The Unlikely Magic of Being Honest (with yourself)

“No, no… I’m okay. I don’t need anything.”

These words came out of my mouth so frequently that they might as well have been a mantra. I never even noticed it was happening until a friend stopped me in mid-sentence one day.

“Hey, Jacob,” he said, “That’s not true. I know you need things and you’re not telling me. It’s all over your face. You’re exhausted, you’re stressed… you’re falling apart. Why can’t you admit that you have needs, too?”

You know how your nose stings and prickles when long-dammed tears start to overflow? That’s what happened immediately after this person who cared about me said something true—stopped me in a reflexive lie.

It wasn’t that I meant to lie to him or myself. It was just such a habit, this thing of not admitting that I had needs.

For me, this began in early childhood. I had spent a lifetime keeping myself safe the only way I knew how: taking care of the needs of everyone around me without being able to acknowledge my own.

How was this a survival strategy?

Psychology and some therapists have helped me understand that being a caregiver is an identity-level experience. In its healthy version, the Caregiver archetype is generous, compassionate, and often seen as a guide or “rock” for others. Many caregivers are raised in childhood environments that require them to help out their siblings and parents. They are rewarded and praised for always going the extra mile. This often means disregarding their own needs. There’s an unconscious message, “You are safe and accepted so long as everyone else is okay.” This can develop into an unhealthy lack of honesty that makes it impossible for the caregiver to get their own basic needs met—which often leads to burnout, exhaustion, depression, and physical ailments. (Click here to learn more about the Caregiver Archetype from a different source.)

The conversation with my friend years ago was one of many red flags that eventually made me realize how long I had been lying to myself and how much it was costing me—and others.

The truth is, my pathological urge to anticipate and fulfill the needs of others (often before they even asked for help) was robbing them of their power to do for themselves and me of time, space, money, or other resources that I gave away without a second thought.

This began to change as I established a practice that helped me learn how to be honest with myself over and over again, a little more every day.

I share this ridiculously simple process in the free ebook that I recently released titled, “How to Establish Your Creative Self Journaling Practice.”

Because it was so frightening to be honest with other people, let alone myself, about my own feelings and needs, learning how to ask three simple questions every single day was the beginning:

  1. How do I feel right now?
  2. What do I need right now?
  3. What would I love?

It wasn’t easy at first. It took months before I felt comfortable enough to admit these things to myself, even in the safety and privacy of my own journal.

Little by little, something began to change. I found that I started to notice when I needed something. It was often something so simple, too: “I need to rest,” or, “I need more time to work on this mountainous to-do list,” or, “I need to pee.”

As I learned to be honest with myself, I noticed that it became easier to be clear with other people in my life. Looking back after a year or so of making this simple journaling practice part of my life, I am astonished by how much has changed. My children are more independent and engaged in their own futures. My friends more frequently ask, “How are you doing? How can I help you?” I am able to negotiate financial details with my employers and clients without always giving away the farm for fear of taking more than I should. The list goes on and on.

The results of this self-honesty practice are “real magic.” It seemed impossible before and now it’s a regular part of my life.

I have used the example of getting honest about unhealthy caregiving, but what I’m sharing here will affect any other manifestations of dishonesty, too. Anyone who regularly asks these three simple questions and allows themselves to answer honestly will begin to see the way through thickets of fear and old survival strategies that they’ve used to protect themselves and feel safe over the years.

Developing more honesty in this way offers tremendous benefits:

  • Relief
  • Clarity about who you are and what you truly desire
  • Greater creativity
  • A “lightness of being”
  • Freedom and self-respect
  • and so much more…

What I’ve found is that over time—and with patience—the inner parts that felt unsafe before can learn how to show themselves and tell the truth. As they experience you as a loving ally, they become willing to come out of hiding and reveal their secrets.

Now I’d love to share this process in the free ebook I mentioned before. Please take one as my gift and then come back and tell me about your experience in a comment below. How is telling the truth to yourself changing things around you?

I’d love to hear from you.

Jacob Nordby

P.S. Did it occur to you that I’m still over-giving by offering free content and ebooks and such? Well here’s my ENTIRELY selfish motive in that—I have a new book coming out later this year titled The Creative Cure. The process I share in the free ebook is an important part of this book. If you love this part of the work, I’ll come back and make sure you know how to buy the book when that time comes. For now, it brings me pleasure to know that the same things that are changing my life are also useful to others. Thanks for being here.

Jacob Nordby

Jacob Nordby

Jacob Nordby is the author of The Divine Arsonist: A Tale of Awakening, and Blessed Are the Weird – A Manifesto for Creatives. His third book, The Creative Cure, was released by Hierophant Publishing in 2021 with a foreword by Julia Cameron. He is the co-founder of The Institute for Creative Living and also a highly introverted person who can often be found working in the quietest corner of some Boise coffee shop.

