“Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to such a pass that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love, and in order to occupy and distract himself without love he gives way to passions and coarse pleasures, and sinks to bestiality in his vices, all from continual lying to other men and to himself. The man who lies to himself can be more easily offended than anyone.” – Fyodor Dostoevsky, from “The Brothers Karamazov,” Part I, Book II: “An Unfortunate Gathering,” Chapter 2: “The Old Buffoon”
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.