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How “Facing and Embracing” the truth can set you free

I very much enjoyed Jane Isay’s cover story about “Secret and Lies” in Psychology Today. Busy trying to make ourselves feel good or at least give the appearance of feeling good, we do not speak enough about the detrimental effects of avoiding the truth. Whether we avoid the truth by keeping a secret or by outward lying, there is a psychological price to be paid. Often this is easier to see when a lie is as big as Pinocchio’s nose, such as covering up our sexual orientation, a suicide in the family, an addiction or an affair. As Isay points out:

“What may start as a simple set of secrets can spread through a person’s character like a cancer. Keeping a secret demands habitual denial, which gradually may morph into self-deception, resulting in the diminution of the self.”

It takes a lot of psychic energy to keep tabs on big, internal events, energy that would otherwise be used for personal growth and fulfillment. But what happens when we habitually suppress smaller, internal events? Are there consequences to disregarding or guarding a faint but persistent voice in us that says that we are no good, ugly, stupid, or incompetent? Do we have to pay a price for denying when we feel unworthy or unlovable? Most of us hold little, painful secrets inside, secrets that are more feelings than thoughts. Some feel as if they have something wrong with them, lacking intelligence or basic goodness. Others feel as if the world has wronged them in some way. Everybody generates some negativity or socially unacceptable thoughts and feelings, at least every now and then. It is part of the human condition. What are we to do with these types of secrets?

Surely we need not to express every single bit of us, good or bad. And surely not all experiences are created equal. Some weigh heavily; some weigh lightly. Some are fleeting and of little consequence; others are reoccurring tiny experiences, ever so slowly building thick walls in the house of our lives, alienating us from ourselves, others, and the light of existence. I contest that if we do not address those types of little secrets, we will become increasingly bitter and disillusioned with life as we age.

Let’s take me as an example. When I was young growing up in Germany, I was ashamed for not knowing enough big words. I don’t mean the famously long ones, such as Schreibmaschinenenfachhandlung. No, I mean Greek and Latin based words, such as onomatopoeia or equally nasty verbal contraptions. My ignorance caused me to feel a bit stupid in comparison to my more educated classmates, hardly noticeable at first. Eventually though I began to feel inferior, which I felt compelled to keep a secret for in Germany intelligence is the holiest of all cows. One night, when my teenage shame had peaked, I revealed my secret to a friend. While it increased my shame briefly, I subsequently felt immensely relieved and began to laugh out loud. I now know that I had managed to de-identify with this particular feeling, never to haunt me again in my life.

Especially when our culture shames us for our true inner experiences, it is difficult to acquire the necessary strength to come out with the truth, even before our very own self. Facing our shadowy parts is greatly facilitated in psychotherapy, especially when coupled with Eastern wisdom as in Zen Psychology. It really is more of a way of life. What I have learned from it is how to apply real antidotes to lying and keeping painful secrets.

If you wish to live unburdened and be free to grow to the light which I reckon is what the truly happy life is all about, commit yourself to honesty whole-heartedly. Look at all uncomfortable experiences with kindness—big or small—knowing that everybody has them. Inner strength comes about when you give yourself unconditional support and become your own best friend. Get into the habit of observing your negative experience while breathing with awareness. Most of the time, there is no need to express it. The antidote to keeping negativity hidden and trapped within you is to “Face and Embrace” it, just like you would an old friend who needs to be acknowledged. Smile at him, and he too shall pass.