Do you ever tell little lies? Are you keeping secrets in your life? FYI: There is a connection between these two behaviors and disordered boundaries.
Many of us (myself included) learned from a young age that telling little “white lies” was harmless, and even polite in certain circumstances. Just as many of us were put in situations in our childhood to keep other people’s secrets. For example, someone tells you something about someone else and then tells you not to tell them (triangulation).
These behaviors are common dysfunctional communication patterns inside family and friendship systems. The bottom line is when we are telling a lie to avoid discomfort or spare someone’s feelings or when we are caught in a triangulation of secrets, we are out of integrity with ourselves.
In this week’s episode, I’m breaking down the impact small (or big) lies and secrets can have on your relationships and giving you some tips so you can build more trust and intimacy with healthy boundaries.
First, if you’re already thinking, “Oh, no, this is me,” please, be compassionate with yourself. Don’t judge yourself too harshly. I was a massive triangulator and not always a truth-teller in my past before I learned how to make conscious choices in integrity with the person I want to be.
When I was younger, I thought it was okay to make up an excuse for myself about things. I’ll never forget the therapy session when the light bulb went off. I was in college at the time and I remember casually mentioning to my therapist something like, “ Oh, I was late for work this morning, so I told them I had a flat tire.”
At the end of the session, my therapist hits me with this bomb: “ Ok, so in this session, Terri, we’ve established you are a person who lies.” Cue my jaw dropping to the floor.
I worked with my therapist for a long time to be someone who kept my word, someone who other people could count on and trust me, it required unlearning and discipline. But it was worth it. Talking true made my life more real and my interactions much more authentic. Most importantly, I became someone I could count on and trust.
There is a strength of character that comes with the ability to own your mistakes, to be sorry, to learn from them, and to move on – rather than trying to “make life easier” by fudging the truth.
Avoiding or omitting the truth (when it is your truth to share) is a disordered communication boundary and a disordered emotional boundary. If it’s happening in your life, you might feel overly responsible for the way other people are feeling or how you project or imagine they might feel if you told the truth.
If you are feeling a tug to be in integrity with yourself as I did all those years ago in my therapist’s office, I invite you to first get brave and really honest with yourself. Where are you doing this and with whom? How often? And, how much of the time does it actually make your life easier? What I can tell you is it does take courage to have tough conversations, but it is so worth it. And remember you can always do it with kindness.
Inside this week’s guide, I’m giving you some questions to ask yourself to see where you are taking the little-white-lie shortcut because the first step to changing anything is raising your awareness. Here are a few to get you started:
- Do you say things you don’t mean to avoid discomfort, such as accepting an invitation to an event you have no intention of attending?
Answer true or false to the following statements:
- I sometimes use small lies to avoid conflict. For example, I might Dodge a call from a demanding pal or say, I’m eating dinner when I’m not.
- I tend to flatter others to manipulate a situation.
- I break promises to myself and others.
- I complain about pals behind their back but rarely communicate my displeasure directly.
More than 2 YES’s? Go download the complete guide right here!
Let’s move into keeping secrets and what’s healthy and what’s not. There’s nothing wrong with someone asking you to keep something private, as long as it doesn’t compromise you or any of your relationships. Privacy is one thing, but when you are keeping a secret that puts you or someone else in a compromising position, that is a disordered boundary and it has negative effects on relationships.
Secret keeping is especially problematic when triangulation is present. Triangulation is a form of indirect and toxic communication. It is unhealthy because it involves another person- who is not involved in the conversation. It can look like this:
“I want to tell you something about Betty, but you can’t tell her, ok?”
Triangulation is not an effective way to problem-solve and it damages trust. Either way, the person who ends up in the middle is the one who gets screwed because both people usually end up pissed off at them. Do you often feel you’re between a rock and a hard place inside your relationships? When you have a problem with someone, is your first instinct to talk to them directly about it or to talk to someone else about them?
I get it. You wouldn’t believe the number of triangulations my younger self got tangled up in back in the day. It can be psychologically very tempting to be in the middle, especially if you’re an empath, a high-functioning codependent, and/or a people-pleaser.
Sometimes, being the one everyone comes to when they are having an issue can make us feel important and needed– it serves our ego. We can have a misguided sense of loyalty or feel a deep compulsion to help or fix things that are definitely not on our side of the street. This is yet another sign of disordered boundaries.
The healthier I got and the more therapy I had, the more I realized these situations were not mine to be in the middle of. Raising your awareness of your patterns when it comes to triangulation is a great step towards establishing boundaries that support healthier choices.
When you have healthy boundaries, you practice direct, effective communication. So what do you do if someone tries to triangulate you? I have some ideas. 😉
If someone complains to you about someone else you can respond, “Have you talked to Betty about this?”
If they say no, you can then say something like, “Listen, I’m not comfortable keeping this secret. I encourage you to talk to Betty directly because I really don’t want to be in the middle.”
I have more ideas for you inside this week’s guide, and you can grab that right here.
I’ll leave you with one last thing and when you put it into regular practice, it has the power to significantly uplevel your communication in every area of your life. It’s called “The Three Gates” and is sometimes attributed to Rumi though the actual source is unknown.
The concept is anything you say needs to first pass through these three gates. Before you speak ask yourself these three questions:
1. Is it true?
(this rules out those itty bitty or big lies)
2. Is it necessary?
(this nixes triangulation)
3. Is it kind?
Imagine how much different your life would be and how much different the world would be if we all were only speaking if our words were true, necessary, and kind! Try it for a week and see what shifts for you.
Be sure to download the complete Lies, Secrets, and Boundaries Guide to get more tips on how to communicate consciously and with more integrity going forward, like the Boundary Boss you were born to be!
I hope you got some value from this episode. If you want to learn just about everything there is to know about conversational, emotional, and mental boundaries, my book, Boundary Boss: The Essential Guide to Talk True, Be Seen, and (Finally) Live Free, is available now! Head over to boundarybossbook.com to get your copy so you can snag all the special book bonuses I’ve created for you!
Thank you for being committed to living in integrity and speaking your truth and as always, take care of you.