Lying, Self-Deception, Resistance to Truth & Reality, and the Pain of Real Growth


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.

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Thomas Merton on our True v our False Self


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“Mental health is an ongoing process of dedication to reality at all costs.”

M. Scott Peck, from “The Road Less Traveled,” pp. 51

 

Every one of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self.

This is the person that I want myself to be but who cannot exist, because God—because Truth, Light—knows nothing about him. And to be unknown to God is altogether too much privacy.

My false and private self is the one who wants to exist outside the reach of God’s will and God’s love— outside of reality and outside of life. And such a self cannot help but be an illusion.

We are not very good at recognizing illusions, least of all the ones we cherish most about ourselves—the ones we are born and raised with and which feed the roots of sin. For most of the people in the world, there is no greater subjective reality than this false self of theirs, which cannot exist. A life devoted to maintaining and expanding this false self, this shadow, is what is called a life of sin.

All sin starts from the assumption that my false self, the self that exists only in my own egocentric desires, is the fundamental reality of life around which everything else in the universe is ordered. Thus I use up my life in the desire for pleasures and the thirst for experiences, for power, honor, knowledge, feeling loved, in order to clothe this false self and construct its nothingness into something objectively real. And I wind experiences around myself and cover myself with pleasures and glory like bandages in order to make myself perceptible to myself and to the world, as if I were an invisible body that could only become visible when something visible covered its surface.

To be a saint means to be my true self. Therefore the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I truly am and of discovering my true self, my essence or core.

Trees and animals have no problem. God makes them what they are without consulting them, and they are perfectly satisfied.

With us it is different. God leaves us free to be whatever we like.

We can be ourselves or not, as we please. We are at liberty to be real, or to be unreal. We may be true or false, the choice is ours. We may wear now one mask and now another, and never, if we so desire, appear with our own true face.

But we cannot make these choices with impunity.

Causes have effects, and if we lie to ourselves and to others, then we cannot expect to find truth and reality whenever we happen to want them.

If we have chosen the way of falsity we must not be surprised that truth eludes us when we finally come to need it and that confusion reigns.

– Thomas Merton, abridged and adapted from “New Seeds of Contemplation

Dedication to Truth & Lying to Oneself


Truth or reality is avoided when it is painful.  We can revise our maps only when we have the discipline not to avoid the pain.  To have such discipline, we must be totally dedicated to the truth, not partially.  That is to say, we must always hold truth, as best as we can determine it, to be more crucial, 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 this life of total dedication to the truth means?  It means, above all, a life of continuous and never-ending stringent self-examination and honesty with oneself. — M. Scott Peck, from “The Road Less Traveled,” pp. 50-51

Try just for a moment to accept the idea that . . . you lie to yourself. That you always lie to yourself every moment, all day, all your life. And that this lying rules you to such an extent that you cannot control it any more. You are the prey of lying. You lie, everywhere. Your relations with others—lies. The upbringing you had, the conventions—lies. Your teaching—lies. Your theories and art—lies. Your social life, your family life—lies. And what you think of yourself—lies also.  But you never stop yourself in what you are doing or in what you are saying because you believe in yourself, you believe that what you’re doing is always right: in other words, you believe your lies.  And you never doubt or suspect yourself.  You never doubt or suspect that you or what you are doing might in fact be wrong, very wrong.  “I’m doing the best I can,” you’ll tell yourself, but it’s a lie; you’re not doing your best.  “I’m doing the best I can considering where I started;” another lie. “I’m doing this to get better, healthier,” et cetera; another lie. “Everything will work out in the end,” more lies and self-deception.

No one wants to slow down and stop and consider this–that perhaps they’re wrong; that perhaps what they’re saying to themselves, the course that they’re taking in life is completely wrong, that it’s not for the best, that in reality it’s a product of yet more lies.  Yet this is just what mental health demands: that we question ourselves, question our own course, question what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.  But you won’t do this, and neither will most people; so you’re not alone, and that brings you comfort.  But just look around you: the evidence is there, all over the place; the evidence is there and indisputable that you are not right, that you have rarely ever been right.  But still you deny it, still you believe yourself again this time.  And so you fall for your own lies again.  And again.

Why?  Because you’re a coward.  You lie because the truth about yourself is painful and you’re weak and don’t want to deal with reality.  You lie because you never think honestly about your own mortality.  But you don’t want to hear any of this (which is just further proof that you’re weak).  But it’s what you are, and it’s what you do.  You lie because you’re weak and afraid.  You lie because fear is your leader.  You lie because you have no love in you, nothing good left in you.  You lie because the truth will sting you too much, hurt what little pride you have left, be too bright and blinding, too disorienting, too stressful.  And so you settle for lies, because lies can always be paid for with other lies, and lies have never really cost you a thing yet because your last line of defense is that you have always been able to lie to yourself about the cost of your lying to yourself! “It was for the best.”  But look around you: Your life is a lie and a cheat.  The evidence is there, all around you.  But for you, it’s deniable.

