Being honest

I grew up in a house with two autistic parents and three autistic siblings. Logical was a constant companion alongside abuse and the frightening uncertainty of a father who at any moment could explode with me as the target. So I grew up with some very traumatic memories and a great sense of being honest – how I interpreted the logical behaviour of my family. Then I lived in the Netherlands for 8 years. I thought I was honest and direct! You haven’t seen direct until you encounter Dutch culture!

In my life and my work, I find the honest, direct approach refreshing. I prefer there to be no ambiguity. No fear of being honest about feelings. Of course, I temper that with consideration for the person I am talking to so will be careful with my language and be respectful of the person I am talking to. Just because someone is doing something different to me does not mean they are wrong. This means we should all be able to speak openly without fear of the other person taking offence, as long as we are respectful. Shaming is not acceptable in my world. So many people I see have had a long history of being shamed. That is something I seek to heal people from. To see they are good, despite their supposed failings. To see that making a mistake is not a sky falling on head occasion. That mistakes happen and there is no shame in admitting them and moving on. That a well adjusted person will appreciate you admitting your mistake and not hold it against you.

Two recent incidents reminded me of this.

The first was about a woman who asked her neighbour to turn her music down. The music was particularly loud and the woman had at first tried to put music on to drown the other music out. She respected her neighbour and did not want to ask her to turn her music down. But the neighbour responded by turning her music up full blast. The upset woman fled the house, asking her neighbour if she could turn the music down as she left. The neighbour was fine about it and promised to have her music down in future. But something happened over the next few days and she found the neighbour pretending to be on the phone when she saw her out walking. Later she overheard her neighbour talking to someone in her backyard misrepresenting what had happened. She was confused and approached the neighbour. The neighbour accused her of being aggressive when asking her to turn the music down, something witnesses denied, and that ‘she was a good neighbour’ and ‘had never had complaints before’. But the woman knew her neighbour had had complaints and the first thing her neighbour had said to her when they first met was that she was a ‘little loud’.

It was obvious this neighbour had an image of herself as a ‘good neighbour’ that was all about her needs as a person, her ego, rather than about any genuine care for other people. This woman had inadvertently wounded her neighbour by suggesting her noise was too loud. That did not fit the picture of the ‘good neighbour’. This good neighbour was happy if everyone let her do what she wanted and did not complain. For her, being asked to turn her music down was shaming. Although she paid lip service to honesty, she was unable to cope with non judgemental honesty and hit back.

Fortunately the woman was able to see her neighbour’s behaviour was about her own insecurities and was able to not become upset by it, but move on. She did seek out the neighbour to discuss with her what the neighbour perceived as aggressive. She told her neighbour she was concerned to clear the air. The neighbour has so far resisted such attempts at honest, respectful communication. Such a conversation is just too threatening to her.

So often in life, we encounter situations where we have not behaved well and are frightened to discuss the situation with the other person. For many with a history of shaming, it is just too threatening and therefore terrifying. Yet respectful discussion of these incidents results in a good resolution and a great deal of personal growth for all involved. If it is too hard for you to discuss such situations you could benefit from counselling.

The second incident was one I observed recently occurring in a queue at a coffee machine. A woman was using the machine in front of a couple who had been waiting patiently while she tried to work out how to use it. As she was using it another woman approached her and asked her how to use the machine. The woman explained it then started using it. The other woman said “I mustn’t push in, I’ll go to the back of the queue”. She stayed with the woman and when the woman was finished she moved in to get her coffee. The couple behind objected to this. They had been waiting 5 minutes and this woman had just turned up. She has even admitted she would be pushing in if she went next, but had proceeded to do so. As the couple said, if she had asked they would have said yes. Her asking would have been respectful and an acknowledgement that she was pushing in. but because she didn’t ask, she was disrespectful and the people rightly objected. It was interesting to observe. The woman knew she was doing the wrong thing, she had already admitted it. But when the couple challenged her she became defensive as though their objection was trivial. Trivialising bad behaviour is often a way people try to justify what they have done. I found it intriguing that this woman knew she was doing the wrong thing, and that she should have asked, but instead of saying “I am sorry, you go next” she turned it into a trivialising put down for the couple. The couple left with their coffees, astonished at this woman’s bizarre behaviour and the woman spent the rest of the day rankling at what she perceived as shaming.

A few words of wisdom:

If in doubt ask permission. The worst that can happen is the other person says no, which you will gracefully accept.

It is not about you.

The sky will not fall on your head or the world end if you make a mistake or do something wrong.

A humble ‘I am sorry’ goes a long way.

Getting defensive does not harm the other person as much as it harms you, particularly when you are obviously the person in the wrong.

People will think more of you for admitting your mistakes then trying to cover them up. The cover up is more likely to lead to the perception that you are untrustworthy.

If you need help, you are welcome to make an appointment to see me, either in person or by skype. I won’t judge you.