—John 8:32, King James Bible
The truth will set you free. But first, it will piss you off.
The recent post on denial discussed how blinding ourselves to the truth is sometimes an essential life coping mechanism. Some truths are too painful to face and still “survive” emotionally. Denial is important, an ability we need to honor in ourselves. But we don’t have to stay in it forever. There may come a time when we would rather face the truth than continue to live a lie or a false illusion. But when? And why?
When is it Time to Face the Truth?
Every individual will have a different starting point. But I believe there is a commonality for all – we face the truth when staying ignorant of it is actually MORE painful than looking at it.
I suppressed many of my emotions for a good part of my life. It was too painful to express the full range of anger, sadness, happiness, etc. To survive an environment in which I did not learn how to handle emotions, I stuffed them down and stayed mainly in sadness. I lied to myself, pretending everything was fine and preferring to stay in numbness than to open Pandora’s box. Eventually, the build-up of mental pain – in the form of unhealthy romantic relationships – and physical discomfort – a tight throat, constricted breathing, and the chronic feeling of tears – led to a crisis. When I got into a relationship that I could neither move forward in nor get out of, the pain of suppressing emotions became greater than the comfortable discomfort of denial.
How Do You Know if You’re Ready?
Recognizing our own denial is our responsibility. No one can do it for us. Even if people point it out to us, we may be unable to hear or see what they’re saying. Likewise, there is no way to make someone else break through their denial if they are not ready. And denial may be multilayered. We lie to ourselves in many ways, and we often come to face our truths a layer at a time. Stripping away all layers of pain would be like ripping off a bandage, causing more harm than good. What we need is gentle management of the wounds to allow them to heal.
So how do we know if we’re ready to face some truth? Here are some of the signs:
- Desperation – We have tried the same things over and over and nothing is changing.
- Obsession – We have thought through and obsessed over the situation ad nauseam and still don’t see a way out.
- Avoidance – We know deep down that there is something to look at but we’ve been avoiding it, and now we realize unless we do, we’re going down – into depression, anger, rage, aggression, catatonia, name your poison.
- Mental pain – The noise in our heads can get so loud it interferes with normal functioning – or at least with our ability to enjoy what is going on in the present. When we are stuck in mental pain, with tiny glimpses of an alternative, we might be ready to try another way.
- Feeling alone – Often when we avoid the truth, we isolate ourselves and believe we are alone in our pain. This is a sign it’s time to reach out and consider another perspective – which might help us get to the truth of what’s going on.
- Physical symptoms – We feel it in our bodies – sick stomach, pulmonary distress, ulcers, restlessness/anxiety in the limbs – get to know your body’s signals that something’s wrong.
Out of the Frying Pan, Into the Fire
Denial may feel like a chronic, aching pain, but at least we are used to it and it has become bearable. Facing the truth is often the opposite – acute, hot, stinging, and severe. To take it on, we need lots of help – maybe even a bit of body armor.
Taking these actions might help you prepare to face your truth – and help you come out of hiding behind denial sooner than later.
Gather inner resources
- Give yourself options for expression – Reading, writing, talking with trusted friends, meditating, praying.
- Practice non-judgment and acceptance of yourself – Remember that denial is a survival mechanism; we don’t have to beat ourselves up, simply acknowledge that it served us well and we can trust ourselves to find another way forward.
- Lean on friends – It’s hard to do this alone; look for others who have gone through their own crises, or who are otherwise open to hearing your struggles, and share from the heart.
- Use “sandwiching” – Whenever you’re taking a big step to face up to something – whether yourself or with other people, get support before and after the event.
- Tap your network – Take advantage of all connections that might help you face truth and keep you buoyed up – phone, text, online communities, blogging, social media, writing letters (yes, the old-fashioned way); keep the love alive at all times to raise your spirits.
Do the follow-up
- Put back up in place – No police officer goes into a dangerous situation without back up; likewise, don’t jump off the cliff of truth without a net. Have a plan for the inevitable fall-out – whether depression, anger, or any other wild emotional swings.
- Deal with backlash – Often when we step out of our comfort zone, we stir the pot and disturb relationships with others; you may get negative reactions to your truth-telling – you may get positive ones. Are you prepared to handle either or both? Make sure you plan ways to calm and soothe yourself in the aftermath of doing something new and different.
In the end, the only way to heal a flesh wound is to clean it and continue to treat it. Just so, we will never heal the perhaps less obvious wounds of our past until we expose the truth, accept it, and let it go. It hurts, that’s for damn sure. But left to its own devices, an untold truth will fester and rot, causing us a long and ultimately more painful demise.
Photo credit: Espen Faugstad