What would it take to get you to face the truth about yourself?  What would be required to get you slow down and stop and be honest with yourself about what you’re doing and who you are and what you’ve done?  What would it take to get you to stop blaming others or your past, and instead take responsibility for what you’re doing and be honest about all of the lies you’ve told yourself and others and what they really say about you–how weak, cowardly, unhealthy, wrong you are?  How much force would be necessary for you to admit the truth?  What would you have to lose or have taken away from you?  (And the more that would be required, the more truly lost and unsalvageable you are.)  Can you even be honest about this?  Can you even be honest with yourself in answering these questions?  Or are you so lost that lie to yourself automatically and effortlessly in response to these questions, and your mind is so cluttered that you’re already onto the next thing, the next lie, the next great deception? 

Is there nothing of yourself remaining?  Nothing that recognizes the truth, that wants to know the truth, that craves the truth?

No one wants to consider that perhaps nothing remains of oneself but an organism adrift, a body deprived of intelligence and seduced by any- and everything, and wholly at the mercy of “I like” and “I don’t like.” No one wants to consider that what they really are is an automaton living under the law of accident and nature.  But this maybe the truth.  One may have lied so well and so often to oneself that there’s simply nothing left of oneself that can tell the truth anymore.

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(The following excerpt is taken from: “Gurdjieff: Essays and Reflections on the Man and His Teachings,” by Jeanne de Salzmann, pp. 2-6.  It is my abridgement and adaptation)

Your life is the mirror of what you are. It is in your image. You are passive, blind, demanding. You take all, you accept all, without feeling any obligation. Your attitude toward the world and toward life is the attitude of one who has the right to make demands and to take, who has no need to pay or to earn. You believe that all things are due you, simply because it is you! All your blindness is there! Yet none of this strikes your attention.

None of this strikes your attention because you have no measure with which to measure yourself. You live exclusively according to “I like” or “I don’t like,” or “I feel like” or “I don’t feel like.” You have no appreciation except for yourself. You recognize nothing above you—theoretically, logically, perhaps, but in actuality no; you submit to nothing except your own desires and subjectivity. That is why you are demanding and continue to believe that everything is cheap and that you have enough in your pocket to buy everything you like. You recognize nothing above you, either outside yourself or inside. That is why you have no measure and live passively according your impulses and likes and dislikes.

Yes, this lack of appreciation for anything and anyone except for yourself blinds you. It is by far the biggest obstacle to a new life. You first must get over this threshold, this obstacle, before progressing even one step further. This crux alone is what divides human beings into two kinds: the “wheat” and the “chaff.” No matter how intelligent, how talented, how gifted, how brilliant a human being may be, if he does not change his appreciation of himself, there will be no hope for real inner development, for a work toward honest self-knowledge, for an awakening. He will remain such as he is now for his entire life.

The first requirement, the first condition, the first test for one who genuinely wishes to work on oneself is to change his appreciation of himself. And he must not do this theoretically—he must not imagine, not simply believe or think; rather he must do this in actuality: he must see things in himself which he has never seen before—which he has never had the nerve or courage to see before. And he must see them fully. A person’s appreciation of himself will never change as long as he or she sees nothing new and untoward in himself.

Today we have nothing but the illusion of what we are. We do not respect ourselves. In order to respect myself, I have to recognize a part in myself which is above the other parts. And my attitude toward this part should bear witness to the respect that I have for it. But so long as I treat all parts of myself equally, I think too highly of myself and I do not respect myself, and my relations with others will be governed by the same caprice and lack of respect.

In order to see oneself, one must first learn to see. This is the first initiation into genuine self-knowledge. In order to see ourselves realistically, we must see all the ways in which we habitually over-estimate and over-appreciate ourselves. But you will see that to do this is not easy. It is not cheap. You must pay dearly for this. For bad payers, lazy people, parasites, there is no hope. You must pay, pay a lot, pay immediately, and pay in advance. You must pay with yourself; you must pay with sincere, honest, conscientious, disinterested efforts. And the more you are willing and prepared to pay without economizing, without cutting corners, without cheating, without falsifications, the more you will receive. Because from that moment on you will become acquainted with your nature. You will begin seeing all of the tricks, all the dishonesties that your nature resorts to in order to avoid paying with real cash, real effort, real expenditure, real sacrifice, real cost to oneself. Because up till now, you like to cheat, you like to cut corners; you like to try and pay with your readymade theories, your convenient beliefs, your prejudices and conventions, your “I like” and “I don’t like”; you like to bargain, pretend, offer counterfeit money.

Objective thought is a look from Above. A look that is free, that can see. Without this look upon me, seeing me, my life is the life of a blind person who goes her own way, driven by impulse, not knowing either why or how. Without this look upon me, I cannot know that I exist.

I have within me the power to rise above myself and to see myself freely—and to be seen. My thinking has the power to be free.

But for this to take place, my thinking must rid itself of all of the garbage that holds it captive, passive, unfree. My thinking must free itself from the constant pull of emotions. My thinking must feel its own power to resist this pull—its objective capacity to separate itself and watch over this pull while gradually rising above it. For it is in this moment that thought first becomes active. It becomes active while purifying itself.

