It is everywhere. The need to tell it how it is. Voice your opinion. Critic what you see and hear. Express ourselves, in every way we can. Social media and reality T.V has unleashed a storm of self opinionated chatter on to the world. Everywhere you go, we are all busy tapping away on our keyboards or starring down a camera lens, espousing our commentary and putting our two cents worth of straight talking out into the public domain. But have we gone too far? When does a bit of healthy and honest straight talking become plain rudeness? And when does plain rudeness merge into narcissism? Is there a difference?
In a word, yes. And that word is intent.
The ‘why’ we are giving it to someone straight, is the difference between strength of character and lack of character. Take the recent viewing catastrophe, Married at First Sight. A participant of the show, demonstrating significant personality pathology, used the phrase, ‘I’m just being honest,’ as a get out of jail free card, for saying absolutely anything they wanted and deliberately hurting and manipulating other contestants. At no point did that person display any honesty, integrity or fairness. In their world, honesty meant lie, manipulate, cause harm and cheat. What was concerning was they appeared ignorant of the fact their version of righteous honesty was, in reality, rude and narcissistically orientated. (To be fair, they were not the only contestant displaying similar pathology and this kind of unwellness paraded into our lives as normal, has far reaching and disturbing consequences, but I’ll save that for another day.)
Actually, it is not okay to say anything you want, how you want and when you want. Being straightforward and direct is very different from the malicious way ‘honesty,’ is being portrayed and manipulated on that and many other reality shows and social media. And very different from the way narcissistic validation is creeping into our day to day psyche, when conversing with others.
Straight talking by definition, means to talk in an honest and direct way. Straight refers to staying on a direct course of action or method and talking means to use words or sounds to communicate. It is not a new phrase, first appearing in the English language some 200 years ago, but it is a phrase that has taken on new meaning in today’s world. Somehow straight talking has morphed into a presumption that you can be emotionally abusive. In the social media/reality T.V world where definitions blur and transform on a daily basis, this type of distorted straight talking is espoused as highly rewarded. Clicks, likes and followers determine how we deliver opinion and shape the style we do it in. But we need to be careful what we will tolerate and encourage as straight talking. Are we straight talking or are we giving ourselves (and inspiring others), to express opinions no matter how offensive they may be or how dysfunctional the intent is? Are high ratings and large followings, for narcissistic behaviours masked as straight talking, twisting our perception of honesty?
There is nothing wrong with a little honesty when delivered well and with integrity. In general, most of us admire a person who has the confidence to share their opinions, have a point of view and stand up for their beliefs. Even if it challenges us or makes us a little uncomfortable. We value integrity and directness in ourselves and desire it from others. In fact, we expect it in some lines of profession, like with psychologists, coaches, lawyers, governments and our workplace management. Where we need fairness, justice and supervision, straight talking is essential, otherwise we would lose faith, and have done, in many of our social systems.
Unfortunately, with very little self-editing and insight, sometimes, straight talking is being used to allow us to be rude and offensive. The ‘I’m allowed to express my opinion’ mentality isn’t actually a free for all to say whatever you like, however you like, under the guise of ‘just being honest’. Being honest has become a justification for being cruel and nasty. In social media and reality T.V, offensiveness and thinly veiled insults are masquerading as straight talking. It can be confusing. On one hand we are encouraging each other to be up front and honest and on the other hand the same characteristics can become a free for all, without any emotional governance.
Honesty is integral to straight talking. If you are not being honest with yourself then you are not being honest with anyone else. Being straightforward is a positive attribute. It signals many wonderful characteristics such as sincerity, truthfulness and loyalty. But being a straight talker also means you will, at times, create discomfort and that is why your delivery needs to be mindful of the person you’re interacting with. When you fail to consider how someone will receive your direct approach, the outcome is far less successful. When you use straight talking to cover up attempts to be harmful, untrue or excessively critical then all you have done is demonstrate rudeness.
So, how do we know if we are being rude or straight talking?
There is always a need to be balanced in all that we do. Being too honest can create the reverse to your motivation for straight talking. Rudeness. Blunt, unedited honesty appears as a negative, particularly when you express your view without having been asked for it in the first place. When we are rude, our motivation is not to share opinion but to hurt someone. Intent defines the distinction. To start with, while straight talking is about delivering an honest, if not direct, message, rudeness is focused on being offensive, impolite and bad mannered. There is no grace in being rude. There is no respect or manners in being rude. When we hide behind, ‘I was just telling the truth,’ as we attack someone with false honesty, we are kidding ourselves. And the person we have offended knows it.
More and more, people use straight talking to express anger, hatred, jealousy and dysfunction. Just in case anyone is unaware, this is not healthy and not a sign of emotional maturity, mental stability or self-awareness. There is no admiration in someone using straight talking to be mean and cruel or to excuse inexcusable behaviour. Straight talking is not, in anyway, supposed to be rude. The same as narcissistic verballing is not merely expressing an opinion.
Then what is the difference between being rude and narcissistic?
The divide that separates rude and narcissistic commentary is pretty clear. Rudeness is ignorant and clumsy. It is used when you feel inadequate or challenged and do not have the vocabulary, evidence or maturity to respond to something said. The intent, in being rude is defensiveness. Narcissism is rudeness on steroids. It is calculated, well thought out and the intent is to emotionally maim.
Vaknin describes this difference succinctly. “The narcissist’s favourite sadistic cocktail is brutal honesty coupled with “helpful advice” and “concern” for the welfare of the person attacked. The narcissist blurts out – often unprovoked – hurtful observations. These statements are invariably couched in a socially impeccable context. For instance, “Do you know you have a bad breath? You will be much more popular if you treated it”, “You are really too fat, you should take care of yourself, you are not young, you know, who knows what this is doing to your heart”, “These clothes do not complement you. Let me give you the name of my tailor…”, “You are behaving very strangely lately, I think that talk therapy combined with medication may do wonders”, and so on.”
Or as demonstrated on MAFS and the like, where brutal honesty (phrased as straight talking) is used to excuse hurting others knowingly. The shocking statements, ‘I tried to sleep with your new husband/pretended to be your friend/told lies to others because I have to be honest with myself,’ is a prime example of narcissistic justification. Straight talking, used in this way, is nothing to do with honesty and integrity but about humiliating and denigrating others for our own self-absorbed, dysfunctional and selfish means.
So, I’ll give it to you straight.
Next time you feel the need to tell someone straight or are asked an opinion, remember your intent is everything. Why are you needing to say what you are about to say? Is it to help, improve or clarify? Or is it to justify, hurt or manipulate? The delivery of your message is also important. Be honest, but empathic. Be open, but considerate. Think about the words you are choosing and the response you wish to get. Ask yourself if being upfront is about helping or hurting another person. Take a minute to check, are you being a straight talker, rude or narcissistic?
If you don’t know, then maybe say nothing until you do. Silence, like honesty, is also an admirable quality.
Reference : Sam Vaknin author of Malignant Self-love: Narcissism Revisited