How Honesty Helps Happiness (Episode 5-39)
Updated: Apr 26
How to get over things by experiencing them
Where to start when writing about honesty? Well, I can honestly say that I wish I would dare to be more honest, more often. Not that I am a big liar who never tells the truth though. However, I catch myself more often than I’d like to admit not being fully honest, or not communicating truthfully what I think or feel. In those cases where I am not fully honest, and don’t say everything I have on my heart, I always notice something happening. It is as if by doing that, I create a gap within myself. Between who I am and what I feel in that moment, versus what I show and express. Often, the reason for not being fully honest comes from being concerned, or afraid, of what the other person will think. Whether I will hurt their feelings, damage the relationship or if they will consider me too direct, or perhaps rude or an asshole when I’m fully honest. Or, I hold back because I fear conflict or rejection for being truthful. Society has taught us (and me) to be polite. It taught us diplomacy. Beating around the bush. I’m not sure if those things are good. Especially considering that all of these take us farther away from the truth. Farther away from our experience in the here and now. While at the same time building distance within ourselves, and between us and other people. In order to keep the peace in our relationships, we often keep distance and withhold our truth. Over time however, that distance is going to grow wider and wider and ultimately the relationship fades, falls away, or explodes in an irreparable way. There should be another way.
The dance no one enjoys
When I’m not being fully honest, I start to dance. Dancing around the other person’s feelings, and my own. Tiptoeing. Walking on egg-shells. Doing that long enough, or often enough, is a great recipe for feeling like absolute crap. It’s also a proven recipe for destroyed and corrupting even the best and most beautiful relationships. Because this dance is not one that I, or anyone for that matter, actually enjoys. On the contrary. It causes stress and anxiety. It causes us to interact with other people from a place which is not us. A place, where we act from a role, or from behind a mask, where we’re not being real. Shiri Harley describes it well, as she states: ‘The fact is we’re all a bunch of wimps. Even our closest friends don’t speak up about the things we do that disappoint them. They don’t want to cause conflict, hurt our feelings or damage the relationship. But when someone does not speak up, the relationship is damaged anyway’. This dishonesty between people, when we’re not fully telling the truth, creates distance, and corrupts the development of trust between people. We want to preserve a good impression in the mind of other people. If we can stop doing that, we leave it open for people to think of us whatever they want without us manipulating them. What comes from that is mostly gratitude and real and heartfelt connections.
The benefits of practicing honesty
Therefore, practicing to be more honest with ourselves and other people will have a tremendous positive effect on our wellbeing and happiness. ‘You can’t be honest with others unless you are first honest with yourself’ (Mackenzie, 2016). We will not have to dance around other people’s feelings anymore, and there will be less distance in our relationships, and much more closeness and trust if we dare to be vulnerable and really honestly show all that is there of us to see. When we’re fully honest, we don’t have to worry anymore about what we can and cannot share. All is in the open. This also goes for the irritations, anger and disappointment we might at times experience in our relationships with other people. Instead of tucking these feelings away for unavoidable explosion later, or physical illness, we share them in the moment. This helps us to actually get passed the experience and move on. This is a huge thing. During my interview with Dr. Faye Mandell, I spoke with her about being in the present moment through the experience of the emotions and feelings in our body. By recognizing where we are in our thinking based on observing our thoughts, we can become aware of what emotion needs to be experienced. Read this post for more on this process.
Actually, taking time to experience our emotions will free us from tension and bring us back into the here and now. The same process and benefits apply to expressing honestly what we experience in the current moment. This is exactly what the practice of Radical Honesty is all about as articulated by Dr. Brad Blanton. ‘Radical Honesty addresses the problems we create for ourselves when we hide who we really are, what we really think, what we’re really feeling in the [present] moment’ (Kolb, 2021). Not being open and honest makes us tired and disconnected. Life is so much happier when we can just be who we are in the moment, whatever that might look or feel like. Express freely whatever we experience in the moment, get over it, and be happy again. It is the pretending that we are not upset when we actually are, that weighs us down and numbs our happiness. When we dare to be honest, the opposite happens. Energy starts to flow again, and we connect closer and more profoundly with the people around us.
