The Truth—And Why It’s So Difficult To Tell It
At the end of a lengthy interview for a television program a couple of years ago, I was asked, “On what occasion do you lie?” I thought of the way I used to handle getting out of things (“Oh, I can’t because [insert lie]”) to avoid hurting feelings, and I thought, I don’t do that anymore. I think I said something like, “I don’t have the energy to lie anymore.” That was a lie. At that point in my life, I was (unwittingly) just on the cusp of starting to understand what honesty actually was. And I wasn’t living it. At all. In fact, I can (honestly) say now, that I am just starting to get honest. It took a lot of living, and the culmination of much suffering, and turning 40 nearly a year ago, to make me start forcing my own hand. I believed that honesty was a way of acting or enacting. I now understand that it is something far deeper. It is giving yourself the space to actually feel your feelings and be true to them. At all costs. So in that regard, I still have a ways to go. But the path to honesty has been one of the most beautiful, painful and interesting lessons of my life. Below you will find a piece by Dr. Habib Sadeghi, my mentor in this arena and others, who has taught me the way to what is honest.
Honesty is crucial to a healthy relationship with ourselves and others. It can help us resolve longstanding issues, find forgiveness, and deepen our relationships with the people who surround us. Why do we lie? It’s clear that without being honest with ourselves we’ll never be honest with others. What are the obstacles to achieving this kind of clarity and how do we overcome them? And once we gain clarity, how do we communicate truthfully in a productive and positive manner?
My wife and I were touring the Amazon jungle when our guide suddenly stopped. Carefully, he reached down and picked up a spider from a tree branch. He easily manipulated the hairy tarantula by its bulbous abdomen. We were amazed. It didn’t move. It was completely frozen, like a statue. Our guide said the spider wasn’t dead, just temporarily anesthetized. He pointed to a tiny, pearl-like object on the back of its abdomen and explained it was an egg, planted there by a parasitic wasp. The spider had been stung and temporarily immobilized so the wasp could transplant its egg. Soon, the spider would shake off the trauma and go about its life as usual; completely unaware of the danger it carried.
Days later and without warning, the tarantula would stop cold in its tracks. Within seconds, a new wasp, that had eaten the spider from the inside out, would emerge from its abdomen and fly away, leaving behind the empty carcass of its host.
Like the wasp larva, feelings buried alive never die, especially fear. Lying comes from fear. It’s born from our traumas, disappointments and betrayals and is always the result of something that’s happened to us. You may be late meeting someone and blame it on the traffic or cover up being fired to avoid embarrassment. The scenarios surrounding why we lie are endless. The fact is that our lies are born from our traumas, both big and small.
“Lying comes from fear.”
Dishonesty begins with the self. It starts when we can’t reconcile a difficult experience. The first lie is the one we tell ourselves. It’s usually, “It didn’t happen” or “It didn’t happen like that.” We avoid these realizations because we’re terrified of how they will make us feel. We do it because we’d rather live with the long-term consequences of lying to ourselves and others than face the temporary pain of the truth. So, we repress the truth and our feelings about it with a lie to keep the pain at bay.
“We do it because we’d rather live with the long-term consequences of lying to ourselves and others than face the temporary pain of the truth.”
That pain could be a friend’s disappointment or a spouse’s rage. The size of the lie doesn’t matter. We never lie to protect the feelings of others. That’s the part of the lie we tell ourselves to make it easier. We lie to protect ourselves from the pain and repercussions we’ll experience from their feelings or even our own self-judgment. Lying is always self-serving.
When we are stung by life’s traumas, especially the big ones like losing a job, relationship, financial security, or our health, we become frozen in place like the tarantula. We rarely give ourselves enough time to process the hard lessons (truth) of the situation. We may grieve briefly, but then we anesthetize ourselves and it’s on with life.
Dissociating from what really happened is known as ‘splitting’ in psychoanalysis. We either react only with emotion and become irrational about the situation or, we escape to our heads and don’t process any of the feeling. Being honest with ourselves and others requires an ability to think and feel at the same time in order to fully integrate a difficult experience and neutralize any lasting negative energy.
