An update on radical honesty

My homepage says that I practice becoming more radically honest. You may wonder what the heck I mean by that. Am I just walking around bluntly telling people what I think of them? The answer is no, not quite! But I am practicing being more honest indeed and to do so in ways that work for me and the other. I’ve written about it before and here’s the most recent update.

An introduction to my radical honesty

In this post I use the term ‘radical honesty’, which for me is about being honest, of course, and about remaining true to yourself/myself. It’s a practice of expressing yourself in a way that really matches who you are or what is going on inside of you, like your emotions, feelings, sensations and thoughts. Such expression allows you to transform or integrate these things into your being.

Above all, radical honesty is about being totally honest with yourself.

It also allows you to feel less alone with your experiences because when you share about what you feel, you’ll learn that others have similar feelings. It then allows you to connect more deeply. So it’s about being honest in your communication to others, which starts with being totally honest with yourself first.

I realize that this is not a super clear explanation, but that’s okay. What I mean by it may become more clear throughout this blog post. In any case, you can see for yourself if you find something in this blog post that is of value to you. You’re very welcome to let me know in a comment.

My feelings about my earlier blog post

It’s not a new theme for me; 3,5 years ago I already wrote about the value of ‘speaking your truth’. Ever since I’ve been having mixed feelings about that blog post and it’s prequel about taking up space, mostly because the posts may come across a bit arrogantly and I also feel a bit uncertain about whether I even live up to my own writings. ‘Speaking you truth’ sounds so big, doesn’t it? To me it does, and I definitely don’t always manage to speak these truths. It’s still a challenge to me, it’s something I practice and not always succeed in.

While writing the current blog post, I took the opportunity to slightly improve that earlier blog post. The message is unchanged but I improved the writing so that it’s more clear, more nuanced and less arrogantly or bluntly put. It’s a relief; it already makes me feel better about it! Which is funny, because I could actually have made these improvements years ago and that would have saved me year of feeling bad or weird about this blog post!

That’s how it goes, right? If you have resistance, there’s something to do or to learn, something to overcome or integrate. For me that’s actually part of the radical honesty practice.

Radical honesty is really my thing

Over time I have found that radical honesty is really my thing. This may be surprising to some, because I’m generally quite introverted, especially in groups. I’ve been like that forever. I think that results from me being sensitive to all kinds of stimuli, including what people say and their energy. One on one that works fine, but with multiple people it can be a lot and go too quickly for me to process in an instant and react to it too. So instead I just take my time to process before I speak.

However, it may as well be because I care so much about speaking the truth, or at least my truth in that moment. I’m quite deliberate with my words. I am not saying I’ll never say things I’ll have to correct later, or that everything I say is gold, or that I’ll never be ‘forced’ to tell half truths. But I do really dislike not being honest and I’ll generally do everything to stay honest to myself and others.

If you are into these systems that help you learn about yourself, like astrology and ways to categorize personalities: I’ve actually learnt that according to the system of Human Design my type is Projector and that my authority is Self Projected. It’s totally fine if that doesn’t mean anything to you, you can skip it, but I myself find it very accurate, because this authority is all about expressing their truth through their voice. So I’ve been onto something, way before I knew about this Human Design system!

A great example of me longing for honesty is me being uncomfortable about those earlier blog posts of mine. Can you see? I would hate for me to tell ‘lies’ or to present myself differently than I am.

Meta-communication helps to refocus

Last year I learnt about a thing called ‘meta-communication’ which can be used when conversations or interactions get messy. In those cases it helps to address that in the conversation. You can ask for clarification of what the other means, or mention how you think the conversation is going. You then create an opening to gain more clarity or to change the course of the conversation if preferred.

This talking about the communication is called meta-communication. The Wikipedia page on Meta-communication describes it as follows (internal links removed):

Meta-communication (…) is a secondary communication (including indirect cues) about how a piece of information is meant to be interpreted. It is based on the idea that the same message accompanied by different meta-communication can mean something entirely different, including its opposite, as in irony. The term was brought to prominence by Gregory Bateson to refer to “communication about communication”, which he expanded to: “all exchanged cues and propositions about (a) codification and (b) relationship between the communicators”. Metacommunication may or may not be congruent, supportive or contradictory of that verbal communication.’

If I don’t fully grasp what the other means, I often just ask for clarification, so that I don’t have to rely on assumptions much and avoid misunderstandings. If a conversation is messy, I tend to mention that I want to create more clarity first about what we’re talking about. I like to have an overview and if I don’t have that, I want to create it.

Sometimes conversations start about one topic, but then a related topic gets thrown in, and another one, and before you know it you’re talking about many different things at the same time and you may lose clarity. Then meta-communication helps in taking a step back and in clearing out some confusion. It helps to see what’s really going on in the involved people and in the conversation, and it allows to refocus or realign, so that you’re not doing to many things at once. You can restructure the conversation to be sure you’re on the same page about what you’re talking about and where you’re going.

