Apologies for the lack of post last week. I've been going through... I don't know what it is, exactly... a tough time? a transitional period?... I have no idea what to call it, but it's been interesting, to say the least. YouTube, in all it's wisdom, suggested this video to me yesterday, and I immediately pressed play. If things have been weird or painful or confusing day after day after day, I figure there must be a bit of internal dishonesty at play, and I wanted to see if the video would open my eyes to some new way of thinking.
Most of us lie to ourselves, from time to time, to avoid pain. It makes total sense. We lie to ourselves about the things that would be really hard to change (like a marriage, a belief system, a career path). We lie to ourselves about the odd internal thoughts we have in order to convince ourselves we're normal. We lie to ourselves about what we do and don't care about to avoid feelings of inadequacy. We lie to ourselves about all kinds of things for all kinds of reasons.
To tell myself the truth about those things — to be ruthlessly honest with myself — would (will!) mean making a lot of changes and mindset shifts that will be hard. So, like many people, I've been using some pretty stealthy techniques to avoid facing things head-on.
Below are some of the techniques discussed in the video. I don't use them all, but I've gotten pretty darn good at the ones I do use. And, because I know that the first step to change is identifying exactly what the problem is, I thought I'd go through them a little bit here and add my own two cents in terms of what you can do to stop using them.
- Distraction: We distract ourselves with all kinds of things to avoid facing our issues — drugs, alcohol, our phones, work, sex, food. It's not the things themselves we like; we like their ability to help us keep our distance from the reality we're afraid to face. Distraction is what leads to addiction, and it's one of my go-to techniques for avoiding problems. If you don't look at it, it's not happening, right?
Solution: Stop it. I know, I know, it's so much easier said than done, but it's the only way. Whatever you're using as a distraction, you have to stop doing it. If you can learn to moderate the behavior, great, but I know, for me, moderation is so hard, so often the best thing for me to do is quit doing something completely. If you need help, ask for it. Get a professional involved. Do whatever you have to do to remove the distraction as an option.
- Cheerfulness: To avoid facing the truth, we pretend everything is fine, using cheerfulness as a way to mask whatever unpleasant feelings are really weighing on our minds. Generally this isn't my go-to move, but as I'm writing this, I can think of quite a few occasions, particularly in relationships, where I feign cheer in order to avoid the reality of the situation.
Solution: Be honest — with yourself and with others. Pay attention to how you actually feel and don't be afraid to express it. Yes, this won't always be easy, but do you know what's also not easy? Pretending everything's fine with you're burning with anger or awash in sadness. Life is hard, and painting over the pain with a coat of cheerfulness isn't going to make easier in the long run. True colors always show.
- Irritability: We sometimes push our inner pain so far down that we don't even know what's truly bothering us anymore, and that pain manifests itself through irritability. This, for sure, is a technique I've embraced many a time. When I don't address issues honestly, everything feels more irritating. Just as distraction isn't really about loving a specific thing, irritation isn't about the little annoying things. It's a side effect, and it not only makes you feel bad, but it makes you not so great to be around.
Solution: Pay attention to how you really feel. When you get annoyed at the car that just pulled in front of you or frustrated by your coworker's email, pause for a second and ask yourself what's really bothering you. Yes, life has some irritating moments, but, if you're in a good mental state, those things won't drag your whole down; they won't change your whole attitude. Also, try to dig deeper into why a specific thing irritates you. You'll learn more than you might think.
- Dismissal: Another go-to technique for me is this one: pretending like I don't care about something or I'm not interested or I don't like it in order to avoid thinking about how I actually feel. We see this one a lot in teenagers ("Whatever. I don't even care.") but grown-ups like me use it, too. Of course, there are really things you might not like or care for, but when you're quick to dismiss something, particularly something that has wronged you or sets off some sort of feeling, pay attention.
Solution: Investigate why you dismiss things. Sometimes there's a valid reason, but if you're dismissing something quickly and harshly, you might need to do a little digging here. For example, when talking with someone about meal preparation in relation to making healthy eating easier, I recently said, "I'm just not interested in that." But why? Wouldn't it make my life easier if I prepared meals for myself ahead of time, particularly giving my organized nature and my lack of interest in cooking? Wouldn't it make sense to get it all done at once? What, I had to ask myself, was with my quick dismissal of this suggestion?
