|Home | Emotional Literacy
We wear a
mask that grins and lies
Emotional honesty means expressing your true feelings. To be emotionally honest we must first be emotionally aware. This emotional awareness is related to our emotional intelligence. It is our emotional intelligence, combined with the necessary learning, practice and experience, which gives us the ability to accurately identify our feelings.
Emotional intelligence may also give us the ability to decide when it is in our best interest to be emotionally honest by sharing our real feelings. There are times when it is not healthy or safe for us to be emotionally honest. In general though, I believe we would be better off individually and as a society if we would be more emotionally honest.
If we are more emotionally honest with ourselves we will get to know our "true selves" on a deeper level. This could help us become more self-accepting. It could also helps us make better choices about how to spend our time and who to spend it with.
If we are emotionally honest with others, it may encourage them to be more emotionally honest. When we are emotionally honest we are more likely not to be asked or pressured to do things which we do not want to do. We will also find out sooner who respects our feelings.
Here is a quote from Gerry Spence, one of the most successful (based on number of cases won) lawyers in American history.
"Openly revealing our feelings establishes credibility"
|How Society Discourages Emotional
It takes emotional awareness, self-confidence, even courage to be emotionally honest.
This is because, in many ways, society teaches us to ignore, repress, deny and lie about our feelings. For example, when asked how we feel, most of us will reply "fine" or "good," even if that is not true. Often, people will also say that they are not angry or not defensive, when it is obvious that they are.
Children start out emotionally honest. They express their true feelings freely and spontaneously. But the training to be emotionally dishonest begins at an early age. Parents and teachers frequently encourage or even demand that children speak or act in ways which are inconsistent with the child's true feelings. The child is told to smile when actually she is sad. She is told to apologize when she feels no regret. She is told to say "thank you," when she feels no appreciation. She is told to "stop complaining" when she feels mistreated. She may be told to kiss people good night when she would never do so voluntarily. She may be told it is "rude" and "selfish" to protest being forced to act in ways which go against her feelings.
Also, children are told they can't use certain words to express themselves. I have seen more than one parent tell their child not to use the word "hate," for example. And of course, the use of profanity to express one's feelings is often punished, sometimes harshly. In some cases the parent never allows the children to explain why they feel so strongly.
As children become adolescents they begin to think more for themselves. They begin to speak out more, "talk back" more and challenge the adults around them. If these adults feel threatened they are likely to defend themselves by invalidating the adolescent's feelings and perceptions. There is also peer pressure to conform to the group norms.
Through all of this the child and adolescent learns they can't be honest with their feelings. They gradually stop being emotionally honest with their parents, their teachers, their friends and even themselves. They learn it just doesn't pay to express one's true feelings.
|Emotional Honesty and Parenting
Parents can create an emotionally safe environment, where the child and adolescent is free to be emotionally honest, or they may create just the opposite. The way we were parented is probably the main factor in how emotionally honest we are later in life.
The primary way to create an emotionally safe environment is through emotional validation. When we are accepted and validated emotionally we aren't afraid of being rejected or punished for expressing any feelings, thoughts, questions or perceptions we might have. We are free to be ourselves, and our parents get to know us as we really are. When we are accepted as we really are, and not just as the image we believe we need to portray, we feel a strong sense of inner security. We can be more emotionally honest with others because we are not as afraid of their rejection. Since we feel secure within ourselves, the acceptance or rejection from others is simply not as important to us. We are more free to be ourselves with everyone. This quality attracts other people who are also secure and can be themselves. Therefore, we are likely to be surrounded by secure, self-confident, emotionally honest people as the years go by.
On the other hand when we, as children, are discouraged from being anything less than fully emotionally honest, the parents don't see the true "us." Over time, some children drift further and further away from their parents emotionally. During adolescence this distance often becomes more evident. Then when the adolescent is legally free to leave the home they avoid contact with the parents, or they may stay in contact only out of a feeling of obligation or guilt rather than a desire to share things with them. After all, the parents don't really know the person who was living under the same roof with them for all those years.
Worse yet, the parents might really believe they do know their children. They may then be confused and frustrated by the things their child or adolescent does. They might say, "I don't understand how you can do so and so!" But the reason they don't understand is because they don't really know their son or daughter due to the many years of discouraging emotional honesty.
We feel most understood when someone understands how we feel. But if we have not been allowed to express our true feelings, then it is impossible for someone to really understand us. Especially during the adolescent years it is important for us to feel understood by our parents. Parents may believe they understand us "from head to toe," but the child does not feel understood, and this is what matters the most.
(See related story on understanding.)
|A Few More Thoughts on
- Emotional dishonesty also requires more energy than emotional honesty.
