In the last post I outlined some of the key elements of purposeful living. Today, I’m going to dive a bit deeper into one of the foundational principles: honesty.
Honesty can be interpreted in several ways. One meaning is honest conduct, or personal integrity. I’ve written about that before, so will not repeat it here. Second, honesty can also mean simple truthfulness – not telling lies, or denying reality. Third, honesty can also mean forthrightness – the willingness to share your true opinion as a matter of principle, even if it makes other people uncomfortable.
These principles are all related, of course, but they are distinct in important ways. A dishonest person may deceive by telling direct lies, or by keeping secrets. Lies of commission and omission.
When it comes to purposeful living, all these forms of deceit are relevant, but the most ambiguous situation is keeping secrets. Let’s explore those issues.
Some lies are obvious. Failing to tell your spouse that you are having an affair is blatantly dishonest. But what about failing to tell your spouse that you are limerent for someone else? Is that dishonest?
Well, at one level it is, but most people would accept that certain internal thoughts and feelings can be kept private for the sake of marital harmony. If we blurted out every mad thought or uncharitable feeling that assails us, our relationships wouldn’t last long. That’s why “white lies” exist.
I think this is one of the grey areas when it comes to honesty – when is silence a deliberate attempt to hide secrets, and when is it a pragmatic choice to not volunteer distressing information? When is it reasonable for someone to decide what their spouse does or does not “need to know”?
Ironically, I think the only realistic answer to this question of how to honestly communicate with other people, is learning to communicate honestly with yourself.
Most people aren’t really sure where their opinions come from. Now, that’s quite a bold claim, but I’d argue that we are all a very jumbled mix of influences – family traditions, cultural heritage, educational background. As we grow up, we absorb the prejudices and wisdom of parents, teachers, peers, celebrities, and even (god help us) politicians.
These influences are mapped onto our own personal temperaments, which have a biological grounding. We are neither blank slates nor genetic automatons, it’s the interplay between intrinsic and extrinsic drives that shapes our nature.
There is no escaping this conflict, but it is possible to make sense of it and make purposeful choices about your life once you understand how the forces interact. The root of success is honest, dispassionate analysis of who you really are and who you really want to be, and how to reach a compromise that honours both those principles.
To give an example: imagine a shy child who grew up in a family of extraverts, went to a school that valorised sporting excellence, and then went to University to study engineering. Right off the bat, we can probably speculate about possible scenarios that explain this person’s life experience – internalised beliefs that their shyness was shameful, an uncomfortable school life as a bookish introvert surrounded by jocks, concerns about how they ended up choosing Engineering as a discipline. Our minds immediately and naturally start telling stories that flesh out the emotional landscape around the basic facts.
Self-knowledge is all about questioning those stories that accumulate around your life. Did I really choose Engineering because I wanted to do it, because it pays well, because it impresses other people, or because I wanted to please my father? How can you find the answer to these questions?
Most directly, when scrutinising the influences that have shaped your life choices, your body will often let you know when you have hit upon an important truth. There is a particular brand of discomfort that gets you in the gut when you finally acknowledge you’ve been telling yourself an ego-protecting lie.
Another good tell for spotting unexamined beliefs happens when arguing with someone who has a different perspective. If you feel yourself getting irrationally angry when disagreeing about morality, politics, culture or faith, it’s likely that the other person has challenged a core belief that is so deeply held that you’ve never questioned it.
The psychology behind this is that you realise in the moment that you can’t summon a decisive rational argument, but the principle really matters to you, so you become intensely defensive. A core belief is threatened and the stakes are so high that you will fight for it by any means, niceties be damned.
If you have this experience (and most people will) it pay dividends to spend some time (after you’ve cooled down) to really interrogate why you hold this belief so strongly. It is likely to be a foundation stone of your ethic. It deserves thorough analysis and deeper scrutiny.
Integrating the shadow
Usually, this sort of self analysis and truth-excavation is constructive, if you review your choices with an open mind to find the true basis of your decision making. It can get a bit dark, though. Some truths are ugly.
