. I know that those people are probably not going to be the best people to surround myself with if I want to honour my continued practice of truth-telling. Over the last couple of years, I have also seen a significant shift in the types of social media accounts or personalities I choose to follow––the majority of them being aspiring, imperfect, truth-tellers like myself. It has been helpful to surround myself with real and virtual mentors in my life, who are modelling the very values I am choosing to embrace.
- I took the time to get to know myself on a deeper level, away from my typical roles or the daily distractions of life. Yoga, meditation, journaling, quiet reflection, and solo travel have all been great avenues for getting to know the “real” me. Getting to know myself sort of felt like an obvious prerequisite for learning to love myself. Evidently, this is an ongoing process. This spring, I will be attending my first ever 10-day Vipassana retreat, to help me to continue this inner work of getting to know my self.
- I got clear about my values and passions and made a commitment to live my life in a way that aligns with and supports said values and passions. At times, I still get drawn into the comparison game but as soon as I catch myself in this trap, I remind myself of who I am, what’s important to me, where I want to be going and, most importantly, why, and this seems to get me right back on track.
- I try my very best not to concern myself with what others think of me. As an absolute people-pleaser, this has been one of the hardest things I’ve had to grapple with in my journey towards authenticity. It’s hard for me to think of not being liked by someone. Alas, I know that I’m not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. And that is okay. As the brilliant Dr. Seuss says: “Those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” I have learned that most of the time, the issues people have with me are most likely more about them than they are about me, so long as I know that I am being a kind, compassionate and authentic person. I remind myself that people who truly care about me want to see me succeed and be the best and most authentic version of myself, and anyone that demonstrates otherwise is not worthy of my time or attention. I’ve got hopes and dreams and a life to live, there’s no time to be people-pleasin’!
Please remember that becoming your most authentic self is a journey. And, that there are many social, cultural, and familial matters at play throughout this process. Be patient and kind as you start to explore and unravel past patterns, stories, and versions of your self, and dig into what matters most to you and whom you want to show up as every day. Cultivating compassionate curiosity and awareness is a solid first step. The rest will fall into place, as you remain open to doing your inner work and loving yourself along the way!