And it may feel silly to mention that you’ve lost track, because then you’re admitting that you don’t follow anymore and that can feel vulnerable. But it’s actually just really smart to do. It’s the best way to get more clarity, to learn the most from the conversation. It’s also a way to show that you’re actually listening, that you care about the conversation and about the other person’s time. Instead of pretending a whole lot.

Do you remember how earlier in this blog post I corrected the conversation by addressing how my earlier blog post may have given the wrong idea? That may even be an example of meta-communication! I’m not sure if communication experts would agree, but I think it’s fine. I also mentioned that I felt weird about this earlier blog post.

You can mention what you feel

Also, you can stay really close to yourself and mention what’s happening inside of you. It sounds silly to tell you this, because I’m assuming you know this already, but I myself find that I can use it more often than I may have thought before! As I wrote, I’m quite sensitive. I do love to feel my bodily sensations and energy, by the way, it’s one of my superpowers. ๐Ÿ˜‰ So the solution to being sensitive is not to shut it all down, but to work with it.

Sometimes during an interaction, I just need a little more time to process it all properly. If I don’t take this time, the conversation may get more messy and that’s not what I prefer. What I do prefer is to mention it! Something like: ‘wait a second, I’m processing what you just said’. For me it can also help to mention the things I’m processing, whether it’s information or something else.

Last year I had a communications job, a customer support job, and there I also practiced some of this meta communication and even communicating my feelings. Sometimes I would get nervous because I felt that I needed to act quickly to solve a problem. What I noticed is that when I was nervous, I was actually less able to help the customer properly, because I didn’t think as clearly as when I was more relaxed. And what helped sometimes was to mention to the customer what happened inside of me: ‘I’m sorry, I’m a bit messy at the moment because I feel pressured to act quickly.’ In those cases I didn’t necessarily need a reaction from the customer (sometimes this did help, in cases where there was actually less time pressure than I perceived), but it already helped me to take a few seconds to mention it. That way I could take a step back, get out of the rush, get a better overview of the actual situation, and then continue in a more relaxed and effective way.

I found that really cool to notice! Sometimes we get caught up in emotions or feelings which can totally impact the communication. In that case, it probably helps to acknowledge those emotions or feelings. And, depending on the situation, decide to continue the discussion about the actual topic, or shift the conversation all together so to explore why these emotions and feelings come up.

Mentioning how you feel can create an opening to explore what’s happening inside of you.

Some people call doing such things ‘pulling the sting out’, disarming. For me it really creates an opening to explore what’s happening. It creates space. One person also told me that if I do this, if I mention what’s happening in me and lay it out on the table, I’ll automatically start doing something with it. Because you see, you create this space, this opportunity. If you mention ‘I feel uncomfortable right now’ it’s almost impossible to not do something with it. It can also be that it’s not necessary to actually do something, though, that is just dissolves the moment you mention it. But then that’s the very thing that you’ve allowed to happen. Instead of keeping it to yourself and being bothered by it, you gave it space so it could dissolve or transform.

It’s pretty interesting that I find this so valuable that I want to write it down. What does that say about our collective upbringing? Until recently, I don’t think anyone has ever told me about this opportunity or practice to create space for my feelings (on the spot!). Not in this way.

Of course people tell you that you can voice your feelings when they get really big, but if you ask me, in our culture feelings have long been undervalued and repressed. As if the general judgement is that having feelings or expressing them is weak, at least not professional. While, as I see now, it can certainly be much more professional to mention them if they’re in the way of good communication, so that afterwards you can continue the conversation way more effectively. Acknowledging your feelings seems more effective and healthy to me than suppressing and ignoring them.

Radical honesty for integration

For me this ‘radical honesty’ includes being honest about my feelings. Not because everyone should know at all times how I feel, but because my feelings have a deeper meaning, at least to me. I find uncomfortable feelings worth addressing, because they point me towards all kinds of problems. They point me towards needs that are unmet, towards issues of seemingly conflicting interests that are unspoken, problems that remain unresolved as long no one acknowledges their existence.

The other option is to not mention these feelings and to not acknowledge the underlying problems, and keep doing the smalltalk, but this will often mean that the uncomfortable feelings and the problems remain and they keep growing bigger. They keep requiring your energy to deal with them, to suppress them, to pretend they aren’t problematic to you. So while doing this smalltalk, you may spend half your energy on suppressing what’s really going on inside of you, instead of working it out so you can actually freely communicate (and connect!) with each other again.

