The material in this series of 22 x blogs (of which this is number 18) with this similar format were originally published by the now late Ivan Sokolov and his wife Jacquie Pearson under the auspices of The Parent Network. They are re-published with the permission of the authors for which I am most grateful.
Saying what you would like
This is about sharing feelings – truth and lies. When you tell others clearly what you would or would not like, they know what to expect and can act accordingly. Unfortunately many of us have been taught to keep what we want to ourselves or that it was impolite to be direct, so we must express our wants in devious or roundabout ways.
We have this beautiful double-bind in our society which is summed up in the two following statements: “If you ask, you don’t get” and “I want doesn’t get”. Between the two it is very difficult to sort out what to do in order to get what you want!
Have a go at making “I would like” statements out of the following:-
- You don’t cuddle me like you used to”.
- “That sounds like a really interesting play”.
- “My friends get to go out with their husbands once a week.”.
Openness, honesty and truth
It’s good to examine the words and meanings of both truth and lies.
- What does telling the truth mean?
- How do we decide to tell the truth or not?
- Why do we fear telling the truth in some situations and not others?
All these are questions that we ask ourselves at some time or another and finding the answers can at times be very difficult for us.
- Do I tell my best friend that her husband is having an affair?
- Do I tell my boyfriend that I don’t like the earrings he bought me?
- Do I tell my little daughter what strangers could do to her?
- Do I tell my wife when I am attracted to somebody else?
- Do I tell my little boy that I don’t like his best friend?
Truth is not something unchangeable that stands forever: it changes all the time, as does the degree to which we as individuals feel able to speak our truths.
Perhaps we all have private places inside where no one is allowed to go. We also have less private places where people who are very close to us are allowed, then we have a sort of open space where lots of people are allowed to go. And we have the ability to close ourselves off almost completely when confronted with someone we feel is a threat to us.
So, the amount of truth about ourselves that we show varies with the type of relationship we are in.
We may also have inner truths that we hide even from ourselves, though others may often recognise them. These hidden truths may be painful ones (for instance, that we believe we are unlovable) or they may be positive ones that we can’t allow ourselves to accept, like how valuable we are. We cannot cope with the knowledge of them, and won’t, until we are ready to.
You cannot force anyone to accept their hidden truths.
Not telling the truth
Regarding truth and lies, not telling the truth is usually called “lying” and lying is generally regarded as not a very good thing to do. We teach our children that lying is wrong and that teaching is backed up in our schools.
There are two problems with this oversimplified view of lying. The first is that, if you want to teach children to believe that lying is wrong, you must not lie in their presence – ever. You cannot allow yourself “white” lies, such as saying on the phone to someone who wants to visit that you are going out. Working out when a lie is not a lie can be quite a complicated question for adults but for children it is very simple – a lie is a lie whether it be large or small.
The second problem is that we lie for a reason. If we just regard lying as wrong and take a dogmatic or moralistic attitude on the matter, we can miss the needs underlying the lies that are told. For instance, we sometimes lie:-
- To avoid what we perceive as being worse consequences if we told a truth.
- To get something we want.
- To avoid pain, our own or other people’s.
- To present ourselves in a good light.
Lying takes energy because it means suppressing the truth and energy is needed in order to suppress anything. This is why people often feel great relief and a weight off their shoulders when they tell a truth they have been witholding. Lying also complicates matters.
Generally, the more safe and secure we feel with ourselves the more open and honest we allow ourselves to be. Being open and honest allows people to trust us and to get closer to us.
Being open and honest with children is no different than with adults. In fact, if we want our children to be open and honest and have integrity, our complete honesty with them is very important. If they are brought up in an atmosphere that is safe enough to allow honesty they are far more likely to develop these qualities.
We often try to “save” children from various truths that we regard as in some way “awful” or too difficult for them to take. When we do this, we are taking it upon ourselves to judge the child’s ability to deal with something that we ourselves are finding difficult.
We are allowing an experience that we have labelled negatively to influence our openness with our child. Saying, truthfully, to your children that you are unable to tell them the truth right now and explaining to them why you feel like that is itself a truth.
Be kind to yourself, it is human for you to have things that are difficult to cope with. Being honest with yourself and having compassion for your own weaknesses is the first step towards being more open with others.
Ways we block self disclosure
Young children quite naturally announce what they think and feel until they are stopped by embarrassed adults. Children learn from being stopped that what they feel and think is wrong; they grow up into adults who daren’t express their true selves and who feel they have done something “bad” if they do.
What were you not allowed to speak about? Were/are there taboo subjects in your family? Some of the most common are:-
- Things to do with bodily functions, like serious illness, dying, pleasurable sex,
- going to the toilet, AIDS, homosexuality, menstruation, giving birth, etc.
- Things to do with family history, e.g. “We don’t talk about Uncle Willie”, or being very disapproving (but never mentioning) that a particular cousin had an illegitimate baby.
- Different religious beliefs.
- Unconventional behaviour.
- he fact that parents are not the authority on everything.
- Emotions such as anger, hatred, jealousy or expressions of love and warmth.
- Our personal thoughts and needs.
Many of the taboo areas take on a magical, fascinating or fearful aspect for children who then, as adults, spend a great deal of time trying to come to terms with things that were not talked about openly when they were younger.
Awareness of the blockages and difficulties we experience as adults due to attitudes that surrounded as when we were children, gives us a responsibility to make sure that any children within our sphere of influence do not suffer under similar attitudes or prohibitions. Allowing children their free expression of thoughts and feelings at the same time as teaching them respect and love for others means that they can retain their “here and now” responses and be more open and friendly.
And we can protect children from being hurt themselves by giving them clear, straightforward information about the dangers they may encounter from other people who are less open and honest than they are. We all risk danger to ourselves every day and making a child unduly fearful of the world will prevent them from ever living in it.
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