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Page Contents: Discovering Truth / Honesty In Professional Practice / Lying / Telling Lies / Fear of Honesty / Humor, Comedy, Wit, and Blushing / Being Judgmental / Four Steps to Psychological Honesty / Conclusion



WHENEVER I welcome a new client to our first session, I explain that psychotherapy is not like a legal process of interrogation to uncover a secret that the client is trying to hide. The process of psychotherapy really involves learning to be honest, and through that honesty the client will come to discover “truth” as a living grace, not as an intellectual abstraction. This means that the psychotherapist and the client must both learn to be honest with each other; it also means that the client must learn to be honest with himself or herself.




This honesty involves learning how to express openly to another person the fullness of your immediate inner experience, by setting aside all of your characteristic psychological defenses. And to do that, you have to come to terms with the emotional pain that caused those defenses to come into being in the first place. Of course, that pain originated through parental and other social interactions in your childhood, but, just as you continue to encounter these same sorts of painful feelings through social interactions in your adult life, you will also encounter these feelings as a result of interactions between you and your psychotherapist. This is the essence of the therapeutic relationship. You confront your pain directly in psychotherapy, without using defenses to run from it, so that you can heal it and transform it into an honest encounter with truth.


Most people come to psychotherapy with some part of their inner lives wrapped in dark secrecy. And, consciously or unconsciously, they do their best to hide this reality from the psychotherapist and to present themselves in the best possible light.

Usually, it doesn’t even occur to them that they should be talking about the embarrassing fantasies that lurk in the dark corners of the mind. Nor does it occur to them to speak about their emotional reactions to the psychotherapist and to the psychotherapy process itself.

But eventually some chance event within the psychotherapy—some frustration or obstacle—will cause such a profound encounter with hidden secrets that everything breaks out into the light. And if the psychotherapist knows his or her job it will be a time for the real therapeutic work to begin. But if the encounter is missed, or if the client runs from it, then everything will just sink back into the mire of unconscious fears and secrets.


All of us, in fact, have grown up with denied experiences. The classic case is the alcoholic and/or abusive family that pretends brutality and incest are not occurring. Even in family systems with lesser levels of dysfunction, the process of “keeping secrets”—from others, and from yourself—can soon enough lead to mental distress or illness.

The sad thing is that this denial of experience gets carried on into professional practice as well. 

I have had many clients—some in residential or day treatment settings, some temporarily in hospital settings—confide to me, “The people here are crazy, and I’m not talking about the patients.” Because I have worked in most mental health settings—crisis, inpatient, outpatient, and residential—at one time or another during the course of my training, and because I have seen with my own eyes the same things my clients complain of, I can acknowledge an unpleasant fact of the mental health system: there are counselors, nurses, and doctors who make mistakes and won’t admit it, who don’t keep promises, who lie to clients, and who are even afraid of their clients.

Read Three Short Tales from the Psych Ward

So I tell my clients, “Don’t let the staff wear you down.” Recognize dishonesty when you see it, and do not feel afraid to name it as dishonesty.




One time when I was called to serve on a jury, the defense attorney, noting that I was a psychologist, asked me about the “black box” of the mind. So I explained my views of the unconscious and said that because we are all motivated by unconscious desires, no one can “tell the truth” as our legal system defines it. And then I said that I could never accept the testimony of a police officer at face value because even police officers will lie in order to protect themselves. A hush fell over the courtroom.

I continued, staring at the prosecuting attorney, “Even lawyers will lie to further their careers.” Nervous giggles broke out.

I looked at the judge. “Even judges will lie if it serves their interests.” The court fell silent.

But the defense attorney smiled as he caught on to what I was saying. Still smiling, he asked me, “And so, even you are lying?”

“Yes,” I admitted, “Even I am lying.”

Of course, the prosecuting attorney threw me off the case.

And that’s the point. We are all liars, and we all make excuses for our ignorance of the unconscious. In our legal and political systems, “truth” is nothing more than what we choose to believe in the moment. Our culture is all a fraud. But hardly anyone wants to admit it.

Now, if you call someone a liar, you will get one of two responses. If the person is wise, he or she will say, “Yes, that’s true.” Being aware of the extent of his or her unconscious motivations, this person has the healing option of emptying the self of pride in order to find honesty and truth that surpasses social game-playing. But persons who are psychologically unaware and bristling with defenses will angrily blurt out, “How dare you! Take that back or else!” And the sad thing is that in defending themselves against the reality of their lies and hypocrisy, these persons become liars and hypocrites all the more.




As far as the psychology of the unconscious is concerned, lying is a fact of life. But the act of telling lies is something else entirely. When you tell a lie you make a deliberate, conscious effort to deceive someone, and that deception, at its psychological core, is an act of aggression.

This aggression derives from two interrelated unconscious motivations, one about not knowing, and the other about something you do know.

The first motive is a desire to cover up lack—that is, when others, especially your parents, consistently fail to teach you, in a wise and compassionate way, about how the world “works” (both mechanically and emotionally), you can easily develop a feeling of inadequacy. Shamed by what you don’t know, you will want to hide this painful feeling somehow.

