Very interesting and insightful. Well-worth the read, and if you have time, the video is well-worth the viewing as well.
“Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.” – Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection, pg. 49.
We know we’re getting healthier as a person when we can start admitting the truth about ourselves—and about our own falseness—aloud, and not only to ourselves but to others.
The quickest and surest—as well as toughest and most demanding—route to mental health is to dedicate ourselves fearlessly and fiercely to truth and to reality—to the way things really are, and to the way we actually are.
The goal at first isn’t to change ourselves, because such attempts at changing ourselves will be inherently flawed until we have made it a real priority to dedicate ourselves to truth– and to practice choosing and living this priority so often, so fearlessly, so ruthlessly, that it becomes second nature to us.
If a person truly wants to “wake up” in life and not die asleep and die an unlived inner life, then complete dedication to reality and to truth is the answer—it is both the path and the destination. That is the essence of waking up—seeing the truth about ourselves and having the courage to finally admit it; no more bullshit, instead a fierce and unceasing dedication to truth and reality. Waking up means that we are seeing ourselves and reality and our lot here for what it is, and that we’re not escaping behind a façade of religious dogma, new age pablum, and other escapist avenues (i.e. drugs, even so-called “enlightenment” type drugs, which ultimately too are an escape and an avoidance of the rigors of real growth).
The most pivotal and life altering decision we as human beings can make in life is this most basic one—to voluntarily give up our illusions, buffers, deceptions, bullshit, softeners, and start taking a fierce and hard-nosed look at ourselves, our fears, and life itself—including death—and no hiding out from death behind the hope for reincarnation or an afterlife—because to do so is not to live the question, but to uncourageously avoid asking it.
As we begin admitting the truth about ourselves and our fears and about life to both ourselves and to others our life and our relationships will begin undergoing a powerful and radical transformation, for instead of our daily life and our daily interactions being based on comfort, escapism, avoidance, psychological numbing, hedonism, they will now begin to be based on truth and grounded in reality.
I read (scan) a fair amount of blogs, especially some where I know the person writing it has a form of mental illness. And in very few—make that almost none—do I find the level of fierce dedication to truth that I am describing here—posts where the author takes real responsibility using “I” statement to describe in lurid detail the bad things that they have done. There are plenty of posts on the bad things that have been done unto them—and some of these things are indeed hideous—but few to no posts describing their own errors and the wrongs they have perpetrated on others. Too often instead there are posts full of rationalizations and excuse-making with lots of supportive “I understand”s and such—which all makes sense because we live in a culture where “nonjudgmentalness” and “acceptance” and “tolerance” are king, and where our wrongs can be explained away and excused because of this or that past trauma, and where we all need some emotional support and validation—no matter how questionable to source—if we are to feel OK enough to make it through the day without collapsing or having a nervous breakdown.
There are very few real truth tellers and very few people fearlessly and fiercely dedicated to truth and reality. Most people are dedicated to something much less—and much less honorable and noble—comfort, convenience, location location location, ease, “happiness,” pleasure, hedonism, the path of least resistance, avoiding truth, and avoiding difficulty. And so if we sense that we “need” support and validation in order to make it through the day and not collapse psychologically then we have yet another reason to dummy ourselves and our capacity for truth and reality down in order to “fit in” and gain approval, acceptance, validation, support.
What use is it if a person gains the world—or gains a lot of emotional support and validation—yet loses his or her soul?
And all of the psychological explaining away that we as a species do is stultifying our character and retarding the development of our consciences. It is not the route to real mental health and true personal growth; instead it’s just a perpetuation and deepening of mental unhealth.
The twelve steps are a way of life based on truth and dedication to reality. The twelve steps basically reduce to this:
1. Admit the truth. Admit the truth that you’re an addict; admit what you’re addicted to—alcohol, drugs, sex, lying & manipulating; admit that you’re helpless to overcome this on your own; admit that you’re your own worst enemy; admit that your own “best” thinking and efforts haven’t made a dent in this and in fact usually make it worse; admit that you need help.
To be able to cleanly admit all of this is an example of dedication to truth and dedication reality in action.
And such a moment is not enough. It has to be done again and again and again. It has to become a way of life. It has to be practiced constantly and unceasingly until it becomes habit, second nature, one’s new nature.
2. And then this truth has to be admitted or confessed to others in the form of our taking a searching and fearless moral inventory, admitting our wrongs—not just to ourselves, but to others—to those we actually wronged, lied to, stole from, used, et cetera—and then humbling ourselves and making real amends—doing some real repair work and making our contrition, showing real remorse and sorrow, and asking forgiveness.
All of which is incredibly difficult. Which explains why there is so little of it (truth, remorse, honesty) in general in the real world.
