Have you ever …
pushed things too far?
tried to cover up your tracks?
lied in order to save face?
Just as with any label — disciplined vs. undisciplined, hard-working vs. lazy, organized vs. a total mess — I think that the labels of ‘honest’ and ‘dishonest’ apply to all us, to some extent, sometimes, dependent on the situation.
You may not stretch the truth on a resume, steal from the till, or cheat on your partner. You might think this makes you pretty honest and a ‘good’ person. But surely all of us fudge the truth in various circumstances. Maybe even more than we’d like to think.
We learn to wear masks, erect defenses, pretend, perfect, perform … because life isn’t always good and beautiful and we feel as if we have to protect ourselves and manipulate to get what we want. And because we learn to feel shame in who we are.
What are we so ashamed of?
We’re ashamed to need help, to be vulnerable, to feel fear, to experience hurt, to be wrong, to make a mistake, to seem ‘weak’ or hopelessly flawed. We’re ashamed to be human and not super-heros. We long to be invincible, untouchable, impenetrable, godlike.
We’re ashamed of our imperfection.
Thus, our lies are rooted in shame.
Growing oneself means exploring all the ways that we are dishonest with ourselves and others. We have to explode those defenses, take off the masks, stop pretending, stop performing, and start owning every bit of ourselves — especially the ways that we seek to camouflage our shame of not being perfect.
What are some of the ways we try to hide the pain of shame?
Some of us present ourselves as know-it-alls. Other of us are ‘tough’. We might try to be the most generous, compassionate, helpful, brave, or hard-working. These are the over-functioners. Over-functioners are constantly invested in upholding a ‘perfect’ image.
Some of us go the other route. Instead of being ‘over-functioners’ who go, go, go, and do, do, do; we are under-functioners. Under-functioners get themselves off the shame-hook by trying to pretend that they’re too weak, fragile, or helpless to be held to the same shame-based standards of pretend, perfect, and perform in the first place.
Over-functioners pretend to be heros. Under-functioners pretend to be victims.
Me, Myself, and I are over-functioners. Sometimes I pretend to be invincible and invulnerable — sticks and stones won’t break my bones and words will never hurt me … Other times, I play the ‘know-it-all card’ in the sense that I try to have a helpful, insightful word for everybody, all the time.
Anytime we’re trying too hard, it’s to maintain a facade — the hidden agenda of the perfect self we’re trying to convince ourselves and others we are.
One of the hardest things we can ever do is peel away at the layers and layers of figurative make-up we wear to make ourselves look flawless. Really, we just look like circus clowns.
It is so painful to start noticing our false selves at work and all the ways that we try to pretend, perfect, and perform. All the many ways, many times that we are lying to ourselves and others.
It can be excruciating to swallow a biiiig humble pie in order to acknowledge and accept our various defense mechanisms. When we are trying so hard to be perceived in a particular way, we might be very negligent to accept any responsibility for actually NOT being that way at all sometimes.
For example …
I recently asked one friend — we’ll call him Paxton — for a favor for another friend, ‘Rinna’. The favor was declined. Then, days later Rinna asked me, ‘so … can Paxton help?’ I didn’t want to tell her that, no, Paxton isn’t interested. So, instead, I texted Paxton ‘remind me … did you say you were interested in helping Rinna?’
This might not seem so bad except for two points: 1) I KNEW that Paxton had said ‘no.’ He didn’t say ‘maybe’ or any sort of tentative ‘no’. He said no, period. 2) Because that ^^ was a boundary and needed to be respected as such and because part of me (my true self, I hope!) KNEW that that I was pushing a boundary, I then employed defense mechanisms to try to not look bad.
I immediately typed up a second text to try to smooth over the reception of the first. I wrote: “I’m not trying to push boundaries, I just truly don’t remember!”
As soon as I clicked ‘send’, I felt like my clothes had been ripped off and I was standing there naked, seeing myself in the mirror and not being remotely pleased. I just blatantly lied! Why would I do that?!
I was trying to cover up a mistake. I was pushing boundaries by asking for the same thing twice when I’d already been given an answer [that I didn’t like]. But I wanted to believe myself to not ever be a boundary-pusher — I respect boundaries! I teach others about healthy boundaries! I’m not a boundary-buster. I’m not a relationship rookie!
Because of the cognitive dissonance, I had to accomplish feats of mental gymnastics to convince myself that, well, maybe I misheard Paxton, maybe it wasn’t a definitive ‘no’, I just don’t remember …
We always have to first lie to ourselves before we can lie to someone else.
This became a very humbling moment for me. Although, of course, I’ve surely lied my fair share of times in all sorts of circumstances; I’d never had that fact stare me in the face so hard.
I had fallen prey to the false message of pretend, perfect, perform. And in trying to make myself look better than the imperfect being that I am, I ended up looking like a clown.
The best thing would have been not to act like a boundary-buster in the first place.
