Has this happened to you? You absolutely, positively believe something is true. And then—Wham! Ouch! Your feet fly into the air and you land on your rear as the rug is pulled out from under you when you discover The Real Truth. Many folks experienced this in 2006 when scientists told us that what we were taught to believe in grade school was the ninth planet in our solar system, Pluto, was not a “real” planet after all. Pluto was demoted to a mere member of the Kuiper Belt, just one of the trillion comets that orbit Neptune. Another mass reveal - one with dire and extreme consequences - happened on September 11, 2001. Prior to that date, Americans we lead to believe that our nation was safe from terrorists attacks. Safe and secure. Not any longer! When we are faced with new realities, we are forced to rethink that part of our past that is affected—be it positive, negative or neutral—absorb the updated info and carry it forward into our new future.
But what if this new truth hurts?
A client-couple adopted their daughter at birth. Because both the child’s biological parents were convicted felons (illegal drugs) the clients decided not to tell their daughter that she was adopted until they deemed her old enough to handle “The Truth”, which they determined would be when she was 16. They told all family members to please honor their request; the family faithfully respected the couple’s wish. The child was accepted into the extended family as a blood relative; she was loved as one of their own, and she lived a happy life.
That is until one day in 8th grade when the mother of a friend asked if the child had been to prison to meet her “real” parents. All hell broke loose. How would this family handle the confusion, distrust and resentment created from what was meant to be an act of love? How would this child wrap her mind around this new knowledge?
Time Perspective Therapy
The parents of the adopted child felt they were telling a white lie. they chose to delay truth telling until such time they believed the child could handle it, and until then she would always be made to feel totally included and loved in this adopted family. But then they discovered it’s impossible to control what others will say or do. Both parents sought time perspective therapy to help them unravel the inadvertent damage created in their individual and joint relationships with their daughter. It was decided that the first session would be with only the parents, the second session with the daughter alone, and the third session with all three.
We reviewed the past and how although the parents had good intentions, their timing was off. It was obvious that instead of waiting for their daughter to turn 16, a discussion about adoption at a much earlier age would have saved this family from the stressful situation in which they now found themselves. But what was done was done and it was apparent that they loved their daughter immensely—and they communicated that love openly and often.
In the present, they mentioned repenting for their mistake by taking her to Disneyland and buying her the latest smart phone. We discussed the importance of