* There’s nothing I can do…
* There’s Something Inherently Wrong or Different About Me.
* I Would Change, But I Can’t Because Of X.
* I Know What I’m Doing.
“I am just not good at X.”
“I don’t regret anything.”
“When I’m ready, I’ll finally X.”
“I never had a chance.”
“That’s just who I am.”
I don’t tell these lies to myself very much these days. They’re more lies of the past, not so much of the last five years.
A common lie I notice other people tell themselves is, “I’ll do it tomorrow.” And it doesn’t happen.
Therapist Jon Frederickson writes in The Lies We Tell Ourselves: How to Face the Truth, Accept Yourself, and Create a Better Life:
* We become well by relating to what is here; we become ill by relating to our fantasies. The therapist stops us from running away from ourselves so we can rest in reality. Remaining in this moment, we feel our feelings, which always reach out to us through anxiety. Anxiety, strangely enough, invites us to dive inside to the places from which we always run, the places we are afraid to descend into and explore.
In effect, therapists always give the same message: “What you run from is where you need to rest. What you fear you need to face. What you ignore you need to hear.”
* “You are the most important person you will ever meet,” she says. “Why not be on good terms with yourself?”
* To be on good terms with ourselves, we must learn to listen to who we are under the words, the excuses, and the explanations we use.
* These beliefs, called “projections,” seem true because they are real: they are the realities we reject in ourselves and relocate in others. If we criticize ourselves, we imagine others criticize us. If we ignore ourselves, we imagine others ignore us. If we fail to care for ourselves, we believe people don’t care for us. However, the persons we project upon can be the mirrors we look at to see, learn, and accept what we reject in ourselves.
* “Breakdown can always point to the break-through of a deeper truth, since only that which is false in you can break down. Truth does not break. Some call this recognition ‘waking up,’ some call it ‘self-realization.’”
* When facts kill our wishes, a few of us may seek to kill ourselves to wipe out the pain of the dying wish, what the suicide researcher Edwin Shneidman called “psychache.” 3 Experiencing the living death of the dying dream, we may choose physical death to abort the painful birth known as grieving.
* Waiting is the magic wand we hope will make life fit our fantasy, but our fantasies must change to fit what is here.
* When we stop waiting for life to change, we change instead. Every crisis in life cracks our defenses and unlocks our feelings, revealing hidden dimensions in ourselves. And after bearing those hidden dimensions, we experience insights rising from within. When we dive inside, we experience ourselves more deeply and find the wisdom for which we longed. Then we can choose whether to deny or embrace it.
* Feelings are forms of love, invitations to embrace what is, so the false can drop, revealing the real in you.
* Revenge is a form of magic. When we exact revenge, we pretend that we can get rid of our pain by putting it in other people.
* Why do we tell ourselves lies? To avoid the feelings that arise when we face and embrace reality.
We often avoid the truths of our lives by waiting for fantasies to become true rather than face what is true. Waiting for what is real to become unreal is how we lie to ourselves about our loved ones, ourselves, and life itself. We suffer because we fight reality, a fight we always lose.
* no matter how much we fight reality, reality always wins.
* Rather than face what is, we may choose what is not here, waiting for our fantasies to appear and make reality disappear. When we maintain our illusions, the life we have passes by while we wait for a fantasy life that never arrives. Thus, the losses of life are compounded by the losses we inflict upon ourselves.
* We get attached to fantasies of how we should be loved, respected, or desired. Our suffering is not caused by these fantasies but by our attachment to them.
* Reality often disappoints whereas fantasy seduces us with the promise of infinite fulfillment. When we see a therapist, we mourn the deaths of those seductive promises. When we avoid these painful feelings, we suffer the symptoms that result from ignoring the emotional truths of our lives. In therapy, we can face the feelings we have avoided and stop living in a world that no longer exists.
* What a difficult funeral to hold when we cling to a treasured self-image of one who is loved, victorious, admired, or right. These self-images are the conceptual clothes that hide who we are. Life pulls them out of our hands and we cry, but we have one more strategy for clinging to our self-image: we can treat sadness as a problem to work through and get over.
