I am the first one to wax lyrical about the importance of honesty in friendships. I standby the notion that in order to thrive, a friendship does need honesty. You need to at very least be your full honest self and that includes the vulnerability to expose your weaknesses, differences and imperfections. If you cannot expose who you really are to someone, it stands to reason that you will never really know or trust if they like you for who you really are or just the image of yourself that you project. One may work better than the other, but the other will bring more personal satisfaction, connectedness and contentedness… and is actually way more genuine and less exhausting.
We all care what other people think – some much more than others. It is normal (although questionably unhealthy) to project a certain image of yourself and go to some lengths to protect and preserve that image. I know I have been guilty of leaving out certain points in a scenario if I think it makes me look bad or invalidates my point on retelling a story. That said, my true friends, they already know what I am like and will usually ask the hard questions that make me sheepishly smile and admit that perhaps I did say or do something that might have been relevant. Haha They see behind the image and that is important. I see behind theirs too. Ironically we know the truth whilst helping one another preserve our self-images – both the images we project to the outside world and the images we hold of ourselves.
My friends can also trust me to give my honest opinion in a gentle manner. If a friend asks me “do I look fat in this?” She can trust that I will be tactful in my answer. I might indicate that I liked the other outfit better, suggest an alternative, or being aware of her own issues, perhaps suggest a jacket or a belt to help hide the flaws that she feels self-conscious about. This interaction requires us to have an honest enough friendship that she has disclosed her body issues to me, and trust that I have heard and understood them. We need to really trust someone has our best interests at heart to take their opinion and expose our vulnerabilities in asking such questions. The trick is to focus on the positives. Yes is never a good answer! Nor is saying "it's more your body that makes you look fat than your clothes!!" haha (Yes, someone did say that to me!)
It’s not dishonest; it’s tactful because there is always such a thing as too much honesty. I have to admit that sometimes my caring for a friend has led me down a dark path of believing that I have a right or even a responsibility to tell her something I feel is a truth. What I have learned from said experiences is that what I have perceived as a truth, she has perceived as little more than an unwelcome opinion! This can relate to clothing, colours, hair styles, career or relationship choices and pretty much anything else.
When it comes to her major life choices – the courses she studies, the person she dates, the career she chooses, her chosen religion or values, her choice to have children or not have them, and even lifestyle issues such as how often she drinks alcohol, or exercises are areas where I advise you proceed with caution and know the boundaries of your friendship.
At our core we all want to feel like valuable capable mature individuals. When a friend questions our choices or points out our mistakes, we feel judged, misunderstood, and as though our friend questions our ability to competently run our own life. No matter how strong a friendship is, if you make someone feel this way, you will be met with walls, distance and perhaps a direct confrontation and dissolution of your friendship. Be warned - do not question your friends choices lightly. Know when it is your place to speak and when it isn't. I have learned this the hard way, but have indeed learned!
One of the major requirements of friendship is to provide a supportive role. There is nothing supportive about telling her how wrong she is about core things. I know you might be worried for her, but it is not your job to fix her, protect her or live her life for her. It is your job to build her up to the point where she believes she has the capability to handle whatever life throws at her and fix it for herself. Yes, maybe she isn’t choosing the most reliable partner, or drinking more than you think she should, or always studying things you know she wont finish. Whatever the issue, we all do make mistakes, and it is your job to support her as she comes to these conclusions herself and encourage her to have the strength to fix her own mistakes. There is no place for I told you so because if you did, you probably exercised too much honesty!
Too much honesty undermines your friend and it undermines your foundation. Her positive associations with you quickly disintegrate and feelings of resentment and judgement take their place. Even if your friend asks for your opinion, stick to the positives – that you admire her ability to take chances, and you know that if things don’t go as expected she has the strength and power to correct things for herself. Be there for her and empower her to make changes as she feels ready. Remember the choice is hers. Respect that. She is on her own journey, not yours. What you think is best for her isn’t relevant.
On the other hand, if it is you who feels you can’t be as honest as you wish you could be with a friend, ask yourself the hard questions. Which aspect of your image are you insecure about and why? At the end of the day, what you think about yourself matters more than what your friend or anybody else thinks. Usually if we hide something in favour of an image, it is a defence mechanism that indicates that we feel our friend would be correct in their judgement of us. (As it is already what we secretly feel about ourselves.) If this is the issue, worry less about your image and more about making sure your behaviours are in line with the image you wish to project.
The last thing to consider is time. Friendships take time to develop trust. We disclose as much as our friendship can handle based on the level of intensity and intimacy we share. People slowly open up to one another and this is normal and healthy. Burdening a new friendship with all your baggage is a bad plan. For example; (not the most relatable for many of you, but we all have something we are careful about disclosing) most of my close friends know that I am not heterosexual. This is an important part of my identity. I do not however announce it to everyone I meet immediately. That would be too much for a new friendship to handle. It is not because I am ashamed, but I will usually slowly disclose this information as the conversations naturally flow in that direction. In this manner I can assess not only “if this person will accept me as their friend despite this potentially perceived flaw in character,” but also “if this person is someone I can trust and feel comfortable with to develop into a true close friendship with over time.” If I make hints about the topic and am met with homophobic responses, I am unlikely to expose myself for further rejection. Instead I will realise this is not someone with whom I feel comfortable enough to call a close friend and I behave accordingly. Does that make sense? The friendship will not become close because I have decided not to disclose my truest self.
How honest are you with your friends? Where do you think the boundaries lie? What constitutes a lie, and what omissions are deal breakers? Are your mates friends with the real you or the image you project? Share your thoughts.
Your Best Friend ForNever