We instinctively hide thoughts or feelings we would rather not have. We suppress the instincts that we know other people would disapprove of. This is a necessary part of maturation, socialisation and civil responsibility, but it isn’t cost-free.
Jungian psychotherapists refer to these suppressed or denied aspects of our personality as our “shadow“. This is the part of yourself that you would rather not look at – not necessarily because it encompasses urges that are evil or malevolent, but because you don’t want to admit it is a part of you.
Jung argued that the shadow will assert itself if you do not face it. Let’s say someone grew up in a highly religious community, were ashamed of their libido, and married young as a virgin. Their erotic drive would likely be a source of shame, but it’s not going anywhere. As they age into adulthood those repressed feelings will cause trouble – in the marriage, with extramarital affairs, or with other emotional outbursts that aren’t so obviously linked to sexual frustration.
To avoid being mugged by your shadow, you need to get to know it, acknowledge that it’s part of you, and ideally, find healthy outlets for those urges that do not compromise your principles or integrity. Be honest about the less admirable aspects of your character and you will understand yourself better and make better decisions.
A surprising amount of daily life involves play acting. We adopt a different persona for the different roles we have in society – teacher, student, partner, parent, child. Again, this is natural, but taken too far it can result in alienation from our own true natures.
Political polling has gone through something of a crisis recently, in large part because of an uptick in preference falsification. People will lie about their beliefs to avoid social stigma. A cynic could argue that such people have something to be ashamed of if they secretly vote for a wicked party or candidate, but would they really prefer to live in a society where people are afraid to be honest?
A lack of openness at a social scale is mirrored at the personal scale. Just like the gut-squirm of discomfort when you know you are lying to yourself, there is a definite physical response when you say something publicly that you do not believe to be true. Become attuned to this feeling. It can help you avoid the psychological corrosion that comes from persistently concealing your true beliefs.
Turn to the light
OK, so this has been grim reading so far. That reflects the fact that self-awareness often comes from accepting unpalatable truths. Let’s turn to the positive.
The benefits of being honest with yourself are manifold. You are far more likely to get what you want (and what you need) if you understand the origins of your feelings and beliefs properly.
If you truly value helping others, then finding a career that allows you to make money doing so will mean both personal and professional satisfaction. Equally, though, if you are ambitious and want material wealth, it is healthy and positive to let go of any self-reproach that you should want to be a paramedic or carer. Instead, find a lucrative and honest job, and then give money to charity.
One of the greatest blessings of living in a free society is that there are many paths to success, many vocations to try, many family structures to form, many types of people to love. If individuals play to their personal strengths and utilise their talents to the full, the whole community benefits.
The sweet spot for purposeful living is to be honest with yourself about your intrinsic temperament, but also gain an understanding of where your limiting fears come from. If you try to force yourself to live in conflict with your nature you’ll never find peace. If you let fear constrain your choices, you will never reach your potential. It’s all about balance.
Being honest with yourself involves letting go of ego and self-promoting lies and paying attention to the visceral emotions that tell you when a hidden truth is being concealed by rationalisation. If you figure out who you are at a fundamental level, then you can project forward to the best version of yourself that you can picture.
Working towards that ideal is the best hope for living a fulfilling life, pursuing a purpose that both aligns with your temperament and transcends your limiting beliefs. We need to be true to ourselves, but also strive to improve. Being honest with yourself is a necessary first step for validating and prioritising your goals.
Finally, to bring this back to the original concern about white lies: if you have a good sense of self, and become adept at reading the emotions that accompany ethical lapses, it is a lot easier to know when you are keeping secrets to protect yourself versus acting in good-faith discretion.
Trust your gut is a cliche, but it is surprising how good our bodies are at registering a mismatch between deep truth and superficial excuses.
“Jung argued that the shadow will assert itself if you do not face it. Let’s say someone grew up in a highly religious community, were ashamed of their libido, and married young as a virgin. Their erotic drive would likely be a source of shame, but it’s not going anywhere.”
