Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. 

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Should You Tell The Truth Or Keep Quiet? The Paradox of "Radical Honesty"

Posted by Bethany Butzer, Ph.D. on September 22, 2017 at 4:35 AM

Over the past 7 years I’ve written countless blogs about the importance of being authentic. I’ve called this authenticity many things: soul, true self, inner guidance, intuition, etc. No matter what I’ve called it, I’ve consistently advocated that my readers (and myself) live from a place of honesty and truth.


But now I’m going to tell you the exact opposite.


Because the truth is that you don’t always have to share your truth - at least not all the time or right away.

 

A few weeks ago I was watching an episode of Ray Donovan on Netflix (a guilty pleasure). The episode involved a (dysfunctional) family party where most of the characters gathered together to celebrate a birthday. After a few too many drinks, many of the characters started telling each other deep, often hurtful truths about their feelings and their relationships. The party went completely off the tracks as everyone began fighting - with words and fists. In the same episode, there was a character who portrayed a cheesy self-help guru who kept preaching about the idea of “radical honesty.”


This got me thinking about honesty, and the situations when honesty is (and is not) appropriate in our lives.

 

I was reminded of how often we all go to parties that have huge white elephants in the room that everyone ignores. We smile, we shake hands, we make idle chit chat, all the while knowing who is actually upset with who, who cheated on who, and who can’t stand to be in the same room with who. When I’m in these types of social settings I often get intense cravings for something real. I want people to talk about things that matter to them, to be honest with each other about their feelings, and to avoid going to a party if they really don’t want to be there. I have a very hard time making small talk, which is why you’ll often find me huddled in a corner with one (or a few) close friends, digging deep into what’s really going on in their lives.

 

I crave authenticity from everyone around me, almost as if truth is the air that I breathe.


But.

 

I’ve realized over time that honesty must go hand-in-hand with discernment. There is a time and place for everything, and sometimes, sharing your truth at the wrong time can do more harm than good.

 

I mean, do you really need (or want) to know how many people your partner has slept with? Do you need (or want) to know the real reason(s) why your parents split up? Do you need (or want) to know what your partner fantasizes about when they masturbate? Do you need (or want) to know what your boss really thinks of you?

 

For some people, the answer to all of these questions will be yes. For others, it will be a mix of yes and no, or all no. All of these answers are fine. The problem with encouraging radical honesty is that it makes people feel like they’re doing a disservice to their soul if they don’t tell and seek out the truth 100% of the time.

 

Let me make this very clear: I think that sharing your truth is crucial to a life well-lived. It’s just that you need to be psychologically, emotionally, and even physically ready for the repercussions of your truth. The reason for this is that radical honesty often blows your life wide open. It shines light on all the dark spaces that the people around you might not be ready or willing to see. It is a fire that burns away all that is untrue (think Daenerys Stormborns’ dragons). It can cause people to be angry with you, to reject you, or even to think you’re crazy. Your relationships or friendships might dissolve, you might lose your job, or you might lose the respect of people you admire. You need to be strong in mind and body in order to face these reactions, especially when they come from people you care deeply about.

 

So I’m telling you to be authentic. And to not be authentic.

 

Yes, it’s a paradox (as all good wisdom is).

 

You need to decide for yourself, using the most clear discernment that you can muster, which situations are calling forth radical honesty from you. And you need to be prepared for the potential repercussions.



 

The decision-making process around whether or not to share your truth is complex and unique for each person. There are all sorts of situations where we can decide to share or decide to hold back. These situations can be as mundane as saying “no” to a social invitation that would sap your energy, to something as intense as how to share your truth within the tangled web of infidelity. Esther Perel’s upcoming book, “The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity” poses a few interesting questions:

 

“What draws people outside the boundaries of commitment they worked so hard to establish? Why does sexual betrayal hurt so much? Is an affair always selfish and weak, or can it in some cases be understandable, acceptable, even an act of boldness and courage? And whether we have known this drama or not, what can we draw from the excitement of infidelity to enliven our relationships?


