“To thine own self be true…” – Shakespeare
“Being entirely honest with oneself is a good exercise.” -Freud
“If you want to be successful, you must respect one rule – Never lie to yourself.” – Coelho
This reoccurring theme throughout the ages is simple, but they don’t tell you have fucking difficult it actually is. I say this with no bitterness as I’ve been focused on keeping myself honest for almost a decade now. Though I feel like I’ve shared a bit of that backstory with you already… for those of you just joining us, long story short, I was a lying, manipulative asshole from my teenage years all the way up past the quarter-century mark of my life. I paid for it, learned from it and the one shining lesson above all else that I embraced was as stated above: Be honest with yourself first.
At first it was easy. My lies exposed, my life had shattered and come crumbling down around me. So many lies over so many years meant I didn’t even actually know who I was. Through all the attempts to be whatever I thought people wanted me to be, I actually began to buy into my own bullshit. And so, when said bullshit was cleared away, there was simply nothing. A husk, an empty shell stripped bare, an empty barrel with any trace of identity laying somewhere in the bottom of it. The easy part of this phase was that I had nothing to lose.
When you don’t care about anything, there is no reason to lie.
So I went on for a while as a non-filtered, brutally honest asshole. Abrasive, uncaring, broken. I severed ties with people whom had similar habits in lying that I had. In fairness I did try to educate them in the futility of that lifestyle, but like any drug it’s an ugly and destructive habit that is not so easily escaped. But I absolutely could not stand to be around it any more, so I left. After a while on my own I found those that respected and had the resilience for my abrasive honesty, but only some of them could actually handle it. The others felt they needed to change me, to fix me. The truth is I did need fixing, but not the way they thought. In the end it backfired on them because everything I represented came straight from the source, and when you’re in touch with your core like that – a direct link – nothing gets skewed.
But although that sounds ideal, it was miserable. Brutal, abrasive honesty with nothing to lose is lonely and broken and mostly incapable of operating in our society. Eventually I began to value things and people in various ways. Not (to this day) on an ideal level of love, but they became important nonetheless, and I was able to at least partially convey that to them (admittedly, some attempts went better than others.) I began to develop a filter. I still would not lie, and to this day I keep that tenant. But I began to withhold things for the sake of others, and maybe (without realizing it) for the sake of myself.
Many say that withholding is the same as lying, but I can’t quite get behind that. It’s situational, it depends on what you withhold from who, and why. It’s a grey area. Obviously if you are withholding relevant information from somebody that trusts you, then it is probably as destructive and deceptive as lying. So yes, in that case it’s along the same lines. This also includes “protecting” somebody from being hurt when they have every right to the information you have.
On the other hand, withholding information that falls into the lines of gossip about another, or exposes the secrets of somebody that trusts you is a virtuous thing. You have the information perhaps because you were involved or because they confided in you, but their secret is not yours to tell, even if that means that you must also withhold something about yourself that you might not normally.
But like all grey areas, all of those rationalizations are a delicate balance… sometimes only a step away from falling back into the habits of lying and deceit for the sake of self. This balance must be carefully maintained, and in every case it must start with you.
It is easy to say “I’m honest with myself, and I’ve proven it so I can relax.” But that’s a trap, and one I believe I may be falling into. Don’t get me wrong, I still abhor lying outwardly and choose to be (at times) uncomfortably forthcoming. But inwardly I think it’s easy to become careless and I might very well be experiencing the results of that.
You see, the key to remember when endeavoring to be honest with yourself is to remember who you are. But the complicated aspect of that, is that who you are changes. Often. Sometimes gradually, sometimes near-instantly (and with an abundance of cosmic energy if you’re especially cool.) Being honest with yourself is a constant exercise in checking yourself against who you are, and in order to do that, you have to be ready to consistently accept some really unpleasant truths about yourself. Then, once you’ve pinpointed where you’re weak and ugly, you have to be willing to accept and then be outwardly honest about those faults through both words and action. This is the process of improving those things and therefore making yourself a more balanced, ultimately happier person.
On the same turn, you need to be really honest about what you like about yourself and what your strengths are. You would think this would be easy, but insecurity has a way of diminishing these attributes to you. It’s a defense mechanism that your mind puts in place when society starts teaching you that it’s bad to be different, or to like certain things depending on who you are, or any of the five billion other idiotic standards society tries to program into you from a young age.
So what’s the point? Why put so much effort into checking yourself when you could just act naturally and let that be who you are? Well, as I’ve been finding out through a number of difficult situations lately, if you don’t pay attention to who you are and what you’re about right now. You fall into the trap of personal rationalization. Instead of rationalizing your thoughts or actions outwardly, you do it inwardly and in regards to who you actually are. So you create this ideal image of who you are in your mind without the gut check. Instead of paying attention to how you feel about a particular situation or action you take, you create a persona and begin to check yourself against that as if it’s who you are. This is the lie, and one that many people intentionally fall into.
But the problem with believing your own persona, is that who you really are deep down doesn’t go away. If you’re really, really lucky it might adapt itself to your persona, but the vast majority of the time, it will instead sabotage it. If you don’t face it, the person you really are will sabotage you. Have you seen when seemingly powerful people have massive breakdowns? What about celebrities that have it all and then abruptly crack or even die? This list of causes is endless: Drugs, depression, anxiety, alcoholism, or general crazed, reckless behavior but it all comes down to the fact that those suffering in those cases were lying to themselves. About who they were, where they were weak, how they felt or what they needed help with. Celebrities are extreme cases because they live in extreme circumstances, but none of us (not even me) are immune.
So, for your sake, take some time to get to know you. Explore how you feel about things, people and the world completely separate of what anyone else thinks is best for you. Once you’ve done that, make sure you keep doing that as you change and grow and feel differently about things. Don’t lose touch with who you are and absolutely do not fall into the trap of rationalizing who you are – to yourself first – and then to anyone else. There is no rationalizing who and what you are at your core, you simply are. Though it takes some balance to know what to allow to the surface for others to see, you must accept yourself within raw and unfiltered. When you have a foundation of honesty such as that, it is both liberating and empowering. You know who you are, and nobody can take that from you.