Mary grew up in a small, rural town. She learned clear, simple values: work hard, be honest, treat others as you would like to be treated. Mary’s family held these solid, good values, and were not worldly nor materialistic.
After completing college, Mary landed a job in a distant city. She moved into her own apartment. Attracted to the city’s faster lifestyle, she found herself doing all the “right” things. Sometimes Mary would lie about growing up in another city, or go to a violent or over-sexualized movie or play even if she really didn’t want to, just to “go along with the crowd” in order to be one of the group. At work, she’d make personal calls, and “name drop” to impress her co-workers.
Mary began to avoid her family. As she was alienating her relatives, she was creating problems in her personal and professional relationships. Her city friends sensed she was fabricating stories about herself and her background. Her co-workers knew she was attempting to project an image that wasn’t real. Even more importantly, Mary was uncomfortable and unhappy with herself because she was being emotionally dishonest.
Jim started dating Jennie. He told her he was a supervisor in his IT plant. He boasted about planning projects, making management decisions and supervising many workers.
For a while Jim and Jennie enjoyed their time together, and got along well. However, Jennie began noticing that he would steer her away from calling his office, and once, when his car wouldn’t start, he refused to have her drive him to his job.
One day, Jennie suggested they have a party for their co-workers. Jim became defensive, and they argued. Then Jim finally admitted he was just a regular employee, with lots of responsibility but no title. He’d intended to impress Jennie, but a week later they broke up. Jim caused serious damage to his relationship because he was not emotionally honest.
Being emotionally dishonest means that you are deceiving the most important person in your life — yourself. Obviously, if you are not honest with, and self-accepting of yourself it affects your degree of honesty with others. Emotional dishonesty erodes relationships because it destroys trust.
This kind of dishonesty can also be expressed in more subtle ways, becoming almost automatic. Perhaps you tell others what you think they want to hear, rather than expressing your true thoughts and opinions. Perhaps you deny that certain unflattering things are happening in your life in order to protect your image. Perhaps you bend the truth to present your background, career, family, home, interests or finances as being more impressive than you believe they really are.
Over time, this lack of true emotional self- honesty will cloud your ability to recognize the truth, and to see reality. You may begin to feel trapped by your fabrications, and start telling outright lies. This self-deluding path is psychologically dangerous because it will ultimately damage your self-esteem and ability to accept yourself as you are, so you can, with a clear, unclouded view, build self worth and self-confidence. When you are dishonest about yourself others sense it. You signal that you are not trustworthy. If others feel they cannot trust you or your word, they will avoid you, and will not feel motivated to develop a relationship of any kind with you.
If a career or family relationship feels like it is not working for you, it may mean you are being emotionally dishonest by not asking for what you want, being clear about what you do not want, being self-accepting by working for progress, not perfection, telling the truth. Unfortunately, career or personal relationships — like Mary’s or Jim’s— may have to reach a crisis stage — being rejected, for example, before you wake up to the reality of the damaging effects of your emotional dishonesty. It’s important to look at the motivations and behavior involved. Feeling emotionally trapped can lead to situational depression, so you may want to speak with a trusted friend, family member or professional.
Based in Rockport, psychotherapist and life coach Susan Britt, M.Ed., teaches how to resolve relationship conflicts, clarify and achieve life and career goals, and accelerate personal growth. Questions and comments may be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org or 978-546-9431.