It’s easier to lie and bullshit ourselves and live in denial of our own mortality and transience when we’re surrounded by others basically doing the same—escaping life, escaping stress, escaping anxiety, reading shitty escapist books and magazines, having gossipy trivial conversations, et cetera.
The vast majority of human beings would prefer to be validated for their bullshit rather than be ostracized for being too truthful and too truth-loving.
And so the decline of Western civilization and the perpetuation and spread of mental illness and unhealth. . . .
Escape sells, reality doesn’t.
We are all have our resistances to truth and reality. In other words, to some extent, we all lie.
And the more we lie, the more likely we are to lie (especially to ourselves) about why we’re lying.
If we lie rarely, then we’re likely to be fairly clear about why we’re lying (or not telling the whole truth). We’ve likely thought a fair amount about why we’re withholding parts of the truth and, if we’ve done our thinking and internal debating and self-examining honestly, then we’ve likely already cross-examined ourselves and played God’s or devil’s advocate with our own reasoning and motivations (and tried to see them in the least flattering light possible).
But if we’re still at the relatively low level of consciousness and low level of being (low level of differentiation) where we lie frequently and easily—where lying is our “go to” way of problem solving (actually, further problem making)—then we also likely are lying to ourselves about why we’re lying. In other words, we have little to no idea why we’re lying. The reasons we’re telling ourselves—the justifications—for our lies are also lies, fabrications, psychological sleight-of-hands pulled on ourselves (by what’s weakest and worst in us).
This is the position that many of us are in in life. We are deeply resistant to truth and to living with any real concerted attempt at integrity (integration). We routinely prefer half-baked answers and quick-fix escapist schemes to real thinking and honest self-examination. We prefer obfuscation and confusion and secrecy and hiding to openness and clarity and honesty. The former seems easier—and indeed it may be in the very short term, but it is also cowardly; the latter route—clarity, honesty, openness, transparency, trust-building—is more painful and difficult up front and requires greater courage and self-soothing and grit, but reward us with an increase in each of these.
When we are a person of the lie and prone to lying routinely, we resist honest inquiries and perceive them to be “attacks” or “criticism” or “judgment.” Many of those who campaign for “peace” and nonjudgmentalness and acceptance are those who are hiding out from life and most of all from the rigors of a life of dedication to truth and real self-examination. They seek nonjudgmentalness, kindness, acceptance, and to avoid conflict and disagreement at every turn because it’s less threatening and less potentially disruptive to their very limited self-honesty (i.e., their self-deception and denial).
Many of us show little difficulty in taking great ideas and profound life principles and reconfiguring them so that they support and justify and perpetuate our particular weaknesses and or pathologies. We have little difficulty in taking profound, life-altering ideals and concepts that could help us gain clarity and true inner peace and equanimity and watering them down and diluting them and deluding ourselves with our warped version of their “real” meaning. Instead of raising ourselves and our thinking to their level, we warp them and handle them dishonestly and dummy them down to our level. Instead of being guided by life principles like objectivity, self-examination, Love, differentiation, conscience, virtue, the dharma, and trying to practice and live and embody these concepts on their terms, we twist them to suit us as we are and to justify us as we are now. We twist these great ideas and principles so that they support our staying as we are and our not changing or growing or doing anything too uncomfortable and challenging and honest.
Many, if not most, of us resist truth and honest self-examination on a daily, if not moment to moment basis. We are constantly fleeing from ourselves, trying to numb ourselves from ourselves, from god, from our conscience, from looking at ourselves from the point of view of objective narrator or witness. We are constantly lying most of all to ourselves about why we’re deceiving others, not loving others, running away from life, constantly playing it safe.
Most of us the vast majority of the time are just not that interested in truth and honesty. We’ll tell ourselves (and others) that we are, but such self-talk is cheap and tends to be highly self-deceptive. If we simply observe ourselves impartially (objectively, honestly) as we go about the day, we can notice how little time and thought we actually devote to truth and honesty and cultivating honest candid self-awareness. Most of our time goes into cultivating and practicing the opposite—mindlessness, distraction, multitasking, living undeliberately, dishonestly, numb. Most of the time throughout the day is not spent living a life of virtue or real personal growth or improving our mindfulness and honesty. Instead, most of the time we prefer to be numbed out or distracted—trying to make ourselves momentarily feel good or numb—anything but having to sit alone quietly and honestly with ourselves and our inner discomfort and unrest and incessant discursive chatter and dissatisfaction and greediness (greed for security, novelty, quick easy happinesses/gratifications). We’d rather watch TV or surf the web or go out and buy something than spend time slowing down, focusing ourselves upwards on something that transcends the ego and our constant cravings, and either quieting the mind or reading deliberately something of real worth and substance—something full of solid insights and truth. So much of our TV watching, excessive gregariousness, wine drinking, bar hopping, web browsing, shopping, magazine reading, is our resistance to truth and reality in action. Truth and reality frighten us, so we’d rather numb ourselves or read or watch or listen to or even participate in what is half-true, if not much less than half true.