If we cannot do this—if we refuse to do this—our thoughts are just illusions, something that further enslaves us, that we use to numb and avoid ourselves, a snare in which real thought loses its power of objectivity and intentional action. Confused by words, images, half-truths, fantasies, falsehoods, it loses the capacity to see. It loses the sense of “I”. Then nothing remains but an organism adrift, a body deprived of intelligence and seduced by any- and everything, and wholly at the mercy of “I like” and “I don’t like.” Without this inner look, without this inner seeing, I can only fall back into automatism, and live under the law of accident and nature.

And so my struggle is a struggle against the passivity of ordinary thinking, being seduced and led astray and obliterated by it. Without struggling against ordinary thought, a greater consciousness will not be born. At the heart of this struggle—to create order out of chaos—a hierarchy is revealed—two levels, two worlds. As long as there is only one level, one world, there can be no vision. Recognition of another and higher level is the awakening of thought.

Without this effort, without this struggle, thought falls back into a sleep filled with seductive and consoling words, images, preconceived notions, approximate knowledge, dreams, fantasies, and perpetual drifting. This is the thought of a person without any real intelligence. It is a terrible thing to realize that one has been living for years without any intelligence, without a level of thinking that sees what is real, with thinking that is without any relation to the real world. It is a terrible waste to think this way.

But without realizing this—without realizing that perhaps one has been thinking for years without intelligence—there is no hope for awakening.

Try just for a moment to accept the idea that you are not what you believe yourself to be, that you overestimate yourself, in fact that you lie to yourself. That you always lie to yourself every moment, all day, all your life. And that this lying rules you to such an extent that you cannot control it any more. You are the prey of lying. You lie, everywhere. Your relations with others—lies. The upbringing you give, the conventions—lies. Your teaching—lies. Your theories and art—lies. Your social life, your family life—lies. And what you think of yourself—lies also.

But you never stop yourself in what you are doing or in what you are saying because you believe in yourself. You never doubt or suspect yourself. You must stop inwardly and observe. Observe without preconceptions, accepting for a time this idea of lying. And if you observe in this way, paying with yourself, without self-pity, giving up all your supposed riches for a moment of reality, perhaps you will suddenly see something you have never before seen in yourself until this day. You will see that you are different from what you think you are. You will see that you are two. One who is not, but takes the place and plays the role of the other. And one who is, yet so weak, so insubstantial, that he no sooner appears than he immediately disappears. He cannot endure lies. The least lie makes him faint away. He does not struggle, he does not resist, he is defeated in advance. Learn to look until you have seen the difference between your two natures, until you have seen the lies, the deception in yourself. When you have seen your two natures, that day, in yourself, the truth will be born. You will finally be born.

– Jeanne de Salzmann, abridged and adapted and at points modified from “Gurdjieff: Essays and Reflections on the Man and His Teachings,” pp. 2-6.

http://fullcatastropheliving.wordpress.com/2011/12/13/the-truth-will-it-set-you-free-or-will-it-completely-fry-your-ass-and-undo-you/

Dedication to Truth versus Dedication to Comfort and Emotional Reasoning


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

http://www.shrink4men.com/2011/08/29/welcome-to-the-land-of-emotional-reasoning-id-turn-back-if-i-were-you/

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.

Dedication to Truth versus a Dedication to Comfort and Lies


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

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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.

Reflections on Courage and Truth: Are you mentally healthy or one sick little puppy?


Reflections on Courage and Truth: Are you mentally healthy or one sick little puppy?

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all . . . ”

(Compare the following excerpt with Pascal’s thoughts on “Flattery, Truth, and the Ego.” This is how most of us develop and maintain our sense of self and borrow our emotional pseudo-stability. And it’s really quite sad. Because if we stopped to look at what we’re doing to ourselves and if we really thought about it, is this really what we would want for ourselves? Or for our children?—is this what we would want to raise them to do and how to be?)

“Most people must look at themselves only from a distance—and only through the false and distorted reflection of others—in order to find themselves at all tolerable or attractive to behold. Self-knowledge is strictly off limits for them. Thus people such as these (which is to say the vast majority of us) are very well defended against their own spying and sieges, against their own attempts at self-knowledge. Their self-attempts at self-knowledge are futile—they are rarely able to make out any more of themselves than their outer fortifications. The actual stronghold is inaccessible to them, even invisible—unless—unless friends and enemies turn traitor and lead them there.”

– Nietzsche, from “Human All Too Human” # 49, and “The Gay Science,” # 15

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Metal health will drive you crazy, metal health will cure you sane” (or something like that)

(From “The Road Less Traveled,” by M. Scott Peck, pp. 50-63.)

Mental health is an ongoing process of dedication to reality at all costs.

What does a life of total dedication to truth (reality) mean?

First of all, 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 most not only examine it, but we must simultaneously examine the examiner.