The second best thing would have been to immediately take ownership and say “I’m sorry I asked you again after you already gave me your answer. That was wrong of me. I apologize.”
Instead, I had to settle this time for the third best. After ‘lying so honestly’, if you will, so that it hit me over the head like a ton of bricks that whoa, I just lied, I said just that. I took responsibility for lying. I said I was sorry for being manipulative. I said that I actually did remember receiving a clear ‘no’ and that I wasn’t sure why I was so tempted to be dishonest.
When I pondered how I had fallen into such an ego-based trap that I would lie in order to maintain a certain image, it struck me that there were layers to my issue.
- Firstly, I wanted to help my friend Rinna. Why? Because I want to be likeable, a ‘good’ friend. Helping is my love language. If I can’t help, it’s easy for me to feel like a ‘bad’ person and to worry that I’m not going to be kept around in that person’s life. If I’m not dependable, helpful, useful, why would anyone want me?
This is obviously rooted in my personal brand of insecurity: I want to be wanted. I try to make myself ‘desirable’ by being practically useful. We all want community, to belong, to be accepted.I want to be wanted because my soul wound lie tells me that I’m not. Thus, my hidden agenda is to prove the soul wound wrong by over-compensating and over-functioning — i.e., by my egoistic inner task-master driving me to pretend, perfect, and perform.
- Secondly, this experience has helped me realize that it is very important to my ego-based false self to be seen as an ‘enlightened’ person who, for example, totally gets how to create and respect healthy boundaries.
Yet, I can be a boundary bully at times, too, just like anyone. In fact, maybe my idealized view of myself makes me even more blind to the times I don’t act like the perfect version of myself that I’m emotionally married to. That’s a scary thought!So, when I made the mistake of being a boundary bully, I was desperate to cover it up. I lied to myself, trying to convince myself of anything other than the obvious truth. When I bought in, it became possible to then lie to Paxton and say “I just don’t quite remember …”.
- Thirdly, not only did I not want to believe that I could make such a elementary blunder, but there was also the aspect of not wanting Paxton to dislike me, either (boy, there is a lot of people-pleasing and seeking for external validation going on here). I want him to like me and be my friend, too. So, I lied so as to not seem like a boundary-buster (who wants those as friends?).
I tried to save face which, in my opinion, always entails some level of dishonesty. This time, it was far enough on the spectrum that I had to notice it. Ouch.But who wants a dishonest friend, either?
Yet owning up to a lie definitely has some risks.
If you’re never found out (and who’s to say I would have been this time; it probably wasn’t likely), people in relationship with you might still think of you as being honest even though you’re not all the time.
But if you ‘fess up to ever being less than 100% truthful, won’t that just plant a seed of doubt in others’ minds? Might they become preoccupied with wondering how often you’re lying? Surely, you don’t *always* confess?
When we don’t own up to lying sometimes — whatever the shade of relative truth to untruth — it’s easy for us and others to continue believing that we’re honest Abes. We can all continue to be ostriches with our heads in the sand, oblivious to the fact that we’re all liars, sometimes.
When you take responsibility for even some of those ‘white lies’ or otherwise relatively innocuous ones, you’ve shone a spotlight on the fact that you’re not perfect. You wake those around you up to the probability that you’re not perfect in other ways, too. Peeling back all those masks is vulnerable and, therefore, terrifying.
Texting Paxton to say that I had lied and that I was being manipulative was one of the harder things my ego has had to do lately. It was brutal to take a long look at myself and not like what I was seeing at that point.
It hurt to realize that some of the aspects of myself that I like to consider my ‘core identity’ don’t always show up on the playing field.
It’s a blow to one’s self-esteem (or is that arrogance?) to realize that you’re falling way short of your idealized image of your ‘best and truest self.’
It sucks to see yourself fail at something you’re ‘supposed’ to be excellent at …
Because if you aren’t always who you think you are, WHO ARE YOU!?
Well, I’m sometimes truthful and sometimes a stinky liar. Sometimes I’m kind; other times I’m cruel. Sometimes I’m selfish; other times I’m selfless. I’m both disciplined and lazy, …organized and sloppy, ……dependable and flakey. Sometimes I radiate joy. Sometimes I’m an angry monster. Sometimes I’m a sulky pants.
Maybe we would be less angry if we wouldn’t faithfully deny ourselves the space to be sometimes angry. Maybe we would be less selfish if we would let ourselves recognize when we are. Maybe we would actually lie less if we admitted that we lie sometimes vs. absolutely never.
Maybe we would make fewer mistakes and hurt fewer people if we would stop expecting ourselves to not be ‘that kind of person’ who makes mistakes and hurts people. Maybe if we stop making errors out to be a big deal, we would take fewer (and smaller) missteps as opposed to compounding our blunders.
Maybe if we would simply embrace our imperfection, we would be then actually … more perfect.