This is the most strongly point to hit me. It took me 10 years into my marriage to feel ok to express these desires. My wife has been my one and only. My wife was very reciprocal about it which made it easier to confess. Still all that time before I convinced myself that I was a sinner and shamed myself. I know this isnt the intent of your blog post but this really hit home for me. Thankfully I am past that and can share more of me with my wife than I used to.
Yep! I get it, Adam. You are right.
The message that “stuff associated with sex is shameful” isn’t intentionally taught by most religious people, at least I hope it isn’t intentional, but it comes across that way. I try hard not to teach my kids or my Sunday School kids that it is shameful. It’s hard to balance the messages of “don’t do it yet” with “it’s a great way to bond with your mate.” You don’t want to trigger their curiosity at an early age. Oh it is just so hard. I remember a lesson I taught to a group of 13-year-old girls about abstinence. We had one of the parents in class. At the end of the lesson, I actually closed with, “But, if you do mess around with a boy, just repent and you’ll be fine.” I wanted to convey to the girls that they aren’t broken if they “sin.” The dad in the room looked startled but he didn’t say anything.
Free Fall says
Thank you for this blog post.
I think I had a breakthrough last night in my own LE recovery. I hope. Maybe.
But after this past year, I don’t know who I am any more. I just don’t know.
I want to seek therapy but I don’t know what type of therapist I should be seeking. I’ve looked at profiles online and don’t know how to identify a good one for m problem.
In this case, I’ve been under his spell for over a year. We’re both married and I’d known him about 2 years bc I’m friends with his wife. I recognized him early on as an under-the-radar sociopath, but one night he grabbed my bottom and the way he whispered my name in my ear broke my brain. The glimmer of glimmers. I couldn’t sleep. Couldn’t eat. I started dropping weight. Then…major life stressors. My dad died. And I had a major gut punch at work, passed over for promotion. Oh and I’m in healthcare during covid so work hours suck and my husband was growing increasingly discontent with that. Overwhelmingly feeling burnt out and out of control. Fast forward to a late night afterparty and LO did it again, so I grabbed him back and it was on. I have never ever felt as exhilarated as in that month of flirty texting and then that first kiss the night we began our 6 mo affair. I ended up losing 40 pounds. Looking hotter than I had in more than 15 years.
I knew he was a sociopath. But the crazy thing was…. my behavior was being altered as well. It’s intoxicating to be in the aura of someone who appears to bend the world to his rules instead of vice versa. Was it limerent brain fog? Or did he uncage deeply latent dark triad traits in me? I felt no guilt or remorse at what I was doing. All my actions were designed to get underneath him at every opportunity. I got bolder at work. More manipulative in all spheres of my life. Lying. Scheming. I didn’t want to leave my husband, and despite how mutual the LA felt, I recognized this guy was not relationship material.
Ultimately I fled. The job of a lifetime landed in my lap. Fled the toxic job and toxic man and relocated my family all the way to the West Coast. I thought it would be a tidy end to the LA and it was… for him. But not for me. Four months later my perseverations have continued. I’ve reached out a couple of times but his responses were impersonal and he never initiated.
So last night, drunk in an uber, I sent him a string of goodbye texts. That I was previously in denial but ready to accept his rejection of me. And in reply… nothing. Silence.
But now what? I feel like I am in a identity free fall. I am in physical anguish to think I may never feel that rush again. Like, in my life. And now I know I am capable of acts that I had previously found irreprehensible in others. My identity and purpose was dominated by my profession and position, but no one here knows me for that now.
I’ve never felt more vulnerable and isolated. I am ready to be honest with myself but I don’t know how to recognize what is the truth. Is the darkness an artifact of the LA, or is it a living part of me? How do I put the darkness back in the cage? And on the flip side, how could feeling so good be so wrong?
Free Fall, your story is painful. You weren’t looking for trouble, but when it found you, you experimented with it. The consequences sound horrible. You are stuck in a limerent state for someone who you know to be bad news.
A powerful tool to overcome limerence is purposeful living. Can you recommit to what is important and lose yourself in pursuit of your goals? I recommend that you do the right thing no matter how you feel. You are overcoming a type of addiction and we all know that addicts tend to struggle with making good choices. Decide who you will be when your judgment isn’t clouded then stick to it. You can get through this. Eventually you will develop new patterns of behavior that line up with your standards.
