ON TELLING OURSELVES OUR TRUTH
Cyndy Sheldon, MSW, Gestalt Therapist
“WHEN YOU LIVE IN COMPLETE ACCEPTANCE OF WHAT IS, THAT IS THE END OF ALL DRAMA IN YOUR LIFE.” – Eckhart Tolle
MANY ARE AFRAID If they tell themselves the truth they may have to quit their job, get a divorce, become homeless, etc. There is another way of looking at all of this. I don’t have to do anything right now. Instead I might want to live with my truth for some time, even if it is troublesome to me. Maybe it will change by itself. Sometimes just acknowledging my truth allows for something new to emerge in my being. Often it is unexpected and a surprise.
Telling myself my truth in the moment refers to self-talk: I feel mad; I feel anxious in my solar plexus; I feel tearful; I feel nothing right now. This is not about telling an objective truth about what happened in Syria today, or what the US president says is true. It is a statement about my inner awareness of my feelings andd sensations in this moment.
There is a word some therapists use a lot, which is CONGRUENT. When we are congruent our thoughts, feelings and behavior are in alignment. When we are INCONGRUENT one part of us is saying one thing, another saying something else. For example a mother harshly yelling at her young son says, “Of course I love you.” Clearly the mother is incongruent, and thus the child will be confused.
When we tell ourselves our truth (in the Now) we are probably congruent, even if we don’t like the truth we’ve stated. When we don’t tell ourselves our truth we become irritable, despondent, anxious, etc. We are fighting ourselves: We don’t want to be where we are right now. So we feel the tension between now and where we want to be. I’ve seen so many move from one of these states when they tell the truth to themselves to being relieved and in alignment, if just for the moment. And then something new might emerge, often something unexpected.
Lying to ourselves can become a self-defeating pattern many seem to have. People say they care about one another, when they might not in the moment.
It goes like this:
Some who are attracted to spiritual and psychological practices take them on as a new set of SHOULDs. I should meditate, I should raise my consciousness, etc.I should love everybody. We take these new SHOULDs in and swallow them whole rather than taking the time to try them on, taste them, to see if they are right for us. When we SWALLOW WHOLE these often don’t digest well, and they become a prescription from the outside instead of a desire from the inside.
Many work very hard to be these perfect people, and often don’t know what to do when they observe parts of themselves that aren’t so perfect. For example they might suddenly feel judgmental towards someone, or want to pull away from someone. They aren’t able to accept their own judgmental qualities (in the moment). So they aren’t aligned with themselves as part of them is saying one thing and another part is saying something else and then on top of which they are then feeling self critical, anxious, or confused.
THE PARADOXICAL THEORY OF CHANGE, an important concept in Gestalt Therapy, invites us to acknowledge and accept our truth in the moment without labeling it as good or bad or positive or negative. It just is. Doing so allows us to be congruent with ourselves. Then something new can emerge in the next moment, or the next… If I do start to disagree with my truth rather then accept it I am then expending energy fighting myself which usually ends up with my becoming anxious or distracted.
It is normal to go through a lot of experiences, thoughts and feelings every day. The more we can accept these in the moment the more aligned and congruent we are. Accepting what is true in the moment doesn’t mean I have to like it. It means I am accepting moments about myself that I don’t like. And that is fine. I’m not fighting myself.
My definition of congruent is that all of me is saying the same thing in the moment: my words, my feelings, my thoughts.
Incongruent is one part of me says one thing, and another part of me says another which conflicts and can cause anxiety, self criticism and so forth. I am fighting myself in the moment.
AN EXPERIMENT TO TRY: Say a number of sentences (to yourself) starting with “At this moment my truth is… I am sad,” or “I am upset,” or whatever. Make it a short sentence. The more you do this, without programming yourself to do what you think is the right thing, the more you will eventually accept more of yourself. And that is the paradox! We change from moment to moment. We are in motion all of the time, even while asleep—as even our breathing moves us.
Many people are reluctant to tell themselves their truth in the moment, fearing if their truth is what they call “negative” it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is always a possibility unless someone knows how to bypass such an outcome. Hopefully this message will give you a tool to do so.
Another way Gestalt folks might look at this is:
A. What some label ‘negative’ others may not.
I frequently experience some thoughts and feelings as positive when my friends and colleagues might consider them as negative. This is such an individual trait. It is so important to find out what the person means by what they consider negative. We might agree with them; we might not. Generalizing is not helpful… as it implies everyone would agree as to what is negative and what is positive. Even feeling fear at times can be positive. Fear can protect us at times. And we can frighten ourselves by generalizing, and not looking closely at what we or others are saying.
For example, I might feel angry at the violence that happened in El Paso recently. A few minutes later I might feel despair about what happened. I think it helps keep us grounded to acknowledge our truth in the moment… knowing it might change a moment later. Experiencing our changing feelings help us see ourselves differently then having just one feeling, a fixed impression, about something. We probably are a lot more fluid then we realize.
B. Indulging a Feeling or Thought
And maybe I will go through a number of feelings following an event… all occurring in a moment one after the other. Then I have a choice as to whether I will ALLOW them to flow through me, feeling my anguish and pain without my doing anything. Or I might pick one of them and focus on it: indulging it with all of my concern and energy. I pull it down from my mind and coddle it, criticize myself for having it, worry about it, maybe become afraid, etc. I give it a LOT OF ATTENTION.
This indulgence, or attention, can create a self-fulfilling event. Allowing it to float by like a cloud probably will not be a problem. Most of us cannot control what crosses our mind. It is what we do with these that
Another possibility is I might wish to take one of them and find others who agree with it, and attempt to create a movement or organization to address problems created by this thought or feeling. A lot of people feel they need to DO SOMETHING WHICH MAKES THEM FEEL BETTER, even if what they do has not been fully understood or researched, etc., and may not necessarily deal with the issue, if it is an issue!
IN SUMMARY: To me there is a huge difference between having a feeling or thought come across my mind and indulging it…. To me the latter is of concern, but not the former.