An honest look at the effects of dishonesty

by Stan Dale, DHS

Whether we're aware of it or not, we communicate 24 hours a day. Even in dreams we communicate. Even when we aren't saying anything, we communicate. Our relationships are strengthened or destroyed by communication -- there is virtually nothing else involved in a personal relationship except communication of one form or another.

Trust is the only reliable foundation on which a relationship can be built and honesty is the cornerstone.

Throughout my life as a husband, lover, father, friend and therapist, I have experienced and observed the destructive power of dishonest communication. When we lie, we destroy relationships -- both the one we have with ourselves and those we have with others. Lying is counter communication. It erodes the very foundation of a relationship. It is a time bomb that will eventually destroy the relationship.

Telling a lie weakens the already weak self-esteem of the liar. The person to whom the lie is told (whether or not s/he ever finds out the truth) feels the effect of the lie. Why? Because lies are negative communications. Many relationships are falling apart because trust (if it ever existed) is being eroded; one more lie, one more time bomb planted.

Dishonesty is a protective device. Lies are protective devices. We think we are protecting the other person when we lie, but in reality we are protecting ourselves. Lies are told because the person lying believes that s/he has no other choice. S/he is too afraid to tell the truth. When we lie, we set the time bomb ticking, and the explosion will rip through the delicate fabric we attempt to weave between ourselves and someone else.

We're being two-faced if we say, "I love you" and then lie to that same person. There is no real love without trust. If we don't trust the person we say we love, how can we ever be vulnerable? How can we ever be intimate? And, if we can't be vulnerable and intimate, what do we have but a lie?

One day, ka-BOOM! Why? Because communication finally broke down beyond the point of repair.

There are two basic lies -- the overt and the covert. The overt lie is usually spoken. It's a falsehood. Even a little white one.

The covert lie is more subtle and the most often used. Its telltale signs can sometimes be observed in body language -- such as darting, downcast, or side-glancing eyes; twitching of some part of an extremity; false smiles; a deadpan face; etc. In other words, the covert lie is usually something that needs to be said, but isn't. It is often more damaging than the bold-faced lie because the other person may never perceive that something is wrong. Reading body language takes quite a bit of practice. If covert lying can be detected, the time bomb can be defused before it explodes.

Envision a gorge. The only thing connecting the two land masses is a bridge hand-built by those who dared to risk. Isn't that the process two people take when they try to establish a friendship? Two entities wish to connect. They put out furtive feelers, then become slightly bolder the more they think they can trust each other.

Each communication, no matter how conveyed, is one more plank in that bridge. The more honestly we communicate, the more we get to know one another and the stronger the bridge becomes. The more we know each other, the sooner we lower the barriers of self-protection. We often approach others as if we were knights in armor. Slowly we shake hands "checking for weapons" as in the days of old. Then, slower yet, we raise the visor to "see" the other person.

Why are we so protective? Probably because intimacy is frightening to us. It may be the single most frightening thing we face. The effect of being totally intimate is being totally naked -- emotionally, psychically, and possibly even physically. Being intimate is letting every part of me connect or touch with every part of you.

Intimacy is total vulnerability. Now I am totally defenseless. When we are defenseless, we fear that "now you will walk all over my unprotected self with your cleats. You will hurt me in ways no other person could."

What we cherish most we often chase away in many creative, fearful ways. Every time we lie, hiding our "nakedness," we are telling the other person, "I don't trust you" and further weakening the painstakingly-built bridge between the two people. Who can trust a bridge with loose or missing planks?

We are so afraid of hurting others and of being hurt that we do the very thing that is guaranteed to destroy what we cherish. Each time we lie (overtly or covertly) we drive another nail into the coffin that will hold the dying relationship.

The paradox of being totally naked, vulnerable and intimate is that we are also totally potent. In reality, we cannot hurt or be hurt unless we choose it. Being naked, vulnerable and intimate with someone else is first to say that we are totally naked, vulnerable and intimate with ourselves.

Do we trust ourselves or not? That is the ultimate question. Do we trust that we can handle whatever comes our way or will we run scared, hiding in the tunnel of darkness that is laden with ignorance and fear?

The decision, of course, is up to each one of us. How long are we willing to lie? Will we defuse the time bomb that will otherwise destroy us and those we love?