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24 Responses

  1. Dear Jacob and Everybody else from our weird tribe 🙂 ,

    These practices of journaling are truly good and keep us sane. I’m very grateful to Jacob for articulating this method in the best possible form so it would open up our potential.
    But also, Jacob, it’s so good that your friend reminded you of your needs. It’s somewhat symbolic: INF-s are the best “shrinks” but sometimes they can’t understand what exactly is happening to them. But their friends can.
    We’ve got each other – I guess that’s great too. Most probably, we can’t even realize how great this is. Will there ever be times we could feel these connections with people? I know the connections exist but if we really could feel them inside of us, this presence and friendship and joy and belonging to something big and whole. Not a yacht club or some professional network but being part of something big just the way you are, no matter your interest or mood right now. It’d be so much easier and more joyful.
    Who on Earth will experience this at this but not us? It has to be us. Thank you, Jacob, that you connect us so we could feel and hear each other.

  2. I share my views on self care to many people. And I meet many people who really struggle to care more for themselves. I love your simple, powerful approach. May I share the link to this article from my LinkedIn/ FB /Twitter profiles?

  3. I have a t-shirt from my high school humanities club, that I serendipitously found the other day, in a box of other hs keepsakes that had been in storage at my mother’s–that says, To read, to write, to live. Amen. We would sit around with Monty Python or Dead Poets Society running on the old box TV, possibly muted and someone’s playing REM or Pink FLoyd or the Indigo Girls and express….then I went through several years where my journal most likely would not remain private because some people are…just sick? I also had a strange creative writing professor in college who said a very inappropriate thing in a creative setting, but I digress. Anyway, so I learned to…survuve by taking photographs instead, or making chain maille jewelry or latch hook rugs…good grief, I’ve got craft adhd. Eek. Sigh.
    Sorry, there is A LOT going on around me right now, heavy stuff that’s certainly not fodder for this inspiring post…
    Being honest has created a void in my life because I cut out the drama-loving, fair weather non-friends-I didn’t have many in any case–but honestly, I’m better without them. But I’m lonely for comraderie… Being honest has also caused me to stop not seeing my relationship is…has…fizzled. He doesn’t see me, hear me…says he does but I have journaled enough, I have got proof otherwise. I’m just sensitive he says. Pfft.
    On that note, my face is red and I am tempted to delete this…

  4. Hi! I participated in the INF summit and started using these journal questions immediately! I really love the simplicity, and the space for anything to come up, any topic could fall under those questions somewhere. The most surprising and beautiful part is #3–I find myself being really honest and imaginative. I’m seeing so many connections with what kinds of things I need to be focusing on doing or learning more about. I’ve been journaling more often than ever before because this makes it so easy. Thank you!

    1. Hi, Calli!

      Simplicity and "space for anything to come up…" Yes, it makes me happy that you felt that. And isn’t it great that once the mind has had its say about other things, #3 can open doors into creative living?

      Thank you for sharing your experience with us.

  5. Hi Jacob,

    As I have already shared with you via email, I started this practice, reluctantly, just over a month ago. And I have been amazed how easy it is for me to maintain – this is definitely the most consistent journaling practice I have ever done. I am able to stick to it almost daily because it’s so simple. As some have said, simple but not always easy. At first I was amazed because I could detect a sometimes subtle, sometimes not differential between what my mind was planning to write and what actually came out on the paper.

    What HAS been a consistent challenge is related to this very post – What do I NEED right now? It took me a few weeks to recognize that what I was writing was always ‘I need TO…’ meaning things I needed to take care of / do. NOT what I needed at all! After I recognized that I would then sit there blankly unless it was something super obvious like your examples of ‘I need water’ or ‘I need to pee’. Those I can handle. Deeper, more nuanced needs – not so much!

    This has been a lifelong issue for me as well since early childhood and I mastered that mantra of ‘I’m fine. I don’t need anything.’ It’s still around unfortunately. I’m taking hope from your story that ‘after a few months’ you were finally able to hear something. I haven’t been at it that long, but I am confident I will stick with it and hopefully be able to hear and listen to those long-silenced voices.

    Thank you again for sharing this wonderful practice! And I am SO looking forward to the new book! 🙂

    Big Hug from SC,

    1. Hi, Pamela

      Thank you for spelling it out for us here in public. I am so happy to be part of this developing conversation–one in which none of us feels alone because we’re talking about the real things of our lives together.