If we—if any part of us—sincerely wants to experience truth, then we will likely need to begin seeing how deeply resistant we are to truth—how we have set up our lives in a way that is diametrically opposed to truth and to quiet honest contemplation and to cultivating solid honest thoughts.
The following is abridged (and slightly modified) from M. Scott Peck’s “The Road Less Traveled“—
Truth is reality. That which is false in unreal. The more clearly we see the reality of the world, the better equipped we are to deal with the world. The less clearly we see the reality of the world—the more our minds are befuddled by falsehood, misperceptions and illusions—the less able we will be to determine correct courses of action and make wise decisions.
What happens when one has striven long and hard to develop a working view of the world, a seemingly useful, workable map, and then is confronted with new information suggesting that that view is wrong and the map needs to be largely redrawn? The painful effort required seems frightening, almost overwhelming. What we do more often than not, and usually unconsciously, is to ignore the new information. Often this act of ignoring is much more than passive. We may denounce the new information as false, dangerous, heretical, the work of the devil. We may actually crusade against it, and even attempt to manipulate the world so as to make it conform to our view of reality. Rather than try to change the map, an individual may try to destroy the new reality. Sadly, such a person may expend much more energy ultimately in defending an outmoded view of the world than would have been required to revise and correct it in the first place.
This process of active clinging to an outmoded view of reality is the basis for much mental illness. Psychiatrists refer to it as “transference.” Transference is the set of ways of perceiving and responding to the world which is developed in childhood and which is usually entirely appropriate to the childhood environment (indeed, often life-saving) but which is inappropriately transferred into the adult environment.
Truth or reality is avoided when it is painful. We can revise our maps only when we have the discipline to overcome that pain. To have such discipline, we must be totally dedicated to truth. That is to say that we must always hold truth, as best we can determine it, to be more important, more vital to our self-interest, than our comfort. Conversely, we must always consider our personal discomfort relatively unimportant and, indeed, even welcome it in the service of the search for truth. Mental health is an ongoing process of dedication to reality at all costs.
What does a life of total dedication to the truth mean? It means a life of continuous and never-ending stringent self-examination. We know the world only through our relationship to it. Therefore, to know the world, we must not only examine it but we must simultaneously examine the examiner.
Examination of the world without is never as personally painful as examination of the world within. And it is certainly because of the pain involved in a life of genuine self-examination that the majority steer away from it. Yet, when one is dedicated to the truth, this pain seems relatively unimportant—and less and less important (and therefore less and less painful) the farther one proceeds on the path of self-examination.
A life of total dedication to the truth also means a life of willingness to be personally challenged. The only way that we can be certain that our map of reality is valid is to expose it to the criticism and challenge of other map-makers. Otherwise we live in a closed system—within a bell jar, to use Sylvia Plath’s analogy, rebreathing only our own fetid air, more and more subject to delusion.
Such honesty does not come painlessly. The reason people lie is to avoid the pain of challenge and its consequences. We lie, of course, not only to others but also to ourselves. The challenges to our adjustment—our maps—from our own consciences and our own realistic perceptions may be every bit as legitimate and painful as any challenge from the public which is why most people opt for a life of very limited honesty and openness and relative closeness, hiding themselves and their maps from the world.
It is easier that way.
The ways in which transference manifests itself, while always pervasive and destructive, are often subtle.
Yet the clearest examples must be unsubtle.
One such example was a patient whose treatment failed by virtue of his transference. He was a brilliant but unsuccessful computer technician in his early thirties who came to see me because his wife had left him, taking their two children.
He was not particularly unhappy to lose her, but he was devastated by the loss of his children, to whom he was deeply attached. It was in the hope of regaining them that he initiated psychotherapy, since his wife firmly stated she would never return to him unless he had psychiatric treatment. Her principal complaints about him were that he was continually and irrationally jealous of her and, yet, at the same time aloof from her—cold, distant, uncommunicative and unaffectionate.
She also complained of his frequent changes of employment.
His life since adolescence had been markedly unstable.
During adolescence he was involved in frequent minor altercations with the police and had been jailed three times for intoxication, belligerence, loitering, and interfering with the duties of an officer.
He dropped out of college, where he was studying electrical engineering, because, as he said, “My teachers were a bunch of hypocrites, hardly different from the police.”
Because of his brilliance and creativeness in the field of computer technology, his services were in high demand by industry. But he had never been able to advance or keep a job for more than a year and a half, occasionally being fired, more often quitting after disputes with his supervisors, whom he described as “liars and cheats, interested only in protecting their own ass.”
