The Problem with Telling the Truth


Note: this article was initially published as part of Alauna Whelan’s MayMagick. To download the full e-book of contributions, click here.


Several years ago a friend of our family spent some time in therapy. I don’t know anything about what came up for her in those sessions other than what she chose as a response. And that was to tell her truth. 

 The consequences were disastrous. Unkind words and no-holding-back sharing of everything she felt about her childhood, her parents and her siblings. Her perceived truth was that she was better off without any of them. Needless to say, her mother was heart-broken. And her family left in tatters. 

 This kind of “truth-telling” is brutal. And I wonder if it’s why the truth has a bit of a bad reputation. We’ve all seen examples of heartfelt messages turn into emotionally destructive rants. We’ve seen truth-telling confused with excruciating over-sharing. And many of us have been on the receiving end, left feeling hurt, perhaps confused, and in many instances believing that silence is the better virtue. 

But that’s the thing about truth. When we hold it back for extensive periods of time, when it does reveal itself, it’s ugly.

And not because the truth itself is ugly. The truth, when felt at a heart level, is beautiful. It’s liberating. It’s empowering. It’s sincere. And when we connect with our own personal truth, we feel an enormous sense of relief in finally being able to stop the self-editing and share of ourselves, as we really are. Honest, unshackled and free.  

No, it’s not the truth itself that’s ugly, but the feeling of not being able to access it, that is.

We feel a sense of suppressed anger at not being able to be ourselves. The feeling of entrapment that comes from occupying insufficient space in the world. The sense of shame that comes from believing our truth is somehow less important than anyone else’s.  That our needs matter less. And the deep realisation that without accessing this truth, we’re really just compromising ourselves.

There is not a single person who wants to feel this way. It’s contractive. It’s stifling. It’s living a small life when we know our true nature is craving something greater.

And yet we all do it from time to time. Often, for what feels like good reason.

Sometimes it’s about our perceived external situation: We’re afraid of the consequences. We don’t feel as if the environment is safe enough. We’ll get shut down. We don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. The reaction won’t be worth it.

And sometimes it’s more of an internal nature: What I have to say isn’t important enough. I won’t be liked anymore. My point of view doesn’t matter. What if I don’t have what it takes to deal with the consequences? It’s easier to keep the peace. 

I don’t believe it has to be this way.

I believe truth-telling can be done gently, and consciously.  That it can be both healing and liberating. Grounding and enlightening. Calming and empowering. And that when we know our truth and learn to speak it, it opens up the space for honesty, empathy and connection. With ourselves, and also with others. 

Wherever you are on your truth-telling journey, here are some principles I find useful:

1. To speak your truth you first have to know your truth.

To speak your truth, you have to know what’s important to you. What you value. What you desire. Where your boundaries lie.  Without this clarity, you may feel unease in an area of your life, but unable to put a finger on it. If you’re unsure, start with some journaling, using a simple prompt such as “I want…” “I need…” to help you reconnect with your inner truth.

2. Truth-telling is only as good as its highest intention

Before telling the truth, we need to check in with our intentions. What do we hope to get out of this? Are we wanting to assert our boundaries? Are we hoping to iron out an area of conflict? Are we needing to share our vulnerabilities? None of these scenarios are good or bad in their own right, but we’ll know how aligned our intentions are by how they feel. If we’re really honest with ourselves, is this a healing moment or is it an ego moment?

3. We don’t need to tell the truth about absolutely everything

When we experience the relief of truth-telling, there can be a tendency to apply it to everything. Sometimes this is just the swing of the pendulum so I’m learning that it’s also about knowing when to keep quiet.  We can certainly havea truth, but we don’t have to speakit at every opportunity. When the situation or relationship is important enough to seek clarity and healing, speaking the truth is critical. But not everything is.

4. The truth, when spoken with awareness, is more readily received

When we speak with respect for the other’s highest good, we tend to speak in a way that is more easily heard. We communicate with less judgment or blame. And more from the vibration within our hearts that truly seeks peace.  By checking in with our own higher selves before speaking the truth, we bring a sense of balance, groundedness and heart to our words. And this energy is felt by others.

5. Learning to speak our truth is a skill we can practice 

This can be new terrain for many of us, but it isaccessible to everyone. We can allow ourselves a gentle introduction to get used to flexing that muscle. Maybe we start by sharing how we really felt about the movie we just watched. Perhaps we replace “I’m fine” with a more sincere answer.  Or perhaps we stay in the journaling space a little longer, speaking these truths only to ourselves, for now.