The relationship between honesty, reality-testing, and self-esteem can’t be overstated. 

It’s really, really difficult to have a stable, positive sense of your own identify if you haven’t made a firm commitment to perceiving, accepting, and speaking the truth as you understand it. 

This is tougher than it sounds. 

Like, it SOUNDS simple. Just tell the truth, to yourself and others, right? How hard can that be? 

Well, it can be very hard, actually, if you’ve come to understand the truth as threatening. 

We live in a culture that often rewards shading the truth. Bending understanding and expression to fit cultural norms and attitudes on the one hand; or the narrative pushed by those with agendas on the other hand. 

Very little of what we get on social media, for example, is unfiltered truth. It’s usually someone’s VERSION of the truth. 

Mind you, there’s nothing inherently wrong with anybody having an agenda, and focusing on selective details of situations in order to support that agenda. Literally everybody does that. I do that all the time. If you follow my work online, you know you’re getting a very specific point of view about humanity, what tends to make humans unhappy, and how humans can get happier. 

Where our self-esteem comes into play is if we buy into others’ agendas without our own critical thinking, our own values, our own character ethic, becoming involved. 

When we swallow anybody else’s version of “truth” without reality-checking it according to our own perceptions and priorities…that’s when our sense of identity begins to suffer. 


Our self-esteem suffers when we don’t have respect for truth because our brains are not stupid. 

Our brains know when we are respecting and reality-testing truth as best we can discern it…and when we’re just swallowing someone else’s version of truth and reality. 

The fact is, in order to maintain healthy, stable self-esteem, there’s no way around the obligation to think for ourselves. 

To maintain healthy, stable self-esteem, there’s no way around the obligation to be as honest as is possible, with ourselves and others, about how we understand the world to work. 

Our brains know when we’re BS’ing…and our self-esteem will pay the price. 

One of my interests is religious movements and cults. One of the things by which I’m fascinated is how people can surrender their own autonomy and judgment and follow the teachings and instructions of gurus who are often pathologically narcissistic, and just out to use their followers to gratify their own egos (and pad their own bank accounts). 

Narcissists know that one of the things they have to do in order to get people to follow them is bend their followers’ understanding of “truth” to what they, the narcissist, says it is. The followers who end up mindlessly following the narcissistic leaders into calamity often do so because they’ve gone ahead and done so: taken off their critical thinking hat and surrendered their understanding of “truth” to somebody else. 

People with genuinely high, healthy self-self-esteem don’t end up in cults. 

Why? Because— at least in part— they are too committed to truth and honesty. 

That is: they are too committed to independently perceiving, assessing, and processing what the world around them means. They refuse to surrender this process to a guru, or to anyone else— because doing so would be fundamentally dishonest. 

Why do some people surrender their understanding of reality to someone else? 

Because they often perceive reality to be threatening. They want someone else to deal with the hard questions for them, because it is less exhausting and anxiety-provoking. 

There’s nothing wrong with wanting the tough questions of life and reality to be, well, less tough. I wish those questions were less tough, too. 

But to surrender our reality-testing to someone, to try to outsource it to a leader (or a therapist, or a minister, or to anyone else), is fundamentally dishonest. And your brain knows that. 

Be honest with yourself. 

Accept and embrace your responsibility to perceive and deal with reality on reality’s terms. 

Your self-esteem will thank you. 


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