His most frequent expression was “You can’t trust a goddam soul.”
He described his childhood as “normal” and his parents as “average.” In the brief period of time he spent with me, however, he casually and unemotionally recounted numerous instances during childhood in which his parents were inconsistent and had let him down. They promised him a bike for his birthday, but they forgot about it and gave him something else. Once they forgot his birthday entirely, but he saw nothing drastically wrong with this since “they were very busy.” They would promise to do things with him on weekends, but then were usually “too busy.” Numerous times they forgot to pick him up from meetings or parties because “they had a lot on their minds.”
What happened to this man was that when he was a young child he suffered painful disappointment after painful disappointment through his parents’ inconsistency and lack of caring. Gradually or suddenly—I don’t know which—he came to the agonizing realization in mid-childhood that he could not trust his parents. Once he concluded this, however, he began to feel better, and his life became more comfortable. He no longer expected things from his parents or got his hopes up when they made promises. When he stopped trusting his parents the frequency and severity of his disappointments diminished dramatically.
Such an adjustment, however, was to be the basis for many more future problems.
To a child, his or her parents are everything—they represent the world. The child does not have the perspective to see that other parents are different and frequently better. He assumes that the way his parents do things is the way that things are done and that their way represents the way of the world. Consequently, the realization—the “reality”—that this child came to was not “I can’t trust my parents” but the gross overgeneralization that “I can’t trust people.” Distrusting people in general, therefore, became the map with which he entered adolescence and adulthood. With this map firmly in place and operating, and with an abundant store of resentment resulting from his many disappointments fueling him, it was inevitable that he came again and again and again into conflict with authority figures—police, teacher, employers. And invariably these conflicts only served to reinforce his feeling that people who had anything to give him in the world couldn’t be trusted. (He never considered once that he might be the larger part of the problem and the chief instigator of these conflicts!)
He had many opportunities to revise his map, but they were all passed up.
For one thing, the only way he could learn that there were some people in the adult world he could trust would be to risk trusting them, and that would require a deviation from his map to begin with.
For another, such relearning would require him to revise his view of his parents—to realize that they did not love him, that he did not have a normal childhood, and that his parents were not average in their callousness to his needs. Such a realization would have been extremely painful!
Finally, his distrust of people was a realistic adjustment to the reality of his childhood because it worked in terms of diminishing his pain and suffering. And because this adjustment had worked so well once, because it had immense proven survival value, it was extremely difficult for him to give it up. Thus he continued his course of distrust, unconsciously creating situations that served to reinforce it, alienating himself from everyone, making it impossible for himself to enjoy love, warmth, intimacy and affection. He could not even allow himself closeness with his wife, because she, too, could not be trusted.
The only people he could relate with intimately were his two children. They were the only ones over whom he had complete control, the only ones who had no authority over him, and thus the only ones in the whole world he could trust.
When problems of transference are involved—as they almost always are—psychotherapy is, among other things, a process of map-revising. Patients come to therapy because their maps are clearly not working.
But how they may cling to them and fight the process every step of the way!
Frequently their need to cling to their maps and fight against losing them is so great that therapy and growth and healing become impossible.
Again and again, the question is asked of us by life, what is more important to us:
Our own comfort? or truth?
Our own emotional comfort and equilibrium? or truth?
Not being overwhelmed–or feeling overwhelmed–by guilt and shame and mountains of emotional pain we’ve buried and buffered ourselves from? or truth?
If we are not genuinely dedicated to truth, then our inner life is apt to be a free for all–a veritable minefield of lies, deception, denial, lies about our lying, et cetera. If truth is not our guiding and organizing principle, then anything goes, anything is permitted and can be rationalized, explained away, spun, blamed, et cetera. If truth is not our priority, then by default comfort will be–comfort, meaning not being shown anything unpleasant, difficult, unsettling, unnerving, terrifying, about life and ourselves. We won’t want the light of truth, which is often harsh; instead we’ll plead for the soft light of pseudo-truth, and that will leave the door open for self-deception, lies, falsehood, denial, blame.
Being dedicated to truth means that what’s best in us–our conscience–runs the show, and not our want of comfort, ease, the path of least resistance.
When we are dedicated to truth, our reasoning honest and objective, we are self-examining, self-awarem and willing to self-confront, and thus our reasoning is more likely to be true, and if it is off, then it’s more likely to be corrected, because we ourselves are open to being corrected, to criticism, to learning, to revising. Why? Because the truth is more important to us than our own ego or pride or comfort.
But when truth is not our primary concern, but rather comfort is, then our reasoning is apt to not be very reasonable and grounded in truth and reality, but much more likely to be emotional and thus much more prone to being false and much more impervious to correction or reality checks or feedback. . . .