- When we are emotionally dishonest we lose out on the value of our natural feelings
- When we are emotionally dishonest we are going against the forces of evolution rather than in harmony with them
- When we are emotionally dishonest we are being false, unreal and in opposition to reality. it takes energy to oppose reality, nature and evolution
- Emotional dishonesty, inauthenticity and falseness creates distrust and tension in society
At the same time, part of a highly developed EI is knowing when to be emotionally honest, when to remain silent and when to act in line with or counter to our true feelings. There is something of a continuum of emotional honesty which includes unintended repression, full disclosure, discretionary disclosure, and intentional manipulation and emotional fraud. Furthermore, there is a constant trade-off between our short term vs. long term interests, our needs vs. others' needs and our self-judgment vs. judgment by others. Because all of this is largely an emotional problem to be solved, and a complex one at that, I believe emotional intelligence is being used when we make our decisions about when and how much to be emotionally honest. In my experience, approaching full emotional honesty simplifies my life, helps me see who will accept me as I am -- which in itself is a freeing discovery -- and offers me the opportunity for a rare sense of integrity, closeness and fulfillment.
Nathaniel Branden writes:
Excerpt from an article by Lynn Lott, a marriage and family counselor in the USA
Here is Lynn's site
|Stories about Discouraging Emotional
|Lack of emotional honesty
leads to miscommunication
|Emotional Honesty, Life and Death
This is a copy of an actual chat when I showed the story about Mary to a teen I was counseling:
misunderstood says: yeah. i used to do that all the time. the worst part is being the person who says it's fine cuz you feel so lost and depressed and no one's there. and no one's there cuz they don't know. it's scary. sph says: u used to tell pple u were fine? misunderstood says: yeah... every day sph says: like who? misunderstood says: teachers, neighbors, my mom. i was always scared if i told anyone like the teachers or neighbors or anyone that my mom was hitting me, that they'd tell her. and then my mom would hit me. and if my mom knew i was hurt by what she did, she'd hit me again. misunderstood says: once in second grade the teacher wrote something on my report card about how my grades must be failing because of the things going on at home. and when my mom read it, she thought i told the teacher. and she hit me. so after that i told everyone that everything was fine so no one would get upset, so i wouldn't get hit.
a 16 Year Old in the USA
- Based on a true story
For many months a father was excited about taking his 17 year old daughter skiing in Canada. He loved skiing and he did not get to see his daughter often because they had lived in different countries since his divorce 10 years earlier. The daughter did not really want to go, but she knew how much her father wanted to. Also, her mother had also been subtly pressuring her to go by telling her how important it was to spend time with her father, reminding her of all the nice things he had done for her, all the presents and money he had sent her, etc. A few weeks before they were scheduled to leave for the trip, the daughter started dating someone. It was her first serious boyfriend. The more she thought about being away from her boyfriend for two weeks, the less she wanted to go to Canada with her father, especially since it was the only vacation time she would have before school started again, and because her boyfriend would be leaving to go to a university in another country before she got home.
The father knew she had started dating, but he didn't approve because her boyfriend was older and also from another culture and religion. The father was afraid to ask how his daughter felt about going and the daughter was afraid to tell him. He just kept on talking about how good it would be for them to spend time together and how much he was looking forward to the trip. Her best friend, though, saw how miserable she was feeling and asked her how much she wanted to go from 0-10. She said 0, but she added that she could never tell her father that because it would start an argument and it would hurt him too much. The friend suggested she at least tell her mother, but she said that if she did tell her, she would have to lie and say that it was more like a 5 than a 0, since she knew her mother wanted her to go and her mother also disapproved of her relationship. She said it was simpler if she just went.
The mother, though, could tell that the daughter wasn't very excited about the trip. She knew her daughter did not like the cold and did not like to ski. She knew her daughter would rather spend this time with her new boyfriend, but she never asked her daughter directly how she felt about going. Instead, she suggested to her ex-husband that he ask her. But of course the father was afraid to ask because he was afraid of what he might hear. So the daughter ended up going on the trip, trying to pretend to enjoy it, and crying herself to sleep nearly every night. In the end, everyone was unhappy because the mother and father felt guilty and defensive, and the daughter and her boyfriend felt disrespected and resentful.
|I Would be Happy to Water your
Plants. (True Story)
Sandra checked her answering machine when she got home. There was a message from a friend of hers who asked if she could water his plants while he was on vacation. When she heard this she said, "I really don't want to do that." Then she called the friend. She said, "Patrick, I would be happy to water your plants."
|* Poem is by Paul Lawrence Dunbar|