Our grief is not a problem, however, but a path. When we grieve, we surrender to the truth that washes away the false and leaves behind the real. We do not get over grief but live through it in a communion with what is. In this communion, we need not give up our illusions since the tears wash away our attachment to the fantasies that ward off life.
* The degree of our suffering equals our distance from reality. Rather than end our suffering by running toward the truth, we run farther away from it through food, work, alcohol, drugs, and sex. Mistakenly considered addictions, they merely point to the true addiction. We are addicted to not being here. We don’t want to feel what we’re feeling. We don’t want the present but the imaginary past or future.
* We are hooked on an imaginary experience of the not-me, not-now: the universal addiction. Food, drugs, Internet, sex, fame, work, and booze are tools we use to leave the real world for an imaginary world of how we think people ought to be. We long for an idealized past or future, which never existed. We can’t live yesterday today. Rather than be present to what is present, we wait for what we wish was present.
* We imagine that if we lived in a different time or place, we would find our inner home of calm, rest, and contentment. Craving the not-me, not-here, and not-now keeps us homeless. We try to escape from this moment by racing to the next, but this moment is the only home we ever have.
* We try to run away from our problems: the geographical cure, but we cannot lift ourselves out of life. No matter where we go, our shadow follows: our feelings. Everything we run away from inside us always reaches out for our love. Yet rather than reach out to what reaches out to us, we race away, refusing to sit in, rest in, and be transformed by our feelings.
* We are addicted to not bearing what we feel or being who we are. We are stoned on imaginary selves, imaginary others, and imaginary states of mind: the real drugs.
* Defenses are the lies we tell ourselves to avoid pain.
* Rather than face what is, we pick the parts of life that fit our fantasy, reject the rest, and try to live outside reality. We think we are running from the outer world, but we are running from what the outer world evokes: the inner world—our feelings and anxiety. And we never escape from who we are.
* Rather than embrace life and ourselves, we engage in cherry-picking or its opposite. One man seized on the most negative facts of his life, turning them over in his mind repeatedly until he suffered from chronic rumination. Obsessed with the worst, he could not see how he created a partial view of the universe or that his negative view, not the universe, caused his suffering. He mistook his rumination, a cherished habit, for a higher form of thought. To counter this, I noted that when we see dog feces on the sidewalk, we manage to walk by rather than pick it up, sniff it, and put it in our pocket. Startled, he stared at me and asked, “Oh, you mean I’m a turd hunter?”
* When no longer searching for turds, we hunt for a better truth elsewhere rather than face the truth that is always here. Why don’t we see it? We have blind spots. And since we always have blind spots, we always need others to help us see what we don’t see. For instance, one fellow claimed, “You wouldn’t believe how humble I’ve become!”
Therapy doesn’t eliminate blind spots. It helps us accept our never-ending blindness, so we can welcome feedback from those who see what we cannot. Terrified of our fear, we avoid feedback through illusions and defenses and become blind to the world outside them.
* We enter therapy not knowing what causes our problems. We start by saying, “I don’t get it. I’m doing what I’m supposed to do, but it’s not working.” We have theories to explain our suffering, but those theories, like, “he’s an asshole,” turn out to be forms of blindness, and because we cherish those theories, we ask others to agree: “Don’t you think he was wrong?”
* The Roman theologian Tertullian lamented two thousand years ago that “the first reaction to the truth is hatred.” 7 Hatred tries to make reality disappear, and its constant failure to do so accounts for its violence; hatred always rises as if it only needed to become larger than life to overcome it.
* Another lie we tell is devaluation. One woman claimed I was useless, my comments were ridiculous, and the therapy was worthless. She devalued me, her close friends, and her family, alienating them and punishing herself with a lifetime of loneliness.