“Welcome to the Land of Emotional Reasoning”
By Dr. Tara J. Palmatier
Welcome to the Land of Emotional Reasoning. To the north, you’ll find Never-Never Take Responsibility Land and just to the south you’ll find the Land Where It’s Always Somebody Else’s Fault.
Wikipedia defines emotional reasoning as “a cognitive error that occurs when a person believes that what [s]he is feeling is true regardless of the evidence.” On a personal note, as a Thinking type, emotional reasoning is frequently the bane of my existence or rather one of my “banes.”
Emotional reasoners are prone to confusing their feelings with facts. Feelings are subjective internal states. Oftentimes, feelings arise because of an external event.
For example, a loved one dies and we experience grief and sadness. In this instance, an individual’s feelings and external reality are congruent.
Alternately, sometimes we misinterpret an external event and feelings arise that are incongruent with the precipitating event.
For example, you see a friend across the street and call out to her. She doesn’t acknowledge you and continues walking. As a result, you become angry and hurt because you assume that your friend rudely ignored you. In reality, your friend had her iPod on and didn’t hear you calling to her. * This is where reality testing comes in handy, but we’ll get to that later.
Sometimes feelings arise from an internal event. Many emotional reasoners are prone to manufacturing dramas in their minds without much input from the external world. They live in the permanent present of whatever their immediate feeling state is — regardless of whether or not there’s a basis for it in reality.
The basic assumption is, “If I’m feeling this way, there must be a reason for it.” There may be a reason for the feeling, but it might not have anything to do with reality, but with unresolved fears, hurts and, quite possibly, pathologies.
Emotional reasoning, or rather, social-emotional intelligence isn’t all bad. It can be quite helpful actually. Empathy, compassion, knowing how to read others, picking up on the needs of others and being sensitive to the feelings of others are just as important as critical thinking and reasoning skills.
Research shows that the best managers and strategic reasoners utilize both IQ and social-emotional reasoning.
Critical thinking occurs in the brain. Emotional reasoning takes place in the heart, gut or some other part of our anatomy — this goes for men and women. Emotional reasoners make choices based on what feels “good” or “right.” Critical thinkers make decisions based on facts and what is just or sensible.
Why is understanding emotional reasoning important for the Shrink4Men community?
If you’re married to, dating or divorcing an abusive and possibly unstable ex, odds are she’s an emotional reasoner and emotional reasoners are also often persuasive blamers and persuasive blamers are often at the root of many a high-conflict divorce/high-conflict custody case, false allegations, smear campaigns and a host of other Kafka-esque behaviors, tactics and sometimes criminal offenses.
An abusive emotional reasoner will verbally eviscerate you, call you a shitty father or mother in front of your kids, hit you and then tell you that their behavior was all your fault because you did . . . whatever they feel you did and insist that their behavior wasn’t really hurtful or abusive. They really love you and how could you accuse them of being so mean, selfish, abusive, etc., etc.?
These individuals can weave a web of distortions, half-truths, confabulations (lies told by liars who believe their own lies), blame, shame and guilt around you until you’re lost in a pink haze of their alternate emotionally-based “reality.” You may even start to believe the emotional reasoner’s “logic” even when you know better.
By the way, if you can fall prey to this, so can judges, attorneys, psychologists, court evaluators, friends, colleagues and family members.
Emotional reasoning can be seductive — even for those of us who are predominantly critical thinkers. The emotional reasoner is so persuasive, so convincing. You start to think, “Maybe it wasn’t that bad. Maybe I really did deserve to be called names. Maybe I really deserved to get hit. Maybe I really am a shitty dad . . .”
Stop yourself. Stop yourself right there. This is when emotional reasoning becomes a contagious trap.
Reality test. If your mind is too clouded from the pink haze to do this on your own, call a friend. Call a family member. Call a shrink. Call someone whose judgment you trust and reality test.
Emotional reasoning is usually easier than critical thinking. Critical thinking based on facts, evidence and logic takes effort and work. Emotional reasoning — not so much.
Don’t remember what really happened because your emotions were too out of control? Make something up.
Embarrassed by something you did or said? Deny it ever happened and blame whomever it is that’s making you feel bad about yourself. Like Jason Alexander’s character George Costanza once reasoned on Seinfeld, “Jerry, just remember, it’s not a lie if you believe it.”
Want to get your way at the expense of someone else? You deserve it. You’re entitled. The person standing in your way hates you/is trying to control you/doesn’t understand you/doesn’t care about you/isn’t making you feel heard/isn’t making you feel loved/isn’t making you feel special. Tell everyone what a monster he or she is and maybe even have them arrested. After all, they deserve it. Who are they to tell you no or get in your way?
Hey, if it makes you feeel better who cares about anyone else’s needs or feelings or pesky little minor details like the truth?
