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Hope Forward: Surviving and Thriving through Emotional Pain: June 2009

Monday, June 22, 2009

Don't Ask, Don't Tell (yourself): On Honesty

"If a thousand old beliefs were ruined in our march to truth we must still march on." ~Stopford Brooke

"I tore myself away from the safe comfort of certainties through my love for truth - and truth rewarded me." ~Simone de Beauvoir

I couldn't decide. So I've brought you both quotes. Here is what I have been thinking about lately: Being honest in therapy. Being honest with one's self. Being honest with G-d. And of course, for all the couples I work with, the pros and cons of being honest with each other. Sometimes honesty hurts, or we think it will. And since, I think, honesty does not always come easy or fast, we need to be honest about that too. About the fact that we don't always know what the truth is.

That there are different kinds of honesty. There are the facts, reality, as it is. And then of course, reality as it seems. There is emotional honesty, which sometimes, often times, actually, takes a bit of psychic exploratory surgery to discover what feeling(s) is really present. And there is very real and understandable problem of just not knowing what the truth really is.

So I am thinking about all the layers of the onion. That here, in the therapy room, is the place to say everything. To get curious, to be willing and brave and interested in the truth. Even if the truth is subjective. I suppose we could debate (and many have and do) the use of knowledge of the truth...does it really set you free? Does it really cure your addiction, relieve your rage, send the right message to your spouse? Release you from the trappings of your past? Does knowing how you were shaped and influenced, what effected you, how and why, really lead to progress and better things for your present and future?

Does unpacking your memories, facing your fears, fessing up to angers, resentments and desires really have a benefit? What if you could really get good glimpse of your unconscious? Would it matter? What if you could give yourself permission to really get to know yourself, flaws and assets, bumps and bruises, urges, wishes and secret longings?

The truth? I don't really know? How can we know this? But I think, honestly, from the therapist's chair, that honesty, at least in here, in my office, pays life quality dividends big time.

I am not talking about confession. I welcome it if it helps, but its okay with me if you are drinking a pint on Friday night after your spouse has gone to sleep, and you just can't seem to tell your sponsor. Or you really are spending a lot of time with the guy in the office two doors down, and you promised your partner you don't talk to him anymore. Or that you really watch Oprah when you work from home.

You can confess all you want in my office, I am listening. It helps to unload it, and this is a good place to do it. But. And. What next. Therapists don't have collars. We have mirrors. If you' d like. And hopefully a sense of when and how to use them.

Most people come in to get relief, to understand some things about themselves, about life, about their past, how it affects their present and future. How to have better. Better love, sex, money, serenity, sense of self, direction, self value, connections. Better.

Honesty, honestly, (makes me want to sing that old Billy Joel song), is sometimes a slow riser, like the sun, but I do think it brings light, to dark days, dark moods, dark lives. Even if the ideas are just guesses sometimes, even if we have to live with, or settle for, workable true enough ideas or insights. Even if, and since, in therapy-speak, not knowing the truth, or wanting to know the truth is a defense, and we respect and even protect defenses, unless and until they are no longer needed.

Its just some food for thought, that being open to learning about your own truths can go a long way, in here, out there. Its not always easy, so I tend to go lightly sometimes, but I believe its worth the go. That there is a benefit, and that honesty's close friends forgiveness, engagement, and relief and acceptance are always close by.

Monday, June 1, 2009


"Don't ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive." ~Harold Whitman
Okay, I am not advocating selfishness by bringing you the above quote. I am advocating interest. In what makes you tick. And you can always use that to give back to the world.
We all want to have passion at least somewhere in our lives. Some are afraid of it, and go to great lengths to avoid it. Some are afraid to live without it, and go to great lengths to create it. And, not to be confused with hunger, desire or drama, passion or lack of it really is what brings many people through the therapy door.

Some of us want it in our friendships, some want it in our careers, and most of us want it in the bedroom. We are frustrated, despondent, depressed even, when we feel that we have gone too long without it. But we don't often know how to create it. And we don't know how to make it jive with serenity and contentment, with order and routine and acceptance of the normal ebb and flow of relationships and jobs.

I see lots of attempts to ignore passion, and lots of attempts to find it. In the eating disorder community, we don't talk about passion nearly enough. And I see many folks confusing passion with compulsion and competition. Or letting passion turn into compulsion or competition.

And its often about squelching hungers. Sometimes there is a deep seated fear that knowing what you truly hunger for will shake up your world. Or someone else's. Or that you will not be able to have what it is you really want, or what really lights you up. Or that you will in fact be consumed by. The refusal to know your passions, the fear, is a common experience of many who suffer from eating disorders, as well anxiety and depression.

In the therapy room, passions of all kinds are welcome as a topic of discussion. They can be ushered out into the light and studied. There is no need, often times, no mandate, to act on them, but just to know them, to talk about them, to not squelch them back down inside - out of fear. Good decisions can be made when one is passionate. Passion does not have to be impulsive or clumsy, or hurtful or forceful. It can be life giving and useful. Quiet and steady.

The point is this: lots of energy often goes into to avoiding knowing ourselves. We may even fear we are dangerous in some way. But I think the danger is in not talking about passion. I think that depression and anxiety and eating disorders are all well treated when we put passion into the picture and get to know where it lives in us and for what or whom. Our relationships usually benefit as well. For all the attention we give to unpacking panic and depression, communication difficulties and addiction, we should not forget to weave passion into discussion and learn what it means to us, what ideas, fears, images, memories or feelings the word itself brings up. And then we can use it to move forward toward whatever it is we are seeking. We can use it to have more what we want and be more content with what we have.