There are different ways of being honest. One approach to practicing honesty that really resonates with me is Radical Honesty. This practice has been developed by Dr. Brad Blanton and is articulated very well in his practical and entertaining book, Radical Honesty. Radical Honesty helps us differentiating between what factually is real, and the meaning we attribute to events and feelings (which we then confuse and perceive as real). In very simple terms, Radical Honesty is the practice of reporting what we notice, moment to moment. As Blanton states, ‘the essence of life is being a presence in the world. To be participating in acknowledging and noticing each other’ (Blanton, 2015). To aid this practice of real participation in the world we need to cultivate our ability to notice. We’ve been taught that thinking is the most important thing. However, thinking is an unreliable mess. Noticing is more important than thinking. Radical honesty is about articulating what you notice (Blanton, 2005). It teaches to report, unfiltered, as much as possible, what we notice and are aware of in the different areas of our awareness. Often, we report about things we imagine or think about as if they are real and as if we’ve seen or heard them. In reality, so often these are actually our interpretations of reality and the constructs of our mind. When we can learn to see the difference between fact and feelings, and we can express and articulate both, it helps us overcome our feelings and move on. This is a very profound practice. Radical Honesty is a hyper accelerated process of getting to know who you are. It helps us acknowledge all that is there, as it is, in the present moment. Both the good and the bad. ‘Radical Honesty is a form of interpersonal meditation’ (Kolb, 2021).
The inside, outside and upside-down of Radical Honesty
Essentially, the practice of Radical Honesty is reporting to other people what we notice, moment to moment, based on the awareness continuum of Gestalt theory. In practical terms this means reporting what we observe inside of us, outside of us, and in our mind; what we are thinking. Radical Honesty refers to this as inside, outside, and the upside-down:
The inside refers to the specific sensations we feel within the confines of our skin, right now in this present moment. For example, this can be heat, cold, tension, tightness, tingling, relaxation, energy moving, or perhaps we’re noticing that we’re fidgeting somewhere with our body;
The outside refers to anything outside of our skin. Typically, this refers to things we can see and hear in the world around us, and what other people say and do;
The upside down is what Radical Honesty refers to as the mind, as ‘it’s kind of fucked up and it gets us in trouble most of the time’ (Kolb, 2021). This category of awareness contains all our thoughts, images, fantasies, judgements; anything you’re experiencing in your mind right now.
Most of us spend the majority of our awareness in the third category, our mind. Observing our thoughts, and even worse, attributing meaning to them. We spend time being lost in our thoughts. In our mind we mistake our judgments, assumptions and our concepts of the world and how we think it should be, for reality. Thoughts are not reality. They are mental constructs which actually tend to take us (far) away from reality in the here and now. In many cases, our thoughts are based on previous experiences in reality. Our expectations of the world, and other people, are similarly and merely mental constructs. They are not real. The more so because we often neglect to express them. Our mistake as human beings is that we have started to fully identify ourselves with all of these mental constructs. Most of our thoughts and mental constructs are unconscious. We are not present and aware of their being; however, we are allowing ourselves to be led by them. Radical Honesty is the practice of becoming aware of these constructs and how they shape our actions and instead of being led by them, experience the feelings and move on. Radical Honesty is a practical way of getting over shit. If we’re going to report to someone about what’s going on, we have to report what’s going on in all three areas of awareness. That can be messy, as they can contradict each other. By expressing what we notice, we can gain clarity. ‘The mind is not a very reliable thing. In order to get some clarity, we need each other. My faulty mind needs to be able to have a rapport to your faulty mind, and we need to be able to talk about it. [And in this process], if we’re not honest, we’re even more fucked up than we already are’ (Blanton, 2015).