It’s not just individuals who are prone to emotional reasoning. Our society is becoming increasingly governed (I don’t mean politically, although, one could make an argument for this) by emotional reasoning.
You see evidence of it in the news everyday. Injustice results when we combine our proclivity for emotional reasoning and the rampant gender bias of “women = victim; man = villain.”
For example, in the Land of Emotional Reasoning and gender bias, “Susie” murders her children in cold blood during a bitter custody battle. Susie then claims her husband abused her and she was afraid he would molest their children. All of a sudden, Susie is magically transformed from heartless, murdering psycho to poor, abused, downtrodden, confused woman who killed her own children as a desperate cry for help.
Heck, more often than not Susie doesn’t even have to claim her husband abused her. We do it for her because if a woman commits a violent crime, there must be a good reason for it and, of course, that reason must be some man.
It’s much easier to believe Susie is a poor, stigmatized, misunderstood woman than face the fact that there are monsters among us and about half of them are women. This is why many of us continue to fall prey to emotional reasoning and make excuses for this kind of horror show, even when we’re otherwise critical thinkers.
Social-emotional intelligence is just as valuable as critical thinking and IQ. For your own well-being and safety and the well-being and safety of your children, it is imperative that you don’t get lost in the emotional reasoning of your unstable and abusive partner or ex (or your partner’s ex). Reality testing is your life preserver, which is one of the reasons abusive types try to isolate you. They want to control your reality.
Please take my advice and don’t let them.
“Truth is reality. That which is false in unreal. The more clearly we see reality—ourselves and the world, the better equipped we will be to deal with both. The less clearly we see reality, the more our minds will be befuddled by falsehood, misperceptions and illusions, and the less able we will be to determine correct courses of action and make wise decisions.” – M. Scott Peck, from “The Road Less Traveled”
Another way of looking at this is that the more clearly we see reality and ourselves, the more sane and mentally healthy we are—and will become.
The less clearly we see reality and ourselves, the less mentally healthy we are, and are becoming.
The truth is not only what will set us free, it’s also what defines us as being sane and healthy. When we’re mentally healthy or getting healthy, we know the truth and we wrestle with it, and we try to do so with more and more integrity and honesty.
But when we’re mentally unhealthy, when we’re neurotic or have a full-blown personality disorder (narcissism, antisocial, borderline—all three closely related and overlapping), we don’t really know the truth any more, we don’t know who we are or how we really feel or what we really ought to do; our lives are caprice, chance, testimonies to fear and impulse and chaos, instead of goodness, Godliness, order, Love, courage and truth.
When we’re mentally unhealthy, we are not interested in truth or in facing it or ourselves, but in avoiding truth at all costs; we’d rather lie and steal and make excuses and believe what we want to believe because we want to believe it and because we’re convinced that it will make us feel better than we are in learning what is actually the case.
In other words, when we are mentally unhealthy or ill, we prefer lies and confusion to truth and clarity.
Mental unhealth is a process of ongoing dedication to deception, falsehood, confusion, and illusion at all costs.
Mental health, on the other hand, is a process of ongoing dedication to truth at all costs.
We don’t spare any expenses, in fact we take on all costs, we give up our comfort, we foresake it and our comfort zone, we accept loneliness, becoming different, strange, isolated, unpopular. For often these things are the prices we have to pay for following our conscience.
Being firmly dedicated to truth is key to creating a virtuous upward cycle in our lives; being unfirmly dedicated to truth leaves us open to falsehood and confusion, and falsity and confusion are key to a vicious or downward cycle.
“You are of your father the devil, and you and your will want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” – John 8:44
“And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” – John 8:32
We have only two choices in life. There’s no escaping this and there’s no neutrality in this. We either dedicate and devote ourselves to truth (or to love, real Love and learning what this truly is); or, by default, we end up leaving ourselves open to more and more untruth, especially the more difficult our lives are and have been.
If we have fallen into the habit of lying a lot, when we are lying or deceiving another or ourselves, we may think that we can control our lying, that deep down we know the truth and we can keep track of it, and that all this lying and deceiving isn’t doing anything harmful to us; in fact, just the opposite, it’s protecting us.
But this too is a lie.
We can’t control our lying. If we have not consciously dedicated ourselves to truth, then we lie reflexively, automatically, in spite of ourselves; it’s become not just a second language to us, but our primary or native language. We lie to others, we lie to ourselves, we lie to ourselves and other about ourselves and our lying. We hide parts of ourselves, we make excuses about why we hide parts of ourselves. We wear masks, sometimes several at a time, but usually on top of another. We want to be true to ourselves, we want to believe that there’s still a self to be true to, but we’re lost and we no longer know what part or parts of ourselves to be true to—to what’s best in us or what’s worst in us—and so we’re true to both and act out on both, on whatever we feel, we’re like an instrument way out of tune, life strums us and chaos is what sounds back out of us. We’re confused, lost, and we’re in deep, over our heads, drowning not waving in a sea of lies and deception and falsehood. We’ve sold our soul, and if not, we’re well on the way to selling it. And for what? More momentary relief? More momentary excitement and distraction and anesthesia? Getting our way?