The second motive is a response to knowing that someone has failed you in some way. Do you tell lies to your parents? Then you know, deep in your heart, that they won’t, or can’t, care enough about you to give you the family security that you need. Do you tell lies to your teachers or boss? Then you know that they won’t, or can’t, give you the promotion or recognition you desire. Do you tell lies to your friends? Then you know that they won’t, or can’t, give you what you want, whether it be sympathy, or affection, or anything else. Knowing these things, you will want to get satisfaction somehow.

Therefore, your lies become cunning weapons of revenge in a psychological battle to inflict pain on those who hurt you. That is, when someone treats you critically, you feel hurt, shamed, and afraid; and then, as an angry response to that hurt, you will tell lies in a fabricated sense of invulnerability to hide your painful shame while causing injury to that person.

Even a pathological liar carries deep in his heart a desire for goodness and honesty and yet, because of painful emotional wounds, he knows that the world never has recognized his pain. Moreover, he believes that the world never will recognize his pain. And so, to hide that pain from himself, he uses all the lies he can concoct to hurl at the world as he runs in fear from his own goodness. Sadly, his lies end up hurting himself as much as they hurt others.

The only solution to all these lies is to face up to the emotional pain of feeling misunderstood and inadequate. Track that pain back to its origins in childhood and see it honestly for what it was. Understand just how you were ignored or neglected. Understand how much you feared—and still fear—“not knowing” and being abandoned. Understand how you can blame yourself for not knowing. Understand the anger simmering in your unconscious. Understand how you can hurt yourself in the process of giving others what they “deserve.”

Be advised, though, that the truth can be terrifying simply because you are not accustomed to it.


When I was a child, my mother used to buy artificially flavored “maple” pancake syrup. Eventually I convinced her to buy some genuine maple syrup. When I first tasted the real thing, it seemed as if something was missing; it didn’t have the strong “maple” taste to which I had grown accustomed.

And that is the problem with honesty. When you grow up in a dysfunctional family accustomed to lies and deceit, it can feel as if you are doing something wrong if you start telling the truth. When you are so used to fraud, the truth not only seems false, it seems dangerous.


So, yes, the truth can taste strange, and it can be terrifying—but when you encounter it honestly and without psychological weapons you will discover a courage you can never learn through trying to defeat your enemies.




Many persons balk at the idea of emotional honesty for fear of its social consequences. “But if I’m honest with others, they will reject me and I will lose their love,” you might say. Well, there is really only one answer to this concern: If others reject you because you are honest, then you never had their love in the first place. All you risk losing by being honest is the illusion of someone’s love. In this sense, you really have nothing to lose in being honest because you have already lost it anyway. Think about that.




One good way to understand something about humor is to consider how we respond to a clown in a circus. Why do we laugh at this clown doing foolish things? Well, we laugh because we perceive a truth about the situation; i.e., we perceive the truth that a man is making a fool of himself.

But there is more to the truth here than just this. Consider what would happen if, in the course of his act, the clown were actually to injure himself. Maybe he falls from a ladder. The crowd sees this as part of his act and laughs at his clumsiness. But seconds pass, and he doesn’t move. A hush comes over the crowd. The laughter ceases. The show stops under an atmosphere of nervous tension as paramedics arrive to carry the man away.

So what does this ceasing of laughter tell us about laugher itself?

First, it tells us that the ultimate truth of life is death. No matter what sort of act we put on, we are all subject to ruin and ultimately must fall into destruction.

Second, it tells us that in being subject to this truth we are truly fools, for everything we do or possess will pass away and leave us helpless.

Third, it tells us that we cope with the terror of this ultimate truth by keeping it at an emotional distance; that is, we enjoy seeing this truth revealed to us—especially in seeing others make fools of themselves—but only so long as truth does not get too close. If it gets too close the show stops and the laughter ceases. Comedy turns to trajedy.


Have you ever wondered why Dante called his great poem, The Divine Comedy, a comedy? It’s a comedy because Dante visited the realm beyond death—Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise—without dying. He went there and came back. He got close, but not too close. If he had really died and gone to hell it would have been a tragedy, not a comedy.



Now, in regard to understanding comedy and humor, it is important to distinguish from it a related but different concept: wit. Unlike humor, which is based in the perception of a truth, wit demonstrates a truth. Again, unlike humor, which can derive from actions or language, wit depends entirely on language. Wit uses language to increase our sense of self-importance. Now, this may be as benign and subtle as making a pun to demonstrate our intelligence or it may be like a double-edged sword that cuts down others intellectually and leaves their self-esteem hanging in shreds. Either way, wit has its deep psychological basis in emotional insecurity.

Keep in mind here that because we are all insecure—after all, we are all fools—using wit to make us feel more confident by demonstrating our intelligence isn’t necessarily something disordered. Wit can be cruel, yes, but wit can also be used with a sense of humor; that is, it can be used with the awareness that even in our loftiest intelligence we are still fools.


Humor perceives a truth. Wit demonstrates a truth. So what about blushing? What is its relation to the truth? Well, blushing indicates a failed attempt to hide the truth.