Not communicating to be understood, but expressing to experience and get over it
This process of articulating what we notice, moment to moment, honestly and truthfully, is not about clear communication or being understood. This is a very important point, as my rational mind assumed this was the purpose. On the contrary, it is much more basic and simpler. It is for us, the person whom reports on what he/she is noticing, to experience whatever is there, and get over it.
The process of reporting on what you notice helps with recognizing what is going on in the moment, and to get over whatever is happening to you in that moment, rather than getting stuck in our thoughts or learnt ways of being, acting or responding. What I know I do for instance, is that I can withdraw from someone when I’m feeling hurt, misunderstood or mistreated. As I’m not enough aware in those moments to articulate, for myself or others, what it is that I am experiencing, I withdraw from the experience all together. Instead, Radical Honesty teaches to become present with whatever is happening in that moment, and to articulate it to be able to get over it and let it go. This practice therefore is about communicating and expressing to understand ourselves more. When we can express the things we notice and experience in the present moment, that puts us in the here and now and away from our thoughts in our ‘upside-down’ mind.
The context, empathy and compassion when being honest
Radical Honesty can come across as blunt and hurtful at times. Provokingly, Brad Blanton even recommends offending people and hurting their feelings (Blanton, 2015). When done right, I don’t believe this has to be the case. In order to limit offending people by our practice of Radical Honesty, it is important to consider context and be empathetic and compassionate in our practice of honesty.
The context in which we express our honesty is often overlooked. Is the person we are about to be (radically) honest with actually in the right place to hear us? What has been the impact of our exchange and communication until this point? Have triggers been touched? Is the person whom we’re about to be honest with able to hear us? Or will they, instead of hearing us, and thereby helping us move through the experience, take the things we say personal and thereby create yet another point of friction. Therefore, when intending to be really honest, it is very important to set the stage. Explain what you aim to do, and what purpose it serves. Again, this has really been an epiphany for me, to realize that being honest isn’t necessarily (or in Radical Honesty almost never) about communicating something to be understood. It simply serves the purpose to experience what is going on in the here and now and reporting that, moment to moment. By doing so, we will be able to actually experience it and move on from that experience. The practice of Radical Honest thereby becomes therapeutic.
When setting the stage, clearly explain that the purpose of being radically honest is not about making the other person wrong, but instead serves as a means for you to get over something by expressing it. In this process, it is important to fully be able to express yourself in whatever way you feel. That could mean becoming loud, cussing, or even cursing or shouting at the other person. Especially pent-up anger causes a lot of problems both for ourselves in terms of health and wellbeing, but also for the people we interact with. It is important in this regard to clarify that this expression towards the other person is not to blame them. In the end, we are responsible for our feelings and experiences. Not other people. However, expressing what we are experiencing to other people can be extremely liberating. When expressing anger, the intention is to express it so that we can stop being angry. Essentially therefore, when we are being radically honest with someone, we are asking them a favor to help us move on. By doing so, we can actually become connected (again) to that person we are angry with. As Michael rightfully emphasizes during our interview, we have to own this intention of getting over the experience. We can’t simply use it as an opportunity to rant and make the other person wrong.
Our upset and anger is never anyone’s fault or responsibility, but our own. The point is for us to get over the anger or whatever other limiting experience we are experiencing in that moment. Not to put the blame for it on someone else. By doing so, we become able to reconnect better with that person. We often get stuck in the other person needing to understand where we’re coming from. But what that often is in reality, is just a bunch of mental constructs and learnt behavior based on past experiences. Not reality. There is also no need to explain why what they did hurt us. The point is simple; just to get over the experience. Not to create new experiences of hurt, triggers and frustration. This will lead to inevitable fights on who’s interpretation of the world and past events is correct. Instead, experience fully by expressing honestly, get over it, and move on! Of course, when we are doing this, we should also invite the other person to do the same and clean his or her slate with us. And move on, together. You can go back and forth with this process, as long as it takes for the both of you to come back to a neutral state of being. As Michael said during our interview, ‘messes can be cleaned up’.