Must a secret love always be revealed? Does passion have a finite shelf life? And are there fulfillments that a marriage, even a good one, can never provide? How do we negotiate the elusive balance between our emotional needs and our erotic desires? Has monogamy outlived its usefulness? What is fidelity? Can we love more than one person at once?


For me, these conversations are part and parcel of any adult, intimate relationship. For most couples, unfortunately, the crisis of an affair is the first time they talk about any of this. Catastrophe has a way of propelling us into the essence of things. I encourage you not to wait for a storm, but to address these ideas in a quieter climate. Talking about what draws us outside our fences, and about the fear of loss that accompanies it, in an atmosphere of trust can actually promote intimacy and commitment. Our desires, even our most illicit ones, are a feature of our humanity.”


In other words, Perel is advocating honesty before the storm - in a container of deep trust between two people. But she concludes with a warning:


“Be forewarned: Addressing these issues requires a willingness to descend into a labyrinth of irrational forces. Love is messy; infidelity more so. But it is also a window, like none other, into the crevices of the human heart.”

 

The point is that when it comes to being honest about anything, timing is everything.

 

However, being honest is kind of like having children - the timing might never feel 100% perfect. But you can start to get smart about when and where to be authentic. As I mentioned in my recent blog about relationships, you can get honest with your partner about your needs and desires before the storm of infidelity hits. You can get honest with your boss about what you need at work before things get so bad that you have a heart attack. You can get honest with a friend who is disrespecting your boundaries before you end up getting into an irrational argument.

 

Personally, I’ve found myself growing into a space in my life where the repercussions of my authenticity are often less painful than the weight of keeping things inside. I’ve been doing a lot of contemplation and personal work around what is deemed “right” or “wrong” behavior by my culture, society, friends and family versus what is “right” or “wrong” for me on a deep, soul level. I’ve been playing with the archetype of the “rebel soul” who isn’t afraid to be my truest self, even if my self doesn’t quite fit within my current cultural/societal matrix. As Rumi wrote,


"Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,

there is a field. I will meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,

the world is too full to talk about.

Language, ideas, even the phrase 'each other'

doesn't make any sense."


Yes, I have a professional life that sometimes requires me to maintain a certain persona. But little by little, that persona is falling away. I’ve grown tired of wearing masks in all areas of my life, both personal and professional. These days, I write blogs about all sorts of taboo topics and I’ve been very public about my personal struggles, including the 6 years that I spent on antidepressants. I’ve shared all of this knowing full well that friends, family, and even future employers could read my words and not like what I have to say. And while I’m happy to have an open discussion with these people about the things that I post online, I’ve come to realize that if a person or employer rejects me because of my truth, then that person or job isn’t meant to be in my life anyway.

 

At least not right now.

 

Because you see, the truth is a tricky beast. Truth operates in a non-linear fashion, and if you’re open enough, it will always find you. This means that sometimes the very people who rejected you or thought you were crazy will eventually come around. They might never agree with you - they might not even like you - but they will respect the fact that you shared honestly from your most authentic self.

 

When you share honestly from a deep, true place, you carry an energy that is often more important than the words you’re saying. We’ve all been in these situations before, when someone is sharing with us, or we're sharing with someone, and the content of what we’re sharing is coming from a sacred place. Our words might be upsetting, but they come with an energetic release. There is a sense of growth, clarity, and even respect on both sides for bearing witness to the fires of truth.

 

Besides, there’s only so much that we can convey with language, anyway. My blogs are heavily language-oriented, given that they are made up of the written word. But I’m often trying to convey feelings and energy more so than intellectual concepts. Some teachers call this energy a “transmission.” Whatever you call it, I’m trying to give you the felt sense of what it means to embody honesty, and how to develop the discernment necessary to know when to act on that honesty versus when to remain quiet.

 

In the end, the decision rests with you. There will be times when you will mess up by sharing too much, too soon. But this is part of the non-linear learning process.

 

I encourage you to practice discernment, share when it feels right and true, and make sure you’re ready for the potential outcome. If you’re not ready, stay quiet for now - but not forever. The truth will find you eventually.




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