Examination of the world without is never as personally painful and unsettling as examination of the world within, and it is because of the pain involved in a life of genuine self-examination that the vast majority of people steer away from it, distracting and anesthetizing themselves to it through various means (drinking, shopping, television, movies, bar-hopping, superficial relationships and interactions, “having a good time,” dissipating ourselves in thousands of ways).

Yet when one is dedicated to the truth the pain inherent in it seems relatively unimportant—and less and less important (and therefore less and less painful)—the farther one proceeds down the path of self-examination.

Truth or reality is avoided when it is painful. To overcome this pain we must be totally dedicated to truth. That is to say, we must always hold truth, as best as we can determine it, to be more important, more vital to our self-interest, than our own comfort. Conversely, we must always consider our personal discomfort relatively unimportant and, indeed, even welcome it in the service of the search for truth.

Thus a life of total dedication to the truth also means a life of total honesty. It means a continuous and never-ending process of self-monitoring to assure that our words and deeds match and that our communications invariably reflect as accurately as possible the truth or reality as we know it.

Such honesty does not come easily or painlessly. The reason people lie or shade the truth is to avoid the pain of challenge and it consequences.

Insofar as the nature of a challenge is legitimate—and it usually is much more often than not—lying is an attempt to circumvent legitimate suffering and hence is productive of mental illness.

Most people are resistant to challenge. They talk volubly enough about this or that, but they leave out crucial details. They are wasting time in their effort to avoid challenge, and usually they are indulging in a subtle form of lying.

Thus a life of total dedication to the truth also means a life of willingness to be personally challenged.

The only way to revise our understanding of reality is to expose our map 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 our own fetid air, and more and more subject to delusions.

Yet because of the pain inherent in the process of revising our map of reality, we almost always seek reflexively to avoid or ward off any challenges to its validity.

Leading a life of total dedication to truth and of openness to challenge may seem like a never-ending burden, an extraordinary task, a “real drag.” And indeed it is difficult; it is a never-ending burden of self-discipline and calling ourselves out on our self-deceptive and avoidant tendencies. Which is why most people opt for a life of very limited openness and honesty and relative closedness and self-deceit, hiding themselves and their maps from the world and others.*

It’s easier that way.

Yet the rewards of the difficult life of honesty and dedication to the truth are more than commensurate with the demands. By virtue of the fact that their maps are continually being challenged, open people are continually growing people and strengthening as human beings. Through their courage and openness, they can establish and maintain intimate relationships far more effectively and more deeply than closed people can. And because they are dedicated to being impeccable with their word and not speaking falsely, they know that they have done nothing to contribute to the confusion and darkness in the world. They don’t have to slink around in the shadows, construct new lies to hide and maintain old ones, and waste time and effort covering their tracks and maintaining their disguises (their false selves).

Ultimately open and growing people find that the energy required for the self-discipline of honesty and dedication to truth is far less than the energy required for secretiveness, deception and avoidance. The more honest and transparent one is, the easier it is to continue being honest and transparent, just as the more lies one has told, the more necessary it is to lie again and more frequently.

By their openness, people dedicated to truth live in the open, and through the exercise of their courage to live in the open, they become more and more free from fear.

The healing of the spirit has not been completed until openness to challenge and a fierce dedication to truth become a way of life.

(*Peck is talking about the “emotional cutoff” here. He is talking about the tendency that the vast majority of us have to act out on what’s worst and weakest in ourselves and to emotionally cut off or banish those who do not flatter us and who do not reflect back to us ourselves in a way we wish to be seen. Those around us who see us too accurately, or whose gaze is too perceptive and unsettling, so much so that it makes us uncomfortable, we avoid them, emotionally cut them off and cut them out of our life, banish and excise them. We’d rather live in a hall of mirrors life in a funhouse, being surrounded by those who are so weak and unloving and who care so little about us that they reflect back to us our distorted and malignant sense of self while we provide the same disservice to them. [a mutual admiration and distortion society].).

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Rilke on “Acting Just Once with Beauty & Courage” (from “Letters to a Young Poet”; letter no. eight)

We must accept our reality as vastly as we possibly can; everything, even the unprecedented, must be possible within it.

This is in the end the only kind of courage that is required of us: the courage to face the strangest, most unusual, most inexplicable experiences that can meet us.

If we imagine the being of our person as a larger or smaller room, it is obvious that most people come to know only one corner of their room, one spot near the window, one narrow strip on which they keep walking back and forth. And in this way they have a certain security. Yet how much more human is the dangerous insecurity that drives those prisoners in Poe’s stories to feel out the shapes of their horrible dungeons and not be strangers to the unspeakable terror of their cells? We, however, are not prisoners.

If our world has terrors, they are likely our terrors; if it has abysses, these abysses belong to us; if there are dangers, we must try to love them. If only we would arrange our life in accordance with the principle which tells us that we must always trust in the difficult, then that which now appears to us as most alien will become our most intimate and trusted experience.

How could we forget those ancient myths that stand at the beginning of all races, the myths about dragons that at the last moment are transformed into princesses? Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage.

Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.

