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Tatemae or True Self? One Model for Autistic Shielding

Updated: Jan 7

Finding a balance betwen Honne and Tatemae that suits your temperament is the name of the game

Honne and Tatemae: A Discourse on the Duality of Japanese Communication

In the intricate tapestry of Japanese social interaction, as in autistic life, a profound dichotomy can sometimes exist between one's inner thoughts and their outward expression.  The Japanese have a name for this concept, Honne and Tatemae.

Honne (本音) signifies one's true, unvarnished feelings and desires, often shielded from public display to preserve social cohesion and avoid potential discord. It is reserved for the intimate realms of close friendships and familial bonds, where authenticity can flourish unburdened by societal expectations.

Tatemae (建前), in contrast, represents the carefully constructed façade presented to the external world. It embodies socially acceptable opinions and behaviors, upholding collective harmony and safeguarding the delicate balance of interpersonal relationships. It manifests in deferential language, indirect communication styles, and an unwavering commitment to group consensus.

Japanese culture and places profound value on social harmony and collective well-being within the society.

Train in Honne and Tatemae style worplace diplomacy with this activity from our Finding Health Workspaces course.

Being an island country, agreeability becomes important. The Japanese have a very indirect style of communication. So, when a direct communicator like myself wants to learn about between-the-lines communication, I look east!

The culture of Honne and Tatemae doesn’t promote lying for the sake of lying but encourages being agreeable in the name of politeness.

For people uncomfortable with the white lies often needed in the workplace, this may be a nicer way to frame the way we engage social duplicity. Then again, it may not really be very different at all from what we do as autistic people.

While rooted in different cultures, the Japanese concept of honne and tatemae and autistic masking share striking parallels

Honne and Tatemae

  • Honne: One's true, inner feelings and thoughts.

  • Tatemae: The public face or behavior one presents to maintain social harmony, often concealing honne.

  • Duality: Both involve a distinction between one's internal experience and external presentation.

  • Social Expectations: Both are often employed to navigate social norms and expectations.

  • Effort: Both can require significant mental and emotional energy to maintain.

  • Potential for Exhaustion and Isolation: The effort to maintain this divide can lead to exhaustion and a sense of isolation from one's true self.

My Japanese friends do talk about the stress of concealing their honne, or true feelings

While it's a deeply ingrained cultural practice, it's not without its emotional and psychological challenges. Lots of big personalities end up moving here because "Japan is so fake."

This stress is expressed in subtle, but noticeable ways

  • They might use subtle cues, body language, or indirect language to hint at their true feelings, even if they don't explicitly state them.

  • They privately speak about misunderstandings and frustration, as it can be difficult to decipher what someone is truly thinking or feeling.

  • They may confide in close friends, family members, or therapists to express their honne in a safe and confidential space.

  • Some Japanese people, particularly younger generations, are starting to question and challenge the rigid expectations of honne and tatemae.

  • They argue that it can be stifling and harmful to mental health, and advocate for a more open and honest communication style.

While the specific term "stress" might not always be used, the emotional and psychological toll of concealing one's true feelings is a recognized issue in Japanese society.

Even though I recognize Honne and Tatemae as masking, I like the idea anyway. We all have to get through the world, and its folkways, within our lifetime. If I have to mask anyway, re-framing it as an act of kindness and/ or respect for the person in front of me helps me feel bigger instead of smaller. It allows me to approach shielding parts of myself from others from a place of love instead of a place of fear.

In moderation. And only when absolutely necessary.

Speak kindly to yourselves and to each other,


Try the Autistic Shielding workbook free to download until March 2024 to help you start nurturing your honne and move towards healthier social interactions.


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