Something we love about kids is their unnerving commitment to telling the truth, regardless of the consequences! Often, it’s also what scares us about them. For a while we forgive our youngsters for not playing our adult games and put their (sometimes brutal) honesty down to childhood innocence and delight. How quickly we rob them of that! Before long we teach them about white lies and lying by default – not saying anything at all or pretending that ‘it’ didn’t happen – all in the name of protecting another. With the best of intentions we teach our children that the whole truth does not matter. When Jack Nicholson exclaimed in ‘A Few Good Men’ “You can’t handle the truth!”, he came close to describing what’s really going on when we lie. What we’re really saying is “I don’t think I could handle your reaction if you knew the truth”.
So we lie and we teach our children to lie. And because so much of what we know to be our truth comes from what we feel, by teaching children to lie, by default, we also teach them to disregard their feelings, the very thing whose purpose it is to guide them safely through life. As a consequence, children also learn to disregard the feelings of others, often with far-reaching effects. Where this shows up most is in children who bully others, demonstrating behaviours which show they have not developed empathy or compassion.
One of the more subtle ways we teach children to lie, is in the way we use the words “I’m sorry”. I’m not referring here to those instances when someone who is truly apologetic for their actions acknowledges it of their own accord. Rather, it is when we insist they say sorry for something they’ve done which we think is wrong. Asking someone to say sorry for something they actually did on purpose is asking them to lie. It implies they have no control over their own behaviour; that some external force ‘made them do it’. No doubt you’ve heard that one before, and not just out of the mouths of babes!
Saying sorry when there’s no truth behind it is a cop-out which allows the child (or adult) to get away with what they did and teaches them they are not responsible for their own behaviour. And if you’re on the receiving end of an insincere “I’m sorry” following some unacceptable behaviour toward you, it feels anything but good!
Babies and little children instinctively know that we are beings of integrity and if we do something we think is wrong we will undermine ourselves. As children we invariably own up to our misdemeanours, which allows us to set right what was wrong. We gradually learn, however, to hide the truth, from others and eventually from ourselves. We learn to stop honouring ourselves, to deny our feelings, our needs and our opinions. These are all different ways of not telling the truth. Despite our increasing obsession with legislation and litigation, all the laws in the world will mean nothing if the individual is not connected to his or her own sense of integrity.
So … how do you deal with this issue with your children? At a time when what we once took for granted feels like quick sand beneath us, what can we give them to hold onto to act as their support throughout life, no matter what the circumstances? A belief in the power and beauty of their own honesty and integrity … their wholeness. A recognition that, regardless of how things appear on the outside, it’s what they feel like on the inside that matters and that it is possible to trust those feelings to guide them.
Whilst we may feel powerless to change external influences we do have the power – and a responsibility – to influence what happens in our own families. Your home can be your castle. Within its walls you can teach your children the value of telling the truth, of honouring their feelings and of knowing that they can be true to themselves. Then the real challenge is to be that way yourself, to do what you say – because that is the most powerful teaching. A good place to start is by being willing to hear your children’s truth, to honour their thoughts and feelings, especially when they differ from yours or cause you concern, and to thank them for having the courage to tell their truth. Do the same yourself and you will have provided a solid, enduring and positive foundation for your children and for your relationship with them.
Edited version of my article from ‘Sydney’s Child’ Magazine April 1999
Through Family Constellations we come to understand that it is the secrets, lies and exclusions within a Family System that cause us harm and create the disruptions that ‘show up’ as self-sabotage or destructive patterns of communicating and relating to oneself, others and life. When we address this by allowing the truth to be told, whatever has been disrupted in the Family System has the opportunity to be returned to a place of peace.
It is important to note that it is through the need for ‘Love & Belonging’ that this occurs in the first instance and that in giving voice to what has been denied, the love transforms from one of ‘Blind Love’ to ‘Enlightened Love’. This is our greatest challenge as adults and how we are empowered to reach our full potential and contribute to others for a better world!