And this fear of the inexplicable has not only impoverished the reality of the individual; it has also narrowed the relationship between one human being and another, which has, as it were, been lifted out of the riverbed of infinite possibilities and set down in a fallow place on the bank where nothing new can occur. For it is not inertia and indolence alone that causes human relationships to be repeated from case to case with such unspeakable monotony and boredom; it is timidity before any new and inconceivable experience with which we feel ourselves ill-equipped to cope. But only someone who is ready for everything, who doesn’t exclude any experience, even the most incomprehensible, will live the relationship with another human being as something alive and will himself sound and draw on the depths of his own being.

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“Get busy living or get busy dying,” or “If you’re not growing, you’re dying . . . “

(From “The Way of Transformation,” by Karlfried Graf Durchheim, pp. 107-108.)

[T]he aim of a genuine spiritual practice is not to develop an attitude which allows a person to acquire a state of harmony and peace wherein nothing can ever trouble him. On the contrary, a person’s spiritual practice should teach him to let himself be assaulted, perturbed, moved, insulted, broken and battered—that is to say, it should enable him to dare to let his futile hankering after harmony, surcease from pain, and a comfortable life go in order that he may discover, in doing battle with the forces that oppose him, that which awaits him beyond the world of opposites.

The first necessity is that we should have the courage to face life in all its intensity, and to encounter all that is most perilous in the world.

When this is possible, meditation itself becomes the means by which we accept and welcome the fears and anxieties and demons which arise from the unconscious—a process very different from the practice of concentration on some object as a protection against such forces.

Only if we venture repeatedly through zones of discomfort and annihilation can our contact with what is Divine, and with what is beyond annihilation, become firm and stable. The more we learn wholeheartedly to confront the world and a patterned way of living and reacting that threatens us each with isolation, the more the depths of our own being will be revealed and the more the possibilities of new life and inner transformation will be opened to us.

Criticism & How to Deal with It


Honest criticism is hard to take, particularly from a relative, a friend, an acquaintance, or a stranger.” – Franklin P. Jones

Criticism stings.

A lot of what is true in life stings as well.

Death stings. Loss stings. Failure stings. Rejection stings. All of these stab at and wound our pride, our vanity, our ego.

If we can’t handle being told off or not getting what we want, how will we be able to handle death when that comes?” – Pema Chödrön

And if we can’t handle criticism, constructive or otherwise, and metabolize it maturely, then how will we be able to deal with the rest of what contributes to the full intensity of life? We’ll always be shrinking from life, retreating, afraid of life and afraid most of all of ourselves and our own reactions and the heat iand ntensity of our own emotions.

All men should strive to learn before they die, what they are running from, and to, and why.” – James Thurber

This is in the end the only kind of courage that is required of us: the courage to face the strangest, most unusual, most inexplicable experiences that can meet us.” – Rilke

The first necessity is that we should have the courage to face life, and to encounter all that is most perilous in the world.” – Karlfried Graf Durchheim, “The Way of Transformation,” pg. 108

We must accept our reality as vastly as we possibly can;” Rilke counsels us, “everything, even the unprecedented“—which means even that which we find immense and overwhelming and unpleasant and unsettling and discomforting—”must be possible within it.” We must learn to take on life and become big and strong and mature and sane enough to live and love on life’s terms, not our terms, and overcome our natural tendency to be “timid before any new and inconceivable experience with which we feel ourselves ill-equipped to cope.” We must overcome our natural timidity and our innate tendency toward flight—to retreat, avoid, shrink, ball up, wall up, play it safe, take the path of least resistance, take the path of least stress and least emotional intensity. “That something is difficult“—and unsettling, for that matter—”is all the more reason for us to do it. Most people have turned their solutions and their approach to life toward what is easy, and toward the easiest side of the easy; but . . . if only we would arrange our life in accordance with the principle which tells us that we must always trust in the difficult, then that which now appears to us as most alien will become our most intimate and trusted experience. How could we forget those ancient myths that stand at the beginning of all races, the myths about dragons that at the last moment are transformed into princesses? Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.” (From “Letters to a Young Poet,” letters no. seven & eight)

The primary reason we shy away from criticism is that it’s difficult. It’s difficult to deal with. It’s difficult to metabolise. It’s difficult to stay calm and centered and rational when we’re hearing something we don’t want to hear or something that challenges us or dis-validates us.

Criticism triggers us, shows us our weak spots, makes us feel bad or inferior or inadequate, makes us feel like we’re under attack, brings up all sorts of unpleasant and difficult and white-hot negative emotions (our fight or flight responses)—intense, flooding emotions with which we feel ill-equipped to cope. In other words, criticism makes us feel inferior; it makes us feel bad about ourselves; it makes us feel invalidated, rejected, not good enough, wrong; and no one likes to feel inferior or not good enough, no one likes to feel attacked or rejected. These are all unpleasant emotions that are difficult to deal with and metabolise.

