Why are we so afraid to be honest in our friendships?

Friends working togetherWhen I first moved to Canada I have to confess – I was still a little afraid of women. Growing up I was a tomboy, was schooled in sciences and had just left behind a 10 year career in technology and management. I was used to hanging around guys…

So, as I built my coaching business and started networking at exclusively female networking groups – for the first time – I got a taste of the AWESOME POWER and energy that a group of women has. It’s so much more authentic than the jokey, ‘punch each other on the shoulder’ male friendship style that I was used to. Although there is definitely something to be said for the ‘straightforward’ way that men have of dealing with issues and conflicts…

Which takes me to the TV show “Sex and the City”. While I loved the fabulous outfits, hairstyles and glamorous lifestyles – what I loved MOST was the honest, no-holds barred friendships between the four women. I loved that they were each so different, that they all had flaws and that even though they each made ‘mistakes’, they FORGAVE each other and moved on.

I find myself wondering if THIS was the real fantasy? Can women can be honest with each other, say what they REALLY think AND remain friends… Because in my experience, when I’ve been honest, it has often backfired with quite traumatic results! What about you?

It seems to me that when it comes to female friendship so many of us have not got out of 5th grade. We AGONIZE over how to say no to someone, or how to tell them we don’t like their new hairstyle or we bite our tongue when someone upsets us instead of letting them know how we feel.

And yes, that’s me too. While I’m honest and straightforward most of the time I still have a habit (which I’m working on) of keeping quiet when someone has upset me…

Human beings were meant to live collectively – as a tribe. And that means we NEED social graces to oil the wheels of our interactions with others. But why do we hide our true thoughts and feelings with people who are our friends? Surely they – of all people – deserve to see who we really are, know what we really think and feel?

I know what holds me back sometimes is simply FEAR. Fear that I need this person’s APPROVAL – no matter what the cost. Fear that I’ll upset them – and won’t be forgiven. Fear of what others may think of me if the ‘story’ is passed on. A fear of being considered rude or selfish. Essentially a fear that if I say what I really think – I might be rejected, excluded or ridiculed in some way.

And so we stay quiet. We say we’re fine, when really we’re hurt. We say the new outfit is great, when really our friend needed to know that, yes, her bum really does look big in that. Or we say “Yes”, when every bone in our body was screaming “NO!” And as we all know, these unsaid things build up over time, often escaping when we least want them to. And that’s when the real damage gets done.

What I would like to see in female friendships is MORE honesty and acceptance and LESS taking things so personally! I’d like to see us looking after our own needs. I’d like to see us celebrating our personal differences and being more comfortable with ourselves. I’d like to see more vulnerability – where you put your real self out there and trust 1) in yourself to cope with whatever happens and 2) in your friends to honour who you are.

Next I’ll be taking this a step further and looking at the other side of the coin – learning not to take things personally – so you can cope with your friend’s new found honesty!

But in the meantime I’m curious: Do you tell your friends what you really think? Do they see the real you? If not, why not? Comment below and let us know! And if you are truly yourself/honest with your friends we’d love to hear your tips…

Finally, if you feel like it perhaps you’ll ponder over the next week:

  1. “What parts of yourself do you hide when you’re around your friends?” & Why?
  2. “What do you not say to your friends?” & Why?
  3. “Do you really know what your friends think of you?”
    (this last one is a trick question – of course you don’t! But feel free to ponder on it anyway – or ask them!)

And once you’ve let us know your thoughts,  remember to check out this month’s Quickie Exercises and the Friendship Map on our Tools and Resources Page.

2 comments to Why are we so afraid to be honest in our friendships?

  • Bee

    Hi Emma-Louise,

    First congratulations on the launch of your new blog. I know you’ve been working hard and I’m looking forward to seeing it grow. Your first post is a doozy and I want to offer my honest gut reaction I had when reading it.

    I think being honest is great but sometimes overrated. I think we need to pick and choose our honest moments with friends. If they’ve upset us, do we really need to hash it out or can we just forgive and move on. I give my friends much more latitude with their behaviour than I would strangers because I assume that perhaps they are just having a misguided moment and that I know better about them.

    Sometimes honesty is about making ourselves feel better which sometimes makes the other person feels worse. So are we really advancing friendship in this case?

    So are my thoughts jaded or naive? I don’t know. I’ll have to get back to you on that. 🙂

    What I do know is I love the hard questions you put out there Emma-Louise. They make me think and that can only be a good thing.

    Can’t wait for the next post!


    • Thanks Bee! You’re such a great supporter!

      And you raise some good points. The honesty I refer to is both about ‘issues’ between friends and also things like ‘the haircut’ or the ‘outfit’ – where kindly-phrased honesty can really help them. I remember my mom showing me a shirt she was going to wear for an interview. The shirt was nice but the colour made her look like REALLY washed out, pale and tired. Nice colour, nice shirt – but not on her… So I said that – gently. She wore something that looked better. That’s good honesty.

      So, onto friend ‘issues’. I agree – we shouldn’t always hash things our with our friends. Sometimes it IS good to just let things pass and forgive… This raises two things:

      1) Can you really forgive? Or does it get (subconsciously) stored up… Because if you’re at all uncertain then you SHOULD say something. Untreated ‘wounds’ have a habit of festering.
      ***And if you really can completely forgive and forget – then FABULOUS! This is where I will be headed with the next post – about NOT taking things personally. One of “The Four Agreements” is, “It’s not about you…” And it seems as though, Bee, that you’re already there… Congrats.

      So, I guess the point I am making in this post is – Don’t let things fester, don’t tell others about it behind their back. Instead be honest with your friend and give them the chance to know the impact of their behaviour so they can change.

      2) The second point I thought when I read your (awesome and thoughtful response!!) was that sometimes it is HELPFUL to our friend to know they have hurt our feelings. Until we tell them, they can’t know and won’t be able to behave any differently in the future – with us or anyone else. So by being honest and saying, “Wow, I’m sure this isn’t your intention, but when you said x to me I feel really put down.” And leaving that with them. No intent to change them, just letting them know and trusting they will absorb it.

      And a final thought. Yes, sometimes being honest can make the other person (temporarily) feel bad. So, we have to check that we are saying something to them for the RIGHT reasons – to help them or our friendship in the future.

      Thanks for the opportunity to clarify Bee!

Today’s Date

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