Another great way to overcome this is to go no contact with your LO. I highly recommend NC for your situation. When you are tempted to reach out to your LO, come to this website and read the articles or comments. Ask for help if you need some extra strength.
I would also recommend that you destroy reminders of your LO. Get rid of past correspondence and pictures. Those things can keep the fires burning. Also, try to replace your fantasies of LO with something different. Minimize thoughts of LO as much as possible.
Good luck! I hope to see you in the comments section on LwL again. You will find support here.
Free Fall says
Thank you for all your advice, Lovisa. It was a beautiful response and what I needed to hear. I really believe he will not reach out to me again, but it will be a challenge for me to to eradicate him and that ongoing stimulus from my life.
He’s a highly visible figure in my former city. Leads a very successful Nonprofit. Everyone thinks he’s a saint, but to me it’s like he’s proactively seeking redemption for his true nature. No one suspects who he really is. Even during the heat of the LA, I often wondered how many other women there were—how many had he charmed during all of his speaking engagements and mission trips to war torn places?
The point being he pops up in a lot of places on social media, via shared posts, the news etc. Not only has his face been hard to avoid. It’s been very hard seeing how much he’s praised and respected by my friends and the community at large.
This is an addiction but finding things to apply from the addiction lit is a challenge. Re mementos: Yes I recognize that as long as I have our chats I will be tempted to revisit them. But part of me justifies holding onto our chats etc….if nothing else to keep him from running for public office (again). I’ve made no disclosures to my spouse or his but the fact that I could makes me feel like he is not walking away clean.
Oh Free Fall, I hear you sister. My LO1 has fame and fortune and escaping him is impossible. If it’s not his name, it is his art work and every time he came up, my heart hurt. My kids would bring him up because they are fans of his work. I couldn’t get away from that pain. It was hard to keep the secret from my spouse. Granted, I did not have a PA with LO1, but I did have an EA. I finally disclosed to SO and I regret it because it is a source of pain for him now. Now he is the one who can’t escape the pain. I am not advising you in either direction because I don’t know if disclosure is best for you.
I understand why you want to keep evidence so to speak. I can’t advise you on that either, but I get it. Your thinking makes sense.
Free Fall, something really bad happened to you and you didn’t handle it well. You made some mistakes (true that someone was pushing you in that direction), but the mistakes were still yours. This does not define you. You are a good, strong woman who knows what is right and what is wrong. Your judgment was clouded, but you are getting better at recognizing truth. You have a long way to go towards healing. I am so sorry you are going through this.
A couple of things caught my attention in your post. This might hurt, but I think you should check in with yourself. I sensed you might be feeling vengeful. Don’t become that person, k? It’s not helpful and it could consume you. I highly recommend that you keep his name and identity to yourself. I know there are times when you are so mad that you want to tell everyone who hurt you, but I don’t think it would help. I could be wrong.
Good luck and keep coming here if you don’t have another support system.
I would like to comment at length Free Fall, but it would not be productive and conducive to helping you past this person. But I will say with regard to the behavior of his that you have posted, limerence, or not, this guy just seems bad for any woman. And he has clearly used you for as long as he wanted and then abandoned you. And I’ll leave at that as my temper rises …..
Fantastic article! I’ll highlight and comment on the bits that most spoke to me:
“Another good tell for spotting unexamined beliefs happens when arguing with someone who has a different perspective. If you feel yourself getting irrationally angry when disagreeing about morality, politics, culture or faith, it’s likely that the other person has challenged a core belief that is so deeply held that you’ve never questioned it.”
So irrational anger can alert us to blind spots, in other words? That’s an interesting idea.