And so one of the primary things to learn that will help us better and more peaceably deal with criticism and not flood emotionally when someone is criticizing us, is lessening our dependency on “reflected sense of self”— on other people’s approval and acceptance and validation. The less we rely on others’ acceptance and approval and validation for our sense of self and for our emotional stability, the less likely we will flood emotionally when criticized, and the less likely we will view criticism as such a intense personal attack—or form dis-validation or rejection—and the less likely we will be to spin out and flood emotionally. The less we need other people’s acceptance of us, then the less we will mind their rejection of us as well, and thus the more skilled we will become at maintaining our equilibrium emotionally, thus freeing us to deal with criticism rationally—in a calm, cool, collected, thoughtful, inquisitive, grounded, rational, discerning, lucid, sane way.

Like it or not, each of us is at the helm of something that was built much more for pleasure and for playing it safe than for tolerating pain and the unknown; something that is much more emotional and egocentric than spiritual and egoless.

We are emotional and reactive beings first, before we are sane and rational and less reactive beings. The latter is something we must learn to grow into; and it is something very difficult and painful to grow into.

Yet, like it or not, through concerted effort, we can become much less emotional and reactive and avoidant and egoful; we can come to learn or teach ourselves to do the unnatural—to endure pain and discomfort for the sake of growth and self-improvement and self-transcendence, to not automatically run or shrink or wall up or flood or spin out.

Education is the ability to listen to almost anything without losing your temper or your self-confidence.” – Robert Frost

Perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not; it is the first lesson that ought to be learned; and however early a man’s training begins, it is probably the last lesson that he learns thoroughly.” – Thomas Huxley

“Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.” – John Kenneth Galbraith, Economics, Peace and Laughter (1971), p. 50.

From “The Road Less Traveled,” by M. Scott Peck, pp. 52-53—

A life of total dedication to the truth also means a life of willingness to be personally challenged.

The only way 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, and more and more subject to delusion.

Yet because of the pain inherent in the process of revising our map of reality (read: dealing with criticism; which is essentially what most criticism is: a challenge to our map of reality), we mostly seek to avoid or ward off any challenges to its validity. . . .

The tendency to avoid challenges is so omnipresent in human beings that it can properly be considered a characteristic of human nature.

But calling it natural or a characteristic of human nature does not mean it is essential or beneficial or unchangeable behavior.

It is also natural for us to defecate in our pants and never brush our teeth.

Yet we teach ourselves to do the unnatural until it becomes natural, until it becomes second nature. Indeed, all self-discipline might be defined as teaching ourselves to do the unnatural.

Because another characteristic of human nature—perhaps the one that makes us most human—is our capacity to do the unnatural, to transcend and hence transform our own nature and conditioning.

From the motion picture “African Queen”—

Charlie Allnut: “A man takes a drop too much once in a while, it’s only human nature.”
Rose Sayer: “Human nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above.”

Every person (okay, almost every person) on the planet has this capacity—the capacity to learn how to do the unnatural, the capacity to learn how to tolerate discomfort for the sake of growth, the capacity to rise above the baser parts of their (which is to say “our”) nature.

And yet very few will take up the task or the challenge.

Why?

Again, it all boils down to the difficulty and unpleasantness factor. Meaning, mastering ourselves emotionally and becoming less reactive is difficult work—it’s difficult and it’s work; meaning it’s often not pleasurable; it’s often painful, difficult, daunting, overwhelming, unsettling, stress-inducing, anxiety-provoking.

And most people want things easy, light, simple, fun; most people don’t want to work, least of all on themselves; most people would rather be (most people long to be) accepted for who they are and as they are, than work on themselves and work on overcoming or rising above the baser or less noble or more reactive parts of their nature.

Learn to work harder on yourself than you do on your job.” – Jim Rohn

Again, it comes down to difficulty versus the path of least resistance. It’s easier to avoid criticism and just react to it emotionally rather than responding to it rationally and by thinking critically and honestly and staying calm, for the latter requires mastering ourselves emotionally, it requires the difficulty of overcoming our nature—our tendency to react emotionally, to flood, to self-protect, to go into fight or flight mode instead of think, observe, remain open and inquisitive. For most of us, emotionality or emotional-reactivity is our first responder, not calm cool and collected and orderly critical thinking and detached unbiased objective fair-minded inquiry.

And for most of us the desire to feel good or comfortable or adequate or accepted is more important than the desire to see ourselves and life as it is. We are more dedicated to the little picture (the ego) than the big picture (reality, true psychological and spiritual growth).

“Truth is reality. That which is false is unreal. The more clearly we see the reality of the world, the better equipped we are to deal with the world and with the demands of adult life.

“The less clearly we see the reality of the world—the more our minds are polluted and befuddled by falsehoods, misperceptions, illusions, distortions, dishonesty—the less able we will be to determine correct courses of action and make wise choices.

“True 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, first of all, a life of continuous and never-ending stringent self-examination and self-awareness. We know the world only through our relationship to it. Therefore, to know the world (and thus to know what is true and real), we must not only examine the world, but simultaneously examine the examiner and our own assumptions, motivations, and paradigms/schemas—the lenses we use to look out upon and make sense of the world.