  6. Good morning, Jacob.
    I was surprised to see a photo of TWD character, Rick Gaines! Very effective use of metaphor of clearing the steam away from a mirror in order to See truth.
    I am glad that you shared the concept of archetype and how you identify as a caregiver. I did the little quiz in the link and learned that mine is a Member. Now. That was a surprise as I’ve considered myself as a caregiver as well. Perhaps that is an untruth that I need to explore through using your journaling questions. I think perhaps I’ve assigned that role unconsciously as a means of protection, or, a distraction. From the truth.

    I sat for the first time this morning and answered the three questions. After writing the first response to “How Do I Feel Right Now”, I went back and circled the feelings that presented in my response. They appeared to follow the tenets of grief. Those five stages? Crap, tired, pissed, sad, seething, grief, angry. My dog has kidney disease – technically, kidney failure, – so without filling the blanks with sentences and modifiers, I constructed a truthful snapshot of where I am at this morning observing Freddy’s decline. I am heartbroken.

    Interestingly, I felt pangs of judgement writing what I needed and what I would love! You know, that feeling of a pullIng sensation in the chest? It occurred when I used F*#king miracle as a need and that I would love to feel better and to have a gut-busting-pee-in-your-pants-laugh.

    I think that I am going to like this practice.

    Thanks for reading! And, thank you for sharing your experience. I think that you are brave by allowing yourself to be vulnerable.


    1. Thank you for taking the time (and having the bravery) to share from your experience, Karen. I’m sorry about Freddy. As you tell that story, I feel it right in my gut and heart.

      1. Thank you for your compassion and empathy. I’m working on the bravery. Every hear the expression, “ya can’t dance …” so I’m starting to go with the alternative and muster courage. 🙏

  7. As an only child to a teen mom who later became a workaholic among other addict behavior until well into my adulthood, I became and still hold many of the survivalist tendencies which involve the feelings and statements of being “fine” And “I don’t need anything”. These are lies and defeat all the years of work freeing myself from the confines of dysfunction. So… I’m not FINE all the time and I NEED LOTS OF THINGS, especially connection. Thank you for this post!

    1. Thank you for telling a little of your story, Gabrielle. I have the pleasure of being your friend in real life, so this means a lot.

  8. When my husband died last year people came form everywhere telling me what I needed, what I was feeling and what I should want. Those three questions have begun a search and a journey to discover me-not for what others think I should do, want or be but what I want and how I move ahead. Thank you Jacob.

  9. I downloaded your ebook a few days ago, and I really resonate with the process. I have had a strong caregiving energy all my life, and in recent years I’ve begun to unravel/transmute the martyrdom pattern and practice remembering that I have/owning my needs. It’s a process for sure! I really appreciate what you share and your gently honest style. Thank you! Will definitely be checking out your book!

  10. Well what can I say I felt like you were talking about my life. freaked me out!! loved the e-book but have been slack on doing it, I will now for sure! I need to be honest with me first then others who take the piss knowing I can be a push over because they know!! sure you get that! thank you, this is the second message today so time to look after me from now on. then Freak out number 3 for today the the 1st comment was from someone who has the same name golly gosh

  11. I wonder if it is a generation thing sometimes? I totally get that journaling helps a lot of folks – not my cup of tea and that is OK also. Growing up I did things and helped and was a caregiver – until I wasn’t and it was wearing me out and I knew it. So I set up boundaries, defended them and took care of myself. These next ten years are needing to be devoted to self-care and self-love and that message is coming from all the energy intuitive’s I follow and even others I just happened to catch. My honesty blows most people back when they ask what is on my mind, never had many dates as I intimidated men – the guys are work are all scared of me most of the time, I don’t sugar coat shit. When I started "waking up" 20+ years ago – lots of good books, spiritual teachers, energy workers, kept me going on my path to enlightenment – which of course is never done, here or upstairs. But my #1 priority is me, since I am single, I have to care for myself – food, diet, health because I am the only one who can take care of me. And in the end, we are the only ones who can care for ourselves.

  12. Love this. And I have been doing the creative journaling with the 3 questions for a couple of weeks now. Week 1: Hated every second of it. Had to force myself to do it amidst a million "I don’t wanna" and "You can’t make me" thoughts. My brain was a rebel, but my heart won out and I stuck with it. Week 2: Ok. This is fine. Not really sure what it’s doing. But it’s easy. And I said I would, so… Week 3: Holy crap on a cracker! This is why! I had no idea the enormity of the deficit I had accumulated around my own self care. And self awareness. No. Idea. And now I know. And what is known cannot continue to be ignored. So I’m taking action. Thank you. Seriously, I don’t comment on many public forums, but thank you.

  13. Great essay, I can totally relate and need to work on being honest with myself, and hopefully unleash my creative potential.

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