Originally on elephant journal.
Show me any relationship dysfunction and I’ll help you trace it back to where you compromised your truth—your authenticity.
I say this because I’m convinced that every single dysfunctional issue we face in relationships is a result of a breakdown in connection, and all breakdowns in connection result from our failing to be completely honest with ourselves or with another person about what we want, need, feel and see.
When I talk about not being completely honest I’m not talking about anything so obvious as telling outright lies but rather about something more subtle. It’s about the truths we’ve been conditioned to withhold; the things we may have never even considered we could share with another person.
When we were children we learned that some things were appropriate to share and others were not. And the things that were not appropriate were usually the ones that caused discomfort for others. In this paradigm, sharing anything that makes others uncomfortable is bad. So, often, telling the truth is bad. And of course we don’t want to be bad.
For many of us, knowing when we’re not being honest is trickier than it sounds because when we’re conditioned to believe we cannot share a certain something and when we believe must live our lives never sharing it, we learn to hide it even from ourselves.
But that doesn’t mean it goes away. In fact, if we’re repressing our truth, we’re likely seeing the repercussions of that disconnection everywhere, showing up as dysfunction in our relationships. We just may have no idea where the dysfunction is coming from or how to address it.
In my work, I talk to lots of people about their interpersonal relationships and, let me tell you, it is completely common to live with the assumption that there are things we could never share. Whether the thing we don’t think we can be honest about is our attraction to other people, or that we were hurt by something our partner did, or maybe just the simple fact that we need some space—it can often feel totally taboo to share it. Many of us never even consider that we could, or should, be sharing so honestly.
We’ve learned to try and ignore our own needs and desires to such a degree that we often aren’t able to feel our truths anymore, and we don’t really notice that until our relationships get pretty far off track and we’re forced to start troubleshooting.
One of the most important parts of my job is helping people to get in touch with their own truths and to find the courage to act upon them.
It all begins with learning to pay attention when something feels a little bit off. From there we can look for where we disconnected and we can do whatever is needed to get back to truth and connection. So I’ve put together a list of five signs we can look for to let us know we’ve compromised on our truth somewhere.
1. We feel disconnected.
Maybe this seems obvious after I just described our loss of connection as a result of our failure to be completely honest, but it’s still worth mentioning in case my idea of feeling disconnected differs from yours.
I’m talking about that experience where we find ourselves thinking, “They don’t really know or understand me.” It’s sitting with another person and instead of feeling like we have a kindred soul in our corner, feeling lonely in their presence.
When we feel this, we know we’ve traded in our truth for company, but found that we can never trade our truth for really good, connected company. The best we can hope for when we trade in our truth is to be lonely with someone else.
2. We start thinking they’re dumb.
When we withhold our truth we actually make the people around us dumb. And it’s not just in our heads. When we don’t tell them what we want and need, they aren’t informed and can’t come through for us.
We start thinking, “They will never satisfy me,” or “They can’t do anything right,” or “ Why are they acting so insecure and incompetent all of a sudden? I used to think they were the best at everything. What did I see in them?”
When we are hiding our truth, not only are we failing to equip them with any insider info on how to be successful with us, we are actually scrambling signals that they might otherwise naturally pick up on, which makes them look supremely stupid as their processors short-circuit trying to navigate all our blocks.
3. They go crazy.
So, at this point they are walking around with their signals all scrambled—unable to feel us, disconnected and confused. You might imagine this would create some tension and anxiety, and it usually does.
That is because we are feeling creatures and we actually have a whole section of our brain (the limbic brain) which is designed to feel into the feeling states of others. It’s why babies stop crying and their heartbeats synch up when we hold them close. Perhaps it’s why we amazingly don’t all bump into each other as we rush around on crowded city streets.
Birds have limbic systems too, which some have speculated contributes to their ability to turn in perfect unison in flocks of hundreds.
When our partner can feel something from us but we’re telling them an entirely different thing, it’s crazy-making. It feels confusing and sometimes suspicious. So if we’re feeling one thing and trying to project an air of something entirely different, let’s not be surprised when our partner starts freaking out, acting insecure, or feeling paranoid about us.
We can help them return to their natural state by getting back into alignment ourselves.
4. We feel trapped.
This seems so obvious and yet many people tell me they feel trapped, having never stopped to consider that this is because they have created a relationship where they aren’t honest and, therefore, aren’t having what they actually want and need.
And, while many of us might believe we can’t have what we want and need from our partners, and while that may be true, my guess is we’d all feel less trapped if we at least had an open conversation about our wants and needs, and the opportunity to put some some collaborative compromises on the table.
It’s also worth noting that our partner may totally surprise us with their willingness if we give them the chance to rise to the occasion.
5. We stop feeling excited about being around them.
Yes, when we aren’t telling those vulnerable, edgy truths our relationships get a little boring. It’s difficult to stay excited about our partner when we’re essentially assuming they wouldn’t be able to handle our truth. When we keep secrets we not only render them incapable of showing us they can rise to the occasion, we also exclude them from an element of our lives.
Though we might imagine telling them the truth about those particular things would be horrible, the truth is it would often be much more thrilling. At the very least it would give us an opportunity to deeply connect over something raw and gritty and real.
When we carefully craft what we let them see, the whole ordeal starts to feel a little tame. It’s common to begin a relationship riding on the novelty of new love and coasting on the bonding and euphoria hormones of oxytocin and dopamine, but once those start to wear off we find there’s not much to keep us excited about each other.
However, when we build a relationship telling the truth, we set a precedent to relate with each other from a more courageous place, and that’s just a lot more interesting.