Truth versus Comfort (special election 2012 edition)
It’s hard not to let the election this past week influence the latest topic, so here goes.
There is no question that as humans we have an amazing array of abilities (some would say defenses) that can blind us from the obvious and the truthful, not just about ourselves, but of others and the world around us. This not a political post. It is something we all do, and something we all like to think we are aware of when we do it.
I don’t think we are half as clever as we want to be, especially when it comes to covering up our own biases.
The bottom line whether you are on the left, the right, or the indifferent, is that we all have a different perception of a threat depending on what we think we need to feel safe. It is all about the perceived threat and our continual survival. Politics or being a caveman, we still have the same brain and the same way of perceiving threats.
As a country, we seem to have three very different opinions about what needs to happen with our government and our future. You have the left, the right, and the people in the middle who choose not to vote at all. If asked, an individual from each of those groups would surely give you a different version of what the truth of the situation really is. But is it the truth as we like to think of truth, or is it just that person’s own perceived sense of the truth, and actually more of an emotional comfort to their own perceived threats?
And that’s the problem with emotions. It’s not math. Emotions don’t have an absolute zero. It’s all relational and, well, fuzzy.
One of the stranger comments I have received repeatedly after becoming a counselor was something like this: “So you listen to people complain all day long? That sounds awful.”
If that is what I actually did, I would agree with them: that does sound awful. But that’s not what I, or any therapist/counselor, does.
The crucial piece of information that the people who would say this (and they still occasionally do) do not seem to understand is that therapy is, whenever possible and delicately so, an enterprise invested in getting at the truth, as opposed to merely offering perceived comfort.
When we want comfort, we go to our friends, our loved ones, our drinking buddies. Because they don’t want you to experience any more suffering almost as much as they themselves do not want to experience any more suffering. That’s part of what makes them so important to our well-being. Therapists and counselors, on the other hand, are not so afraid to expose you to more suffering.
In fact, if suffering is in the way of your increased awareness of your own self and behavior, guess what?
You are going to have a rough therapy session.
Counseling is often the instrument in how people get in touch with not only what they suffer because of, but how they suffer. Our thoughts, our desires, our expectations, all contribute to our suffering. You don’t have to be a Buddhist to understand or agree with it. I’m not a Buddhist, but it’s just how our emotions work.
In Gestalt therapy, we have a fancy word—I think it’s fancy—called an introject. The introject is an amazingly complex but also simple idea. An introject is something external from your environment (beliefs, attitudes or ideas) that you then stitch into your own personality unconsciously. The important thing about the introject is that it represents an idea, an idea about your own behavior and without consciously digesting what it may or may not mean, your behavior changes because of the introject. Now because you never really questioned the introject when it became your truth, you can’t explain why you do what you do with exact certainty, or truth.
The introject is often invisible to you, lying just out of your awareness.
It’s not comforting for most to have the realization that the motivation behind their behavior is somehow hidden from their awareness, but it is the truth! In my practice, I often conceptualize my work as assisting my clients in hunting down their introjects. Digging them up, as it were, with the power of introspection and in the moment experiences.
Now, when I think an introject has been found, I don’t necessarily say something about it right away. There is a great deal of difference between being told by one’s therapist what you are doing out of comfort and you as the client experiencing in the room what you are doing out of comfort.
If I speak too soon, it would be more about comfort. If I wait for my client to experience it and put it together themselves then it is about them experiencing the truth.
And they absolutely don’t regret the experience.
And that’s no lie.