Do You Tell the Whole Truth?

Can you see your glass ceiling? Jimmy Owen looks at the facts about what “little white lies” can do to our physical and emotional health.

Can you see your glass ceiling? Jimmy Owen looks at the facts about what “little white lies” can do to our physical and emotional health.

Joe is furious with his workmate but won’t risk talking to him about it. It’s easier to just grin and bear it. Dawn sees the unhappiness in her partner, Erin’s, face every day when she comes home from work, but doesn’t want to talk about it for fear of losing the relationship and everything that comes with it. Kevin disapproves of the “party” lifestyle he’s engaging in, but doesn’t want his new friends to view him poorly. Hector thrives in his work life but cannot translate that success into his social world.

For many gay men and lesbians, keeping secrets is a way of life – a survival tool developed early on as a way to protect ourselves with families, friends and careers, or when the possibility of disapproval was unbearable. For some, the mask of “what I think others want me to be” was thrown in the trash as we came out and learned to accept ourselves. For others, it continues to be a “go-to persona” in their coping survival tool kit.

I often wonder if, because we developed this protective device so long ago as a way of survival, we continue to rely on it when it would be just as easy to tell the truth? Have we unconsciously allowed secrets and lies into the safe parts of our lives simply because they are familiar to us?

Please understand: I am not saying here, nor do I believe, that our community is a group of liars – nothing could be further from the truth! It is our very integrity and our need for authenticity that give us the strength and the motivation to take the significant risks involved in coming out. It takes courage and integrity to let everyone see you honestly and openly.

Let me explain what I am talking about. How many times have you told a “little white lie” about being late to an appointment when telling the truth would have been just as easy? Have you ever withheld or embellished a story when the truth would have sufficed? How about creating an excuse when a simple “No” would have been enough? Do you live your life with consistency at work and home?

In the 1960’s, the humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow studied the basic needs of humans and determined that we do not move to a deeper level of satisfaction unless our basic needs are met. He also concluded that the happiest people are those more in touch with their inner selves. In other words, the happiest people are the ones who accept themselves.

I believe that lies and embellishments come from a place of not feeling “enough,” when we need to lie, add or change a story in order to feel accepted by those we’re telling the story to. It’s as if we think the truth about ourselves isn’t good enough.

Maybe you grew up in a world where there needed to be “more to the story” in order for you to feel accepted or to push focus away from yourself. If it wasn’t safe for you to tell the truth as a child, plain and simple, for fear of emotional or physical harm, you may have continued using that protective device into the present day when, in fact, as an adult, you have the skill and understanding to know when it is safe to share the truth about yourself with others.

Another reason you may sway from telling the truth could be your belief that, “I’m only OK if THEY think I’m OK,” thereby using “their” approval as a barometer for how you feel about yourself. Although this might work in the short term, the discord and discomfort you feel inside can end up creating a sense of shame about the embellishment or lie.

Another interesting dynamic I see is the disconnect between one’s professional and personal worlds as they pertain to truth and honesty – and how this creates complications in a person’s life as they collide. You know your role and responsibility as a “worker,” so you follow the rules, work hard, maybe even excel. However, in your outside-of-work, social world, the expectations and norms are more intangible, and you may still cling to a set of values that in no way matches your professional self.

I have heard so many times in my office, “I wish I could translate the success I have at work to my social life.” The question I would encourage you to ask yourself is, “What am I doing differently when I know the rules and expectations vs. when I create the rules and expectations myself? Have I created rules or guidelines for myself as an adult, or am I still doing what’s old and familiar?”

The dissonance that occurs between following others and leading yourself creates undue stress and holds us back from creating a consistent adult persona. Could we be creating our own glass ceilings by not putting our professional lives and our private lives in synch with one another?

As humans, we struggle to establish and position ourselves in the hierarchy of our world. Once there, we don’t want to lose our position. It can be incredibly difficult to break out of an established niche, to free ourselves of “what others will think” if we stop conforming to what others expect of us. There are times when our values and ideals may be contrary to those of the majority. This can threaten our place in the pecking order, even if the values of the majority are not our values. As we grow and change, so do our truths, authenticity and awareness.

Recently, Professor Steve Cole of the University of California, Los Angeles, studied 200 gay men over a period of five years and found the incidence of cancer and other diseases was three times higher among those who hid their sexuality. (Ode Magazine, December 2008). I understand the process of coming out is personal and belongs to the individual, but this tells me that, not only do our emotional selves benefit from the truth, our physical bodies do as well.

Whether the truth is as simple as claiming our human nature in the freedom to make mistakes, speaking up to address a problem, standing up for what we believe to be best for us, creating consistency between our personal and professional lives, or taking off the mask of deception and silence and replacing it with a commitment to truth and authenticity – ultimately our happiness and our physical health are at risk. Think about it. Pay attention. See what happens. I believe the quality and richness of your life will multiply when you tell the truth and commit yourself to honesty.