All of us will be devalued. It’s nothing personal about us; it’s something impersonal about the defenses devaluers use. It’s not the hydrant’s fault when the dog lifts his leg, nor is it our fault when people devalue us. People claim we have no value to avoid depending on the value we offer. Through devaluation they ward off the danger of depending upon others. Or people may deny our value to achieve an imaginary victory when they envy our genuine success. Unable to tolerate their envy, they devalue in us what they cannot find within themselves.
* Whenever we invite anyone to form a close relationship with us, our invitation will stir up memories of past relationships. In this woman’s past, the ones she loved had hurt her. My offer of help stirred up mixed feelings: she wanted my actual care and feared my imagined cruelty.
Rather than risk being devalued as she was in the past, she devalued people in the present. She enacted her past: “Since you will abandon and devalue me if I depend on you, I will devalue you first.”
When people devalue us, we may feel angry, as they felt when others devalued them. If we do not recognize this anger, we may turn it on ourselves: “Maybe she’s right: I am not good enough.” Or, intimidated by her, we might submit to devaluation as the patient submitted to her mother: “Since she gets angry when I talk, maybe she will like me if I stay quiet.”
* Devaluations are not insights but mind droppings. We are not useless; her devaluation is. Ironically, devaluation reveals our worth—what the devaluer envies and cannot tolerate receiving from us. Devaluation starves a person of any healthy human connection. It tries to kill off anything good that triggers envy.
* When people devalue us, we set limits to keep our relationship from becoming a latrine. 14 If we agree with a person’s devaluation, we encourage her to commit a crime: killing a relationship. We should never submit to devaluation, even though life and therapy involve submission. We submit to the truth, not to a lie, and devaluation is a lie told to us.
* When we doubt ourselves, we refuse to sit with our feelings to discover who will emerge. We preworry, filling the future with fears rather than going into the unknown of who we are.
We go through life with a candle, imagining that the light shows the world when it reveals only a sliver of life. Our true value lies not within the light but in the darkness. Who knows our future? No one. The task is to surrender to and embrace the unknown of ourselves.
Letting go of doubt’s certainty, we realize how it blinded us to our true potential. And as we let go of the lie of self-denigration, feelings open our eyes so we can live the truth formerly hidden under self-doubt.
* Rather than push others to fit our ideas, we must become receptive, allowing what is happening to push our ideas to fit what is real.
* Who has not hoped that love in the present could erase pain in the past? We wish love could do magic, and faced with enormous pain, therapists can wish the same. A psychotherapist years ago invited patients to put on diapers, sit in his lap, and suck on a baby bottle. He tried to reparent them to undo parental failures.
Alas, what is lost is lost. Refathering, remothering, and reparenting are not therapy but magic, attempts to fill the void in the past with fantasies in the present. We can’t make the dead alive. We can’t rewind and rerecord the DVD of life. Unable to wipe out the past, we can only create a better present, accepting loss as part of life.
While we wish we could erase the pain of the past through love, we must face the limitations of life, loss, and death so real healing can occur. Therapy cannot replace what we lost, but it can help us let go of our barriers to love. Then we can mourn what was impossible in the past to form what is possible today.
It is impossible to melt defenses with love. Love is not water, and defenses are not ice. Trying to melt defenses with love is like trying to light a fire while our partner throws water on it. In this blind love, we don’t see the whole person, only the part we want.
* Every time we let go of a lie, we get closer to what is. The therapist interrupts defenses—habits of thought, customary commentaries, popular projections, the barricades we erect to separate ourselves from our loved ones—so we can listen. We become open to them—not our ideas about them.
* To understand therapy, we must ask whom therapists relate to: a list of symptoms, a diagnosis, or a personality disorder? No, therapists relate to the person hidden under the symptoms, the symptoms caused by the divorce from his inner life.
Then therapists encourage us to undo that divorce and embrace our feelings.
* When we come for therapy, we bring the history of our suffering—sometimes in words and sometimes in the ways we treat ourselves. If others have hurt us in the past, we often hurt ourselves today in invisible ways, perpetuating our suffering in the present. The therapist, seeing our subtle forms of self-harm, doesn’t go on a fishing expedition into the past. Instead, she points out how we hurt ourselves in the present.