For example, let’s say that someone gives you a compliment. Most likely you know you have done something worthy of a compliment, but maybe you don’t want to admit that you know it, so you try to hide the fact that you know it. But you can’t hide the fact completely. Try as you may to hide it, the truth is the truth, and holding it back only causes it to “leak out” somewhere. The more you try to keep a straight face, the more the blood rushes to the muscles of your face. So you blush.

It’s the same with anything psychological: the the more you try to avoid something, the more apparent it becomes. The more you worry about not being able to sleep, the more you have insomnia. The more you worry about feeling panic, the more you panic. And the more you worry about the truth showing, the more it shows.

So what can you do? Well, learn to be honest. You don’t have to tell the whole truth, but be honest about the truth. If someone gives you a compliment, just say, “Thank you,” but refrain from praising yourself. If someone says, “Bill is really handsome,” just just say, “Yes, he is,” but refrain from speaking about your secret feelings of lust because lust is psychologically damaging. And if someone says, “Psychologists are all fools”—and you are a psychologist but don’t want anyone to know—just say, “Well, we are all fools.”




Throughout this website I speak about various truths of the unconscious. These truths are rarely popular, and they are not necessarily politically correct—but they are true just the same. Nowhere, though, do I say that anyone who dislikes these truths is “bad.” Similarly, if you speak the truth to someone, and you are careful not to say that anyone is bad, then you are not being judgmental. Now, if someone disagrees with you, he can just turn around, walk away, and not look back. But if he accuses you of being judgmental and hurls insults and threats of lawsuits at you, then he is the one being judgmental, and he has fallen into the very trap he claims to be above.




The psychological process necessary to attain a state of honesty consists more-or-less of about four steps:


Learn that you have emotions—both pleasant and unpleasant—and learn how to recognize and name them.


Keep in mind, however, that many persons confuse beliefs with emotions.


“I felt that the interview went well.” This is actually a statement of a belief, and it can be better expressed by saying, “I believe that the interview went well.”


“I felt pleased with the interview.” This is a genuine emotional statement.

“I feel that you will be late again.” This is actually a statement of a belief, and it can be better expressed by saying, “I believe that you will be late again.”

“I’m already very annoyed that you will probably be late for our appointment. When you are late I feel devalued as a person.” This is a genuine emotional statement.


Learn that you have been using some very clever unconscious psychological defenses to push out of awareness all the unpleasant and frightening emotions which traumatized you as a child.


Learn that the past essentially continues to live in the present; that is, when you experience emotional stimulation in the present you will be unconsciously driven into responding to these emotions according to your old psychological defenses.

Thus you can see that all the unpleasant and frightening emotions which you have been pushing out of awareness all your life have been secret causes for all the problems and conflicts you have been experiencing all your life.
Therefore, examine your past very carefully so as to make a conscious, enlightened connection between your suppressed emotions and your current behavioral problems. (If you look carefully, you will find fantasies of grandiosity, revenge, and sexuality frequently running through your mind, and these fantasies can prod you into acting in ways that are, well, unbecoming to psychologically healthy conduct.) This scrutiny will show you how your life, up to now, has been largely controlled by the unconscious repetition of old emotional conflicts.


Having mastered the previous step so that you can easily recognize how the past essentially continues to live in the present, make a conscious effort to resist the temptation to fall into old defensive patterns, and train yourself to act with new and different behaviors.

Make no mistake here: this is hard work.

It’s essential that you train yourself to make a conscious decision in the moment to bear your emotional pain gracefully, without anger or victimization, but instead with forgiveness. In every moment of difficulty you will, like a frightened child, think first of protecting your pride, but now, with a deliberate act of will, set aside that pride.

Note carefully that unless you work through all these stages it is nearly impossible to live a genuinely honest life. You cannot have meaningful and honest interactions with others if you persist in clinging, deep in your heart, to psychological defense mechanisms that shield you from emotional pain. How can you be genuine with another person if you’re always protecting yourself with your own wits? In the past, particularly as a child, blame, resentment, and anger may have served to ensure your survival by masking your hurt and vulnerability, but in reality these things are totally opposed to integrity and true love.




So, once you can name dishonesty you can work to be free of its destructive power.


Remember: it was unnamed dishonesty—perhaps in your own family—that made you suicidal or self-destructive in the first place. Many children who have been wounded by this dishonesty often reach a point in their lives at which they resolve that they will never allow themselves to be deceived by anyone ever again. And then, sadly, for the rest of their lives they are deceived by their own pride.


Now, however, if you choose, you can challenge others when they are being dishonest, and you won’t have to feel that you are a “bad” person for seeing what no one else will admit. And this integrity might save you from becoming a psychological “terrorist” in your community.

But remember also that, in order to give a name to dishonesty, you, like me, have to endure the pain of seeing it in yourself. You have to be honest enough to face up to your own emotional experiences and to communicate them to others. Then you can begin to put honesty in practice every moment of your life.




Psychology from the Heart
The Spiritual Depth of Clinical Psychology

A collection of texts from the writings of
Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D.

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Death—and the Seduction of Despair
Depression and Suicide
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Questions and Answers about Psychotherapy
Spiritual Healing
Spirituality and Psychology
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A Guide to Psychology and its Practice



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