“Truth or reality (or even our own self) is avoided when it is painful (or too humbling or shameful to examine or become truly aware of). Yet we can only grow when we have the discipline to overcome that pain (and overwhelming sense of shame or powerlessness).

“To have such discipline we must be totally dedicated to truth.

“That is to say that we must always hold the truth, as best as we can determine it, to be more important, more vital to our own 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 and growth.” (Abridged and adapted from M. Scott Peck, “The Road Less Traveled,” pp. 44, 50-51; parentheticals mine)

Reality is not for everyone. The real world is not for everyone. Truth is not for everyone. The vast majority of human beings still prefer some variety of soft food intellectually, psychologically and spiritually. When it comes to truth and living in reality, many people are still hooked on the soft sugary make-me-feel-good stuff—you know, the emotional Gerbery stuff. Many people, which is to say, many of us, haven’t gotten to the point where we can take the real stuff. We haven’t evolved that much or differentiated that much. We can drink red wine—most of which is honestly quite nasty—arguably much nastier than criticism—or we can drink scotch or whisky straight up—but we still can’t similarly take the emotional hit of criticism.

We can’t take our criticism straight up. We can’t “man up” and take the emotional “hit” of criticism like an adult.

What does that say about us as human beings and our level of emotional fitness?

And what does that say about our values and priorities and what we hold to be near and dear to us?

Sure, we tolerate red wine, even whisky or bourbon or scotch on the rocks, because we know the payoff that’s coming—some variant of pleasure—a bit of relaxation, self-escape, inebriation, lessened inhibitions, lessened sensitivity to stress and worry, a precious bit of self-forgetfulness . . . ahhhh.

But criticism offers no such payoff. Once we take the hit emotionally, there’s no intoxication coming our way. Quite the opposite: we end up actually having to sober up—that’s likely one of the reasons we don’t like and value criticism—because we don’t really like and or value sobriety, i.e., reality, knowing who and what we really are and what we’re really like.

Not to mention the idea that knowledge creates obligation; unless our interior life is in complete shambles, we tend to automatically act in alignment with what we know or most strongly believe to be true. So that means we must do some actual work and make a real tangible change.

So who in their right mind would want to have to deal with this—with having their nose shoved in their own dodo? Who wants to have to remember even more clearly what they’re trying to forget? And then who wants to have to actually put in the work and clean up their own mess? If we’re basically frightened, a bit overly sensitive, a bit lazy, a bit comfort-first and path-of-least-resistance oriented, then criticism is not going to appeal to us.

Nor is it going to appeal to us either if our self-image or sense of self is shaky. We won’t be able to tolerate the hit.

If most people are basically dissipating their lives trying to forget or eschew the painful aspects of reality, then criticism will hold no appeal to them.

Most people like to live in their heads and in their own little dream worlds of what they think they’re like. They—which is to say, the vast majority of us—don’t want to know what we’re really actually objectively like. We don’t want to hear the sound of our own voice on an answering machine; we don’t want to watch a hidden camera account of a day in our life. A thousand times a day in a myriad of little and not so little ways we avoid reality, we evade the (painful) truth of ourselves and our condition; we choose what’s in our heads and our ideas of who and what we think we’re like instead of the truth, instead of reality, instead of something more objective.

Why?

Because what’s in our heads is like a drug that we like to dope ourselves up on.

And thus criticism threatens to be a total bummer of buzz kill and sober us up from our self-delusion and self-deception. It’s like your parents coming home when you were a teen and having a party. The ultimate killjoy. That’s criticism.

I wonder how difficult criticism would be to take if we had just had some sort of massive near-death experience, or if we had just gone skydiving or faced down one of our biggest fears?

Would criticism still sting and bother us to the same extent if something else in life had just sobered us up?

If we’re leading a truly examined life, then criticism has to be an integral part of that. We only have the inside scoop on ourselves; we don’t have the outside or external scoop on ourselves. We don’t see ourselves as God or as an objective narrator would see us.

But criticism helps bridge that gap.

For me, so much of our aversion to criticism—and the tough to look at and think about stuff in life in general—is about our load capacity for stress. So it’s all very contextual, very relative, meaning, for many people, dealing with criticism is one of the biggest negatives that they will have to go through in the course of a day.

But what if our lives were filled with great heroic overcomings of our fears and anxieties—what if we were climbing mountains, kayaking, skydiving, speaking publicly, doing yoga, practicing meditation, taking up a martial art, going to the top of tall buildings, and or if we were reading the likes Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, M. Scott Peck, C. S. Lewis, Murray Bowen, Thoreau, Simone Weil, Martin Luther King Jr.—people who were movers and shakers when it came to dispensing truth straight up and without any softeners—what if we were daily trying to build our courage and mental toughness in these or similar ways? . . . Maybe then we might toughen up a bit and not be quite as emotionally thin-skinned or underdeveloped. . . . Maybe then we wouldn’t need so much emotional sugar and so many softeners to make the medicine (criticism) go down—or at least get us to listen to it fairly and honestly. . . .

