We lie to ourselves all the time. We say that our evening glass of wine is simply to unwind, and we don’t need it. We could stop drinking, and it wouldn’t really phase us. It’s just not an issue.
And that’s a lie.
We say that we didn’t want the job anyway. We didn’t want to reconcile with our ex anyway. We aren’t dating that person solely because we’re lonely. We aren’t restricting what we eat, and we aren’t starving. We’re simply trying to be “healthy.”
And those are lies, too.
We lie because we naturally want to show our best selves and hide our imperfections, said Michael Morgan, a licensed marriage and family therapist, and clinical director of Wasatch Family Therapy, a private therapy clinic located in Salt Lake City, Utah. And we assume that our flaws reside in the truth. (Actually what resides there is our humanity.)
We lie because we don’t want to disappoint others or ourselves, he said. We don’t want to be embarrassed. We want to prove to others, to ourselves that we are good enough, Morgan said. We want to prove that we are worthy and of value.
We want to prove that we are put together, that we have everything under control. We want to prove that we are “strong.” We are not sensitive. We are not vulnerable. We can become thin, and we can become lovable.
Telling ourselves the truth is hard, because it’s painful. It’s painful to admit that your drinking is a problem. That it’s masking another problem. That you’re actually not doing well. At all. It’s painful to admit that you are vulnerable, that you are hurting. It’s painful to admit that you are lonely. It’s painful to admit that you hate dieting, that you yearn to lose weight, because you think it’s the key to happiness and peace. (Thankfully, it’s not.) But you can’t take it anymore.
Pain can actually be helpful. As Morgan said, “Pain is the ultimate teacher.” We need it so we can grow in all sorts of ways, like emotionally and spiritually. It is the only way we learn new lessons, he said.
Telling ourselves the truth is hard because we fear failure. If we can’t enjoy a drink or two, then clearly we’ve failed. If we can’t stop eating X number of calories and lose weight, then clearly we’ve really failed.
But “failure” sparks growth. It sparks important questions—questions like: What went wrong? Why did it go wrong? How did it go wrong? What can I do next time? What’s working? What isn’t working for me? What really matters to me? What’s really important? What do I want my life to look like? What do I want to let go?
For instance, in the case of dieting and not losing weight, maybe what went wrong is that you weren’t nourishing yourself, you weren’t giving yourself the nutrients you need. Maybe you were still hungry. Maybe you were eating foods you didn’t enjoy. At all. Maybe your natural weight is this weight, and losing pounds would actually be unhealthy. Maybe you were searching for happiness in a place where happiness doesn’t stay.
If your failure was something like getting your manuscript rejected by dozens and dozens of literary agents and publishing companies, then that failure means you’re trying. It means you’re showing up. And maybe after you ask yourself if you still love your book, if you still stand by it, you’re left with a resounding yes. And you decide to self-publish—something that will no doubt be another powerful learning experience. And so you keep going.
And sometimes you flat-out fail. Sometimes your fear becomes real. But you get to decide whether your “failure” is actually final and whether it actually defines you. Because it doesn’t have to. At all. One of Morgan’s friends in college failed an English exam. Instead of feeling ashamed or terrible about himself, he taped the test to the fridge. He even had a party to celebrate the F. As Morgan said, “He wasn’t afraid to fail and wasn’t afraid of people knowing he failed. Where is he now? He is an accomplished family doctor.”
What also helps with telling ourselves the truth is to say our fears out loud, Morgan said. Declare them. I am afraid of feeling my emotions, because I am afraid I’m going to fall apart. I am afraid that I’m an alcoholic. I am afraid I’ll always hate my body. I’ll always hate myself, if I don’t change my weight. I’m afraid I’ll never find a job I like. I’m afraid I won’t find a partner who loves me. I’m just afraid, of what I don’t really know.
Try not to be ashamed of these fears. Bring them into the light. If it helps, remind yourself that you’re not alone. You’re not the only one who feels and fears this way. “Everyone has the exact same fears,” said Morgan who also pens articles at his website understandingtherapy.com. “The ones who confront them are the ones who grow. The ones who hide from them and cover them up are controlled by their demons.”
Start by telling yourself something sincere today. It can be small. Admit it. Embrace it. And then acknowledge your courage. Thank yourself for it. It all counts.