Radical honesty is about being aware of your emotions and feelings too, and to integrate them into your expressions, with the purpose of becoming more honest and real with yourself and others. I also believe that you yourself are responsible for dealing with your emotions and feelings; no one else can do it for you. But we can learn to become better at it together. This is another reason to communicate about it: doing so helps others to learn to acknowledge their emotions too. It’s a process we’re in together.

Vulnerability for deeper connection

On this blog I’ve written before about the topic of vulnerability, about how being vulnerable allows for connecting more deeply to others. About how expressing your insecurities helps others to do the same. It’s a similar topic as this ‘radical honesty’, but radical honesty may be an overarching practice that somehow includes the others.

For my previous writings on these mentioned topics, you can check the vulnerability tag page and the insecurities tag page, or just the categories Inner growth and Relating (until the current post this was my most neglected category ๐Ÿ˜‰ ). Much of what I write on this blog is ultimately about practicing these things and breaking the taboos around them.

But not always: self care comes first

But also, admittedly, sometimes I do keep it to myself. Sometimes I give up and stop trying. I think this is mostly in moments that I am already tired or overstimulated. Or in situations where the other isn’t interested in these kind of things or isn’t putting that much effort into the conversation either. Then I may accept that it’s not going to change. In those situations I’m likely to wrap it up and leave. Or I’ll just be there in my own way, enjoying myself for me, being okay with being only honest to myself.

Acknowledging being tired or overstimulated is valuable too. For me it’s a sign for that I’ve been pressuring myself too much and that I should take it easy. Taking it easy isn’t my greatest strength yet but that’s a practice too. I can learn to take it easy in a way that works for me.

Acknowledging my feelings is the first step. Practicing to take up space with these feelings in communication with others, when the situation is right for it, is a second step. Knowing when to retreat to take care of myself first is another step. Learning these things together in our communities may be the ultimate goal.

A note on insecurities, confrontation and compassion

You could also say that practicing being really honest and true to yourself can be a way to avoid others from blaming you for having said things that turnt out to be untrue. You know, it can be an elaborate act to prevent others from wronging you, to avoid confrontation all together. If you don’t speak unless you know something a 100% certain, than no one falsify what you said.

So it can be a way of living that stems from being insecure, that stems from dreading confrontation. Well, that may also partly be true for me, because I indeed like to avoid being blamed or accused of something. I value honesty and I dislike confrontation between people. I believe that makes total sense; why would anyone like confrontation between people, really?

Maybe there’s different kinds of confrontation. It takes inner work to practice this radical honesty that I’m talking about. It takes willingness to confront your feelings, to confront the seemingly uncomfortable truths that lay behind those feelings. It takes courage to be to vulnerable, to open yourself up that way. And it definitely takes courage to start expressing yourself more honestly. It takes becoming aware of what lives inside of you and becoming more and more accepting and loving towards what you find there.

It takes courage to start expressing yourself more honestly.

And while you’re at it, you become more accepting and loving towards others too, and less judging. So to come back to what I posed in the introduction: it’s not about bluntly telling others your ‘honest opinions’ of them, and them expecting to deal with it. Not at all. It’s more about realizing that your opinions of others come forth of your own inner world (of the standards that you hold for yourself, of your own insecurities!) and not truly of the other. It’s about realizing that we all benefit from more compassion and less judgement and that it’s wonderful to be able to create such interactions and places of compassion and deep non-judgmental listening.

Indeed, I don’t like confrontation between people, not if it’s not lovingly and with the intention of supporting each other to grow. If the aim is just to prove to yourself and others that your viewpoint is the right one and someone else’s is wrong, then I’m not interested in joining.

It’s not always easy to be honest either. In many situations the truth is uncomfortable at first, at least as long as you resist, but in the end it’s the only thing that’ll set you free.

Radical honesty is a big thing

It’s a big topic, right? And this is only my (current) interpretation. Do you have one of your own? Do you practice radical honesty or something similar with a different name? I’d love to hear!

Or do you have comments or additions or questions about all that I wrote? I’m sure there’s a lot more to explore here. ๐Ÿ™‚ So if you have any ideas for that, you’re welcome to share!

One last note: Just like radical honesty is a practice, writing/blogging is a practice. I write about quite huge topics (at least I think so myself) and I sometimes wonder whether I make it clear enough or whether instead I present something in a messy way with too many open endings. But it’s a practice! And with these huge topics it’s not my duty to make everything clear, but it’s my aim to present ideas and possibilities, to present what is currently my understanding or truth. If you find it unclear, you can let me know. I can always write an addition to add more clarity. ๐Ÿ™‚ (I’m also trying out a bi-weekly rhythm of posting, so to post a new blog post every other Thursday. So you can now get back every other week for a new post. ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

Photos by Hari Marten and KC Robinson.






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