Is honesty really the best policy?

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Author: Gray Otis
Date: Feb. 2009
From: The Advocate(Vol. 32, Issue 1)
Publisher: American Mental Health Counselors Association
Document Type: Article
Length: 541 words
Lexile Measure: 1120L

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In talking with his clinical mental health counselor one day, Hank noted that his girlfriend did not really appreciate him. He said he was thinking about becoming 'less available to her' and wanted to know what his counselor thought.

His counselor replied, "Whatever you decide, you might want to consider if you are being honest with yourself and with her." The counselor's comment caused Hank to take another look at how he was handling the situation.

In any good working relationship, one of the key ingredients is trust. To a large extent, this is determined by the level of honesty and the type of honesty that is evident in dyadic partnerships.

Regarding the level of honesty, there is a general expectation between any two people that they will be truthful and genuine with one another. Most of us allow for the occasional slip-up in another person because we recognize our own lack of perfection. This allows us to accept others' infrequent and mostly unintentional mistakes. Despite these errors, the level of honesty between any two people must remain quite consistently high for both of them to sustain faith in the relationship.

The type of honesty is also crucial. One woman said, "I am brutally honest with everyone I meet." She also noted that her marriage was failing and that she had few friends she could rely on. Her almost constant 'constructive criticism' of her husband had only made him more resentful of her.

I counsel clients that rather than being 'brutally honest' or 'totally honest,' they consider the advantages of 'gentle, kind honesty.' Most of us have had a trusted friend who thoughtfully helped us understand a misperception or shortcoming. This kind of caring honesty fosters genuine trust and confidence.

On the other hand, sometimes individuals fail to see that they are also being dishonest with themselves. This lack of authenticity always creates problems in relationships with others. The other person may not understand what the problem is, but they know that something just does not feel right.

Hank considered why he thought he was unappreciated by his girlfriend. As he explored his underlying emotions, he was able to see that when his partner did not express her appreciation, he somehow felt rejected, unlovable, and powerless to do anything. To regain his sense of power, he came up with the idea of spending less time with her so that she would appreciate him more.

Once Hank perceived his actual feelings and thoughts, he then could investigate other possibilities. Using empathy and trying to see things from her point of view, he became aware of how disapproving he had become of his girlfriend lately. Since he had detested growing up in a family in which there was a lot of criticism, he noted, "I cannot imagine my girlfriend appreciating me when I have been behaving the way I have."

Hank went on to learn how his criticism represented another form of self-dishonesty. Gradually, his feelings, thinking, and behaviors became genuinely expressed in more positive ways. This worked for both Hank and his girlfriend as they developed a more authentic relationship.

To suggest questions for future 'TIPS' articles, contact Gray Otis at

Gray Otis, PhD, LPC,

CCMHC, Co-Chair,

AMHCA's Professional

Development Committee

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A202014052