“Living in our own little world of self-created lies and avoiding the truth of our life experience takes great energy and produces an even greater amount of stress.”
Short-circuiting that process creates a second lie, an “alternate” reality or “My Side of the Story.” Sadly, we’re always the first victims of our lies because we have to believe them first before we can convince others to do so. Living in our own little world of self-created lies and avoiding the truth of our life experience takes great energy and produces an even greater amount of stress. To deal with it, we often turn to illicit or prescription drugs. The problem here is that drugs only perpetuate our dishonesty because they give us the false impression that everything is “fine.”
“Honesty is the capacity to tell yourself the emotional truth in any situation.”
Even yoga can be an addictive diversion. It can provide intense emotional release because we store pent up energy in our bodies. Still, we must be able to think and feel to fully integrate the experience and release it. Without conscious thought providing truth and understanding surrounding the situation, we easily fall back into old habits.
Honesty is the capacity to tell yourself the emotional truth in any situation. When you can do this for yourself, you can do it with others. Unfortunately, we can’t give what we don’t have. Dishonesty is always the result of avoiding pain at some level. This leads to lying and its twin sisters: secrets and denial. Healing from lying to others requires that we stop lying to ourselves first. It means clearing up our unconscious anxieties and the survival mechanisms that we’ve put in place to protect us from their pain.
“It’s part of who we are and like a virus, we instinctively reject dishonesty.”
As spiritual beings, we’re hard-wired for honesty. We have a natural instinct to search for answers and make sense of things. Have you ever seen a bad actor on screen? You didn’t need to be an actor yourself to recognize the lack of truthfulness in the performance. Why? It’s because we’re all viscerally connected to truth on a fundamental, physical and spiritual level. It’s part of who we are and like a virus, we instinctively reject dishonesty.
To override this natural impulse by telling lies, we generate immense amounts of resistant and negative energy in our bodies. This internal stress puts us at war with ourselves, producing cellular damage. Lies create a mind/body that is not at-ease and end up manifesting as the symptoms of our diseases. Like the unsuspecting tarantula, the egg we’ve carried for so long eventually erupts in a catastrophic way, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Healing is a choice, so is lying. Our work isn’t to create healing. Healing happens when we find and remove the barriers we’ve created against it by facing the temporary pain we didn’t think we could survive.
PEW – 12
So how can we find freedom from the lies we tell others and most importantly, ourselves? How do we dissolve limiting beliefs, which is really what lies are? We can begin by facing the truth of our traumas and documenting them with all the raw honesty and emotion that we’ve avoided for years. Clearing out our emotional closet can be terrifying at first, but once we survive what we didn’t think was survivable, we’ll get a taste of our limitless power to heal and change.
Below is an exercise I prescribe to all my cancer patients called Purge Emotional Writing (PEW-12).
In a quiet place, light a white candle and set a timer for 12 minutes. With pen in hand, begin to write stream-of-consciousness style about any unresolved issue with which you’ve not been honest with yourself or others. Let the emotions move you and don’t worry about making your writing legible. At the end of 12 minutes, stop. Don’t read what you’ve written! You’ve purged this negative energy and don’t want to take it back into your consciousness. Crunch the paper up and, in a safe place like a patio or barbeque grill, burn it. Fire is transformative and cleansing because it changes the chemical composition of things. Do this as often as needed to transmute the negative energy from similar situations.
“Don’t read what you’ve written! You’ve purged this negative energy and don’t want to take it back into your consciousness.”
Why 12 minutes? It’s because 12 has great spiritual significance across nearly all belief systems. Most importantly, it symbolizes balance as there are 12 hours of day and night in each 24-hour period. There are also 12 months in a year, symbolizing the end of a cycle and renewal.
Dr. Habib Sadeghi is the Founder of Be Hive of Healing Center for Integrative Medicine in Los Angeles.