We’re practiced in being offended and getting stuck in our emotions
‘Many people say they want the truth but they don’t really welcome it. They greet it with sarcasm, apathy or resentment’ (Johnson and Phillips, 2003). This tends to happen because we easily take things personal. We’re easily offended. That’s when we start creating problems for ourselves. For some strange reason, we hold on to this experience of being offended or hurt, and attribute meaning to it. This probably come from the fact that we’re resisting the experience to begin with. What we resist, persists. But there is good news too. Because what we allow to be, simply passes. When we are willing to experience an experience, it comes and goes. Realizing this, and more importantly experiencing this, is an extremely liberating experience.
As Brad Blanton states in in his TED talk, it actually takes around 90 seconds to get over something. ‘Modern psychological experiments show that unimpeded emotions generally take from 60 to 180 seconds to course through our body and be experienced’ (Kolb, 2021). However, most of us are extremely practiced in delaying or even halting this process of experiencing the emotion. We attribute unjust meaning to it, connect it with past (unprocessed) hurt and thereby stop ourselves from experiencing the emotion. This ultimately results in the emotions getting stuck in our bodies. Because if this, sometimes we stop talking to someone for years over something which we’ve already forgotten. It’s the attributed meaning we attach to the experience instead of just allowing the experience to be felt that results in our inability to get over something. Instead, when we can learn to actually experience all that happens in the current moment, or even all that still needs to be experienced from the past, we are able to become free of it and move on. In order to do this, we have to express what’s there, fully. When it comes to anger, it means being really angry. Yelling, screaming, cussing. Fully allowing the experience to be experienced. Whereafter we are free, and can move on.
As adults, we have lost the ability to let our emotions flow through us as children can do. A child in one moment can be furious, and in the next it can laugh and be full of joy (Kolb, 2021). This is a skill we need to relearn as adults in order to live more regulated and happy lives. When you’re willing to experience an experience, it comes and goes. But when you’re resisting, it persists (Blanton, 2015). When we allow the experience, it passes through us and we can return to our natural state of being again. This process is called organismic self-regulation in Gestalt Therapy. It’s our body and being that spontaneously self-regulates after allowing the experience to be experienced. By allowing what is, we can become free from it.
How to help someone deal with the experience of our (radical) honesty?
Being the control freak that I am, during my interview with Michael I brought the attention to this topic twice, as I was eager to learn what to do so that I could help people deal with my (radical) honestly. Of course, I’m afraid of hurting people’s feelings. Actually, as Michael so accurately observed, it is not up to us (or me!) to control the experience of other people’s feelings, or whether or not they get hurt. This is not up to us! It’s even the reason why we don’t dare to be honest in the first place. Instead, there has to be a certain amount of letting go of the control that we try to exert over other people and their experience in their interaction with us, and our honesty. Instead of trying to control what happens, the best that we can do is just be there. Be present to your own experience, and let the other person have his or hers. And simply report, what you notice in your own experience. By doing so, instead of controlling the experience, you create an example for the other person. Express your experience to get over it and not get stuck in it. By doing so, we invite other people to do the same. This is also a point emphasized by Brad Blanton in his TED talk. He stresses the importance of being with, and staying with, the other person when we’re expressing our honesty. Being there while holding the space allows them to experience and go through their emotions too. Simply our presence with them will help. Just as their attendance to our sharing helps us move through what we’re experiencing. Honesty therefore is not a one-sides experience. Being honest together is important and a healing practice for that matter. For all parties involved.