When we dedicate ourselves to truth, we are modeling ourselves after God, and the likes of Jesus, Buddha, Confucius, and cetera. We when don’t and we become okay with lying and we have developed all sorts of defenses and ways of buffering ourselves from facing what we’re actually doing—meaning we have all sorts of ways explaining away (i.e. rationalizing—rational lies)—our lying, then we are modeling our lying deceitful behavior after the father of lies—the devil or Satan—and speaking his language, the language of lies, instead of the language of Love and Truth.
This Be The Verse – Philip Larkin
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.
The Vicious Cycle – Abuse in Childhood, and Limited or Impaired Self Capacities & Affect Regulation Skills and Avoidant Behaviors in Adulthood
Beyond its obvious initial negative effects, early and severe and frequent child abuse and or neglect interrupts normal child development, conditions negative affect to abuse-related stimuli, and interferes with the usual acquisition of self capacities—perhaps most especially the development of affect regulation skills.
This reduced capacity for affect regulation places the individual at risk for being more easily overwhelmed by emotional distress associated with memories of the abuse/trauma, thereby motivating the use of dissociation and other methods of avoidance in adulthood.
In this way, impaired self capacities lead to reliance on avoidance strategies, which, in turn, further preclude the development of self capacities.
This negative cycle is exacerbated by the concomitant need of the traumatized individual to process conditioned emotional responses and distorted cognitive schema by repetitively re-experiencing cognitive-emotional memories of the original traumatic events that are triggered either by actual memories of the original event or, what is more likely, cognitive-emotional memories elicited by only slightly related current stimuli or situations (conditioned emotional responses caused by distorted or hypersensitive cognitive schema)—a process that further overwhelms the person’s limited self-capacities and produces distress.
If the individual is sufficiently dissociated or otherwise avoidant, the intrusion-desensitization process will not include enough direct exposure to upsetting material to significantly reduce the survivor’s underlying conditioned emotional distress.
As a result, the individual will continue to have flashbacks and other intrusive symptoms indefinitely, and will continue to rely on avoidance responses such as dissociation, tension reduction, or substance abuse to deal with the negative emotions arising from such re-experiencing.
This process may lead the abuse survivor in therapy to present as chronically dissociated, besieged by overwhelming yet unending intrusive symptomatology, and as having “characterologic” difficulties associated with identity, relational, and affect regulation difficulties.
Many adult survivors of severe childhood abuse expend considerable energy addressing trauma-related distress and insufficient self capacities with avoidance mechanisms.
In other words, the survivor whose re-experienced conditioned emotional responses (CERs) to traumatic memories generally exceeds his or her internal affect regulation capacities is forced to continually invoke dissociation, impulsivity, substance abuse, thought suppression, flight, explosive anger, and other avoidance responses to maintain internal equilibrium.
These avoidance strategies are used at several levels: (a) to reduce awareness of (and therefore susceptibility and sensitivity to) potential environmental triggers, (b) to lessen awareness of memories once they are triggered, and (c) to reduce cognitive and emotional activation once CERs to these memories are evoked.
In the absence of such protective mechanisms, the individual is likely to become overwhelmed by anxiety and stress other negative affects on a regular basis—especially when exposed to triggers of traumatic memory in the environment.
As a result, avoidance defenses are viewed as necessary survival responses by many survivors,
Overshooting occurs when interventions or interaction or even therapy provide too much exposure intensity or focus on material or information that requires additional work before it can be safely addressed (i.e. family history diagram).
Interventions that are too fast-paced may overshoot the therapeutic or healing window because they do not allow the client to adequately accommodate and otherwise process previously activated material before adding new stressful stimuli.
When therapy consistently overshoots the window, the survivor must engage in ineffective and counterproductive avoidance maneuvers (i.e. projection, dissociation, suppression, lashing out, splitting, numbing, impulsivity, relocation) in order to keep from being overwhelmed by the therapy process.
Most often, the client will increase his or her level of dissociation during and after the session or will interrupt the focus or pace of therapy through arguments, “not getting” obvious therapeutic points, changing the subject to something less threatening, or missing or being late to appointments.
Although these behaviors may be seen as “resistance” by the therapist, they are often appropriate protective responses to, among other things, therapist process errors given the abused individual’s limited self capacities (especially limited affect regulation skills) and distorted cognitive schema.