- Outrage: In order to avoid our own thoughts about a particular topic, we can grow judgmental of, and often condemn, it. We encourage ourselves to feel outraged because anger prevents us from realizing how, simply by being human, we might relate to this "horrible" thing. Anger isn't one of my go-to emotions so I don't do this one often, but I sure do see it a lot online. Man, outrage is trendy these days. Of course we can — and should! — have opinions, but outrage is often misdirected.
Solution: Learn more about what you're outraged by. Exploring the outrage is the best way to get to the heart of the matter. What angers (or even just annoys) you is a nugget of wisdom into yourself and what's truly bothering you. Are you outraged because, deep down, you might actually have similar views? Or, if not similar views, maybe a similar technique for expressing yourself? Or perhaps just some sort of "unacceptable" thought that relates, however tangentially, to what outrages you?
- Defensiveness: The act of being offended (by someone's behavior, a criticism, or even a well-meaning bit of advice) takes a lot of mental energy and attention, which is great when we're trying to avoid the actual problem. This one's a bit on the anger spectrum so it's not one of my frequently used techniques, but who hasn't gotten defensive at some point in his or her life? Personally, I've found that every time I get defensive it's because someone has brought to light a truth I was either trying to avoid or not fully aware of yet. It's a control thing, for me, like my mind is saying, I'll deal with my issues on my own time, thank you very much!
Solution: Check yourself before you wreck yourself. Defensiveness is so glaringly obvious. C'mon, you know when you're being defensive and you know when someone else is, too. It's a hard one to hide. There are two ways to handle this. (1) If you feel defensive, don't express it. Instead, take note of how you feel and what triggered the responsive and investigate it. (Yes, there's a lot of investigation going on in these solutions!) (2) If you can't help it and you express that defensiveness, recognize and, scary as this might feel, acknowledge it. Out loud. Something like, "Sorry I was so defensive about that email. I've been putting off that task, and your email reminded me of my tendency to procrastinate, which is something I'm working on."
- Cynicism: This technique is a common one. We're so upset by what's really bothering us that we generalize that pain and say everything is terrible in order to avoid addressing the specific issue. I'd like to say I don't use this one, but when my dad asked me how I was yesterday, I responded, "I'm great, if I don't count the debt or the lack of romance or the stupid health issues that are plaguing me or the uncertainty of my career." So, yeah. I guess I do use this one. It's an easy thing to do — claim everything is terrible in order to deal with the terrible things we actually have control over.
Solution: Stay positive. Now, keep in mind, positivity is not the same thing as cheerfulness. Positivity is about figuring out how you make the best of a situation, even if it's not great. It's not about pretending everything's fine when it's falling apart. Staying positive is hard work, but the best way to make it a habit is to pay attention to your thoughts. If they're all about how bad everything is, it's time to make some mindset shifts, 'cause you're never going to solve anything if you just complain all the time. Yes, things will suck sometimes, but your attitude doesn't have to. Remind yourself that all of that cynicism and negativity is just a trick your mind's playing on you to make sure you avoid facing what's really going on.
I know I'm not alone in this whole "lying to myself" thing. It's something I see so many people do, and I bet it's something you do too. Sometimes, I'll admit, it can be useful in small doses. Sometimes we do need to pretend it'll get better in the morning, just so we can make it through the night. But, more often than not, lying to ourselves causes way more trouble than it's worth. And we usually have to deal with the problem eventually (and, by then, it's often worse!). Or, worse, we have to spend our entire lives running from it, using these techniques and countless others to avoid, avoid, avoid.
The lies to ourselves that keep us in bad relationships, keep us making unhealthy decisions, keep us from identifying some physical manifestation of avoidance (looking at you, insomnia!), keep us isolated and alone, keep us in jobs we hate, keep us from doing what we really love, keep us from exploring, keep us from growing, keep us stagnant and bored. These lies, while they might feel good in the moment, keep us from being who we really are. And, personally, I want to at least see who I really am. Of course she'll be flawed and scared, as we all are, but at least she'll be real, and not just a tangle of overly complicated rationalizations. So, here's to self-honesty, and the hope that my little soul-searching this morning will help you with any lies you might be telling yourself.