Truth as an ever-changing concept
Finally, I think it is important to realize that truth is always changing. When we are speaking of honesty, we think of the truth. For some reason, we tend to attach some form of permanence to truth. But what if you don’t know what is truth for you, in the present moment? Or what if truth changes? One thing I’ve learnt from living in different countries, is that there is not one truth. It all depends on perspective. Even my truth, to some or more extend, changes with my context. I think this is an important thing to be aware of when discussing honesty. Realizing this will help us be more flexible and nimbler when it comes to reporting our truth and our experiences as they manifest themselves in the here and now. Actually, the only truth is what we are experiencing in the present moment (Kolb, 2021). It is our mind and mental constructs that try to capture our truth and spread it out over a bigger timespan. It’s also what society teaches us. It is how our education system functions, and our legal frameworks. With regard to honesty, the perceived permanence to truth is a limiting mental construct. When we boil down truth to what we observe in our physical body, outside of us, and in our mind, it becomes humble. Just reporting what you notice in the moment. Truth again becomes a simple concept, ever changing and fluent. Yet, always much more truthful than some ruminated notion. Michael mentions that whenever we’re trying to figure out what truth is, or how we can be honest, we’re in our third category of awareness; our mind. Coming back and observing what we notice in our body, and outside of us, can help us make sense of the experience again, through becoming present in the here and now. Report your thoughts as thoughts, rather than being identified with them as some sort of truth (Kolb, 2021). Thoughts are never truth with a capital T. They are just that, thoughts. Practice sitting in the seat of noticing. Reporting on what we notice in the here and now. This is as close to the truth as it gets, and what is referred to as truth in Radical Honesty (Kolb, 2021).
Chances are that you experience recognition, when reading all, or at least some, of the above. On paper, or online, this all sounds simple and easy. It is simple. But far from easy. Especially in the interactions with other people, things get messy for me. I’m sure the same is true for you. Practicing more (radical) honesty is a really great thing that can benefit us, our happiness, and relationships tremendously. However, being honest is not a quick fix. It’s a hard, scary and confrontational practice that needs a lot of time and cultivation. Being honest, or becoming more honest requires work and practice. Finally, don’t take it too seriously. Be playful about it. And let’s not take ourselves too seriously. In this way, we can learn to get over experiences without getting stuck with our feelings. Simply, by expressing what we notice, moment to moment.
To learn about honesty, I’ve reached out to Radical Honesty Enterprises, the company that developed from of the book ‘Radical Honesty’ by Brad Blanton. Michael Kolb, Certified Radical Honesty trainer and Director of Radical Honesty Enterprises agreed to do an interview with me on this exciting but confrontational topic. Intuitively, I feel that being fully honest and open is the way to be. However, society, politeness, and fear of conflict prevent us from this. I’ve been greatly impressed by the book ‘Radical Honesty’ and the practical approach to honesty it advocates. Therefore, I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to pick Michael’s brain on honesty and to share this interview with you here. Unfortunately, we’ve had some issues with the internet speed, and stopped using the video feature of our Zoom call rather quickly. Due to poor internet connections, the audio is delayed at times, sorry! But I promise, it will be worth hanging in there, as Michael’s insights and sharing are invaluable. Enjoy, and I hope this helps your practice in being (more) honest! Radical Honesty website: https://www.radicalhonesty.com Michael Kolb’s profile: https://www.radicalhonesty.com/michael-kolb
Blanton, Brad, 2005, Radical Honesty. https://amzn.to/3lajgMm
Blanton, Brad, 2015, How to Get Over Shit and Be Happy. https://youtu.be/V_Fp93OtaHE, accessed on 27 July 2021.
Blanton, Brad, 2015, Radical Honesty - The Importance of Telling the Radical Truth. https://youtu.be/aukzYMDx2XE, accessed on 28 July 2021.
Harley, Shari, 2013, How to Say Anything to Anyone. https://amzn.to/3rEGBHg
Johnson, Larry, and Phillips, Bob, 2003, Absolute Honesty. https://amzn.to/3l9p6gY
Mackenzie, Mindy, 2016, The Courage Solution. https://amzn.to/3zP0RsG
Thacker, Karissa, 2016, The Art of Authenticity. https://amzn.to/3iWZBwR