Unfortunately, the client’s need for such avoidance strategies can easily impede therapy by decreasing her or his exposure to effective treatment components.
In the worst situation, therapeutic interventions that consistently exceed the window can harm the survivor. This occurs when the process errors are too numerous and severe to be balanced or neutralized by client avoidance, or when the client is so impaired in the self domain or intimidated by the therapist that he or she cannot adequately utilize self-protective defenses.
In such instances, the survivor may become flooded with intrusive stimuli, may “fragment” to the point that his or her thinking is disorganized and incoherent, or may become sufficiently overwhelmed that more extreme dissociative behaviors emerge.
Further, in an attempt to restore a self-trauma equilibrium, she or he may have to engage in avoidance activities such as self-mutilation or substance abuse after an over-stimulating session.
If one considers posttraumatic stress to consist, in part, of intrusive feelings, thoughts, and memories that are triggered by some sort of reminiscent stimulus, often followed by attempts by the affected individual to avoid such triggers or their emotional effects, then a close cousin of PTSD may be borderline personality disorder. In addition to problems with identity and self-other boundaries, those diagnosed as borderline are often characterized as prone to sudden emotional outbursts, self-defeating cognitions, feelings of emptiness and intense dysphoria, and impulsive, tension-reducing behavior that are triggered by perceptions of having been abandoned, rejected, or maltreated by another person (American Psychiatric Association, 1994). The “borderline” person is often viewed as having problems in impulse control, such that he or she is seen as emotionally over-reactive or hypersensitive to perceived losses or maltreatment, responding with angry affect and sudden, dramatic, and ill-considered behavior.
As with PTSD, many severely abused people have a number of “borderline traits” (some fail to meet all the diagnostic criteria for the disorder, meeting less than 5 of the 9 diagnostic criteria, while others, however, do meet more than 5 of the diagnostic criteria).
And, as per PTSD, the self-trauma model holds that a fair portion of what is considered borderline behavior and symptomatology can be seen, instead, as triggered implicit memories, schemas, and feelings associated with early (in this instance relational) traumas (e.g., abuse, abandonment, rejection, or lack of parental responsiveness/attunement) that the individual, in turn, tries to avoid via “dysfunctional” activities such as substance abuse, inappropriate proximity-seeking, or involvement in distracting, tension-reducing behaviors (e.g., dramatic actions, sexual behaviors, impulsive spending, lying, aggression).
In this way, the “impulsive,” “acting-out” behavior of “borderline” individuals parallels the experience of the PTSD individual, except that in “borderline” individuals the triggers for re-experiencing are usually within some sort of relationship, the activated memories are often implicit, preverbal, and imbedded in attachment disturbance, and the reactions to the activated memories are often more relational and seemingly more primitive since they involve the reliving of unprocessed childhood-era events (see Jacobs & Nadel, 1985, re the “infantile” effects of some activated early childhood memories).
A comparative example. A Vietnam veteran with PTSD might have intrusive sensory re-experiences of a combat scenario after being triggered by the sound of an automobile backfire, and, upon experiencing the Vietnam-era fear associated with the combat memory, engage in attempts to find safety.
An individual with borderline personality disorder, after being triggered by a perceived slight in an intimate relationship, on the other hand, might experience sudden, intrusive thoughts and feelings of abandonment and betrayal associated with childhood maltreatment, and re-experience abuse-era desperation and anger associated with that memory. The individual might then engage in dramatic negative tension-reducing or proximity-seeking or distancing behavior in the context of that relationship.
Both are having posttraumatic reactions that involve reliving a previously traumatic event, although the relational components of the latter are often seen, instead, as evidence of a personality disorder.
Thus, beyond its initial negative effects, early and severe child maltreatment interrupts normal child development, conditions negative affect to abuse-related stimuli, and interferes with the usual acquisition of self capacities—perhaps most especially the development of affect regulation skills.
This reduced affect regulation places the individual at risk for being more easily overwhelmed by the normal stresses inherent in daily life and intimate relationships as well as the emotional distress associated with memories of the abuse/trauma, thereby motivating and activating the automatic (unconscious and reactive) use of dissociation and other methods of avoidance in adulthood.
In this way, impaired and limited self capacities lead to reliance (dependence) on avoidance strategies, which, in turn, further preclude the development of self capacities.
This negative cycle is exacerbated by the concomitant need of the traumatized individual to process conditioned emotional responses and distorted cognitions as well as having to repetitively re-experiencing cognitive-emotional memories of the original traumatic event—all of which represent occasions/situations that can further overwhelm the individual’s impaired/limited self-capacities and produce even more stress and distress.
(Abridged and adapted from “Treating adult survivors of severe childhood abuse and neglect: Further development of an integrative model,” by John Briere, Ph.D. http://www.johnbriere.com/STM.pdf)