The Man Watching” – Rainer Maria Rilke

I can tell by the way the trees beat, after
so many dull days, on my worried windowpanes
that a storm is coming,
and I hear the far-off fields say things
I can’t bear without a friend,
I can’t love without a sister

The storm, the shifter of shapes, drives on
across the woods and across time,
and the world looks as if it had no age:
the landscape like a line in the psalm book,
is seriousness and weight and eternity.

What we choose to fight is so tiny!
What fights us is so great!
If only we would let ourselves be dominated
as things do by some immense storm,
we would become strong too, and not need names.

When we win it’s with small things,
and the triumph itself makes us small.
What is extraordinary and eternal
does not want to be bent by us.
I mean the Angel who appeared
to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
when the wrestler’s sinews
grew long like metal strings,
he felt them under his fingers
like chords of deep music.

Whoever was beaten by this Angel
(who often simply declined the fight)
went away proud and strengthened
and great from that harsh hand,
that kneaded him as if to change his shape.
Winning does not tempt that man.
This is how he grows: by being defeated, decisively,
by constantly greater beings.

A lot of it comes down to being aware, to mindfulness, to really examining ourselves and our underlying motivations, and the future consequences and costs to ourselves and others. I see the difficulty in dealing with and metabolizing criticism as symptomatic of something larger going on. Why do we read what we read? Is it for the sake of really learning and growing and for the sake of what’s true and actual? Or is it for escape, to feel good, to improve our mood, to steady and stabilize ourselves, or to distract ourselves? “Enjoyments pass, consequences remain,” wrote Hadrat Ali. How much of our day is spent deliberating practicing and developing our courage? What was the last truly courageous thing you did where you deliberately overcame one of your fears or anxieties—where you really overcame something within you that was really holding you back and that kept you sabotaging yourself (and others perhaps as well)?

Courage is a muscle. It needs to be practiced and worked out. Either we use it or lose it. And most of us by the time we reach adulthood fall into a rut of going for comfort and security and convenience first. And so we inadvertently end up letting our courage dwindle and atrophy. There’s a price to be paid for leading a life of too little stress or of always fighting with little things and not wrestling honestly with the bigger questions and bigger issues and anxieties.

If we really knew ourselves, if we were really leading a highly mindful and self-aware and honest and examined life—if we were really interested in leading a life of total dedication to the truth and to reality (see M. Scott Peck’s, “The Road Less Traveled”), then there’s not much that another could say to us that would surprise us. We would have likely already thought it or encountered it (especially in our reading and self-reflection). Not only that, honest criticism and honest feedback would be something we’d welcome! It would only help us—especially since we all have our blind spots!

Thus for me, one of the biggies in learning to deal with criticism is learning for ourselves how to think honestly and critically. To the extent that we are critical thinkers, criticism becomes easier to deal with and more manageable emotionally, because instead of only having our emotions and our psychological defenses at our disposal for us to use in defusing criticism, we have another tool—and a very powerful tool at that—the capacity for rigorous and discerning critical thought.

Murray Bowen, M.D, one of the founders of the field of Family Therapy, theorized that people differed from one another in terms of their level of “differentiation.” On the one end of the scale are those whose level of differentiation is fairly low—they are fused to their environment, they tend to be very reactive, prone to impulsivity and impulsive decision-making and being stressed out, their moods fluctuate with so much that is external to them—the weather, the social weather, a kind or harsh word. They have a high degree of fusion between the intellectual and emotional systems. They tend not to have a lot of well-defined and deeply internalized principles that they live by; instead they tend to make decisions based on feelings and moods and impulse and what “feels” right. They tend to need a lot of support (“borrowed functioning”). (Roberta Gilbert has written several books on Bowen Theory that provide a good overview of Bowen’s ideas; i.e. “Extraordinary Relationships” and “The Eight Concepts of Bowen Theory”)

Well differentiated people, on the other hand, are more proactive, lead a more principled-center and conscientious lifestyle, can better delay gratification, have more perspective, borrow less functioning—and when and where they do, they tend to borrow it more mindfully and graciously. They exhibit less fusion in their relationships and with the outside world and between their intellectual and emotional systems.

In other words, learning to more meaningfully endure the emotional hit or pain of criticism and metabolizing it critically and legitimately and honestly is a wonderfully difficult but differentiation enhancing thing to do! It not only requires all the emotional courage and stability and perspective we can muster, it helps to create these! Ditto for out critical thinking skills—it helps to both create and to reinforce these capacities and neural pathways.

So why avoid criticism? Because we’re weak; because we have limited self-capacities; because we don’t think very well for ourselves; because our own sense of self is shaky; because we overheat emotionally and stress out very easily and we want to spare subjecting ourselves to those painful and difficult to deal with emotions; because we’re still depdendent on other people’s validation and approval for our sense of self and emotional stability; because we prefer to live a life dedicated to comfort and feeling good, not to truth and growth; because we want to not have to sober up but instead we want to stay doped up on and anesthetized by our own delusive discursive thinking.