I find that I’m not really angered by the CONTENT of other people’s beliefs. However, if another person expresses beliefs in a really self-righteous way, regardless of what those beliefs are, I feel annoyed and defensive and argumentative. Heck, I might even agree with the person’s worldview entirely, but I’m still triggered by their self-righteous “attitude”! Hahaha! 🙄
I don’t know why I’m upset by a “self-righteous tone”? (Unless I’m incredibly self-righteous myself and just in denial of this tendency? Maybe I just want to be the only person in the room who’s allowed to “know” anything! Haha! Maybe I just like the sound of my own voice? Perhaps I’m too egotistically invested in how much I supposedly “know”, which means I’m reluctant to learn from others?) 😉
“We instinctively hide thoughts or feelings we would rather not have. We suppress the instincts that we know other people would disapprove of. This is a necessary part of maturation, socialisation and civil responsibility, but it isn’t cost-free.”
I think I hide – mostly from myself – feelings associated with desire. For example, I have a hard time admitting to myself I find men’s bodies attractive and I’m worried that my own objectively-very-attractive body is not attractive in comparison. I have also given up trying to be more attractive because it’s too much work!
I have a hard time admitting to myself that straight men will never feel anything for me other than friendship. I don’t want to admit that friendship with a straight man is not enough for me emotionally. I don’t want to be friend-zoned!! And I have a hard time admitting to myself I’m intensely envious of the opposite sex (i.e. women collectively) because the long-suffering members of “women collectively” can supposedly and with minimal effort obtain the very thing I most ardently desire – the passionate love of a good man! 🙄😆😉
“To avoid being mugged by your shadow, you need to get to know it, acknowledge that it’s part of you, and ideally, find healthy outlets for those urges that do not compromise your principles or integrity. Be honest about the less admirable aspects of your character and you will understand yourself better and make better decisions.”
I’ve been confronting my shadow lately. Seems like my shadow self is a charmer with no morals whatsoever who is rather selfish and who is motivated primarily by pleasure. A real Mr Hyde or Dorian Gray type. And I’ve probably been projecting this amoral, hedonistic, charismatic character onto other people in my life for quite some time now… I think that’s what we do with the shadow when we don’t own it – we project it. (Or, maybe, we just become limerent for HIM!) 😉
“The sweet spot for purposeful living is to be honest with yourself about your intrinsic temperament, but also gain an understanding of where your limiting fears come from. If you try to force yourself to live in conflict with your nature you’ll never find peace.”
Another interesting idea. The other day I had an epiphany that I’m “just a simple man at heart”. What I mean by this is I don’t really want what the world calls “success”. I’m an introvert who’s not that interested in material goodies or social power. However, when I was younger, people in my life noted that I had some talent/high intelligence and consequently pressured me to be ambitious.
Basically, I think “high achiever” is part of other people’s conceptions of me. It’s disgraceful, but I have never thought of the word “loser” as an insult. I like to take life easy, and bumble along, pursuing this or that eccentric hobby. I think being a big success story was always someone else’s dream, and never my own. 😇
“Finally, to bring this back to the original concern about white lies: if you have a good sense of self, and become adept at reading the emotions that accompany ethical lapses, it is a lot easier to know when you are keeping secrets to protect yourself versus acting in good-faith discretion.”
I think honesty is most pertinent to the discussion on limerence when it comes to the concept of “emotional affairs”. I think the line between “friendship” and “an emotional affair” can be blurry in the best of times, however, so it’s understandable if people end up confused.
Also, I don’t know if someone can have an “emotional affair” if one party in the so-called affair is staunchly convinced that there’s nothing going on other than platonic friendship, and the “affair” is only taking place inside the muddled brain of the poor limerent!! 🤣
Where are these random remarks coming from, you ask? Well, there’s a part of me that wonders “was I having an emotional affair with my straight male friend/LO all those years ago?” He would deny it. He would say no, don’t be ridiculous. Other heterosexual men, if asked, would also likely say no. You’re beating yourself up unnecessarily, mate, etc, etc…
However, I think women are a little more clued-in about relationships than men are, and if I asked a woman her opinion on whether I was having an emotional affair or not, she would say yes. And she would also say it was inappropriate.
I think the sexes may have slightly different standards on what’s acceptable behaviour in the arena of mating. I think I might trust a woman’s perspective over a man’s in this one specific instance. I think a woman would give me a “more honest” answer – an answer that is more honest emotionally, that is. 🤔