Is Honesty the Best Policy?

01/29/2014

In my profession, I have to deal with the impact of lies. As you might imagine, counseling sessions deal with both the lies people have been told and with people who are telling lies. Both situations can be very challenging and I am often asked whether honesty is indeed the best policy.

In general, my answer is yes because honesty is one of the pillars of any solid relationship. People have to be able to know that what you tell them is true in order for them to trust you. Being honest allows for greater emotional intimacy and healthier relationships. It increases self-esteem because you will learn that you can be yourself and people will still like you. Honesty also helps you move more easily through the world because you no longer have to hide behind your wall of lies. Besides, lying takes work (because you have to remember what lies you told and often must be quite creative on the spot) while the truth is something you never have to think about.

However, sometimes the answer is more complex because it depends on the reason for the lie. People lie for all sorts of reasons, including attempts to make themselves look better, trying to protect themselves or keep out of trouble, telling people what they want or need to hear, or being afraid that honesty will lead to vulnerability. There are times when people lie because they are not yet ready to face the truth themselves because, once they do, they may be compelled to do something about it and taking action can be frightening. As such, there are situations in which lying may be necessary or acceptable. In these cases, it is best to ask if lying is helpful or hurtful.

In most situations though, honesty is probably the way to go. Yes, it can be scary because the truth may occasionally cause some negative repercussions but it is an essential step toward having healthier relationships. Sometimes it is necessary for you to experience short-term pain to get long-term gain. Another terrifying aspect to honesty is that it can leave you vulnerable. Allowing people to know who you truly are or even accepting this yourself does leave you open to getting hurt.

When honesty is incredibly frightening, I ask that people summon their courage and work through the process. First, we must all start by being honest with ourselves. Then we can weigh the pros and the cons of being truthful and proceed from there. There may be negative effects along the way but eventually the truth will indeed set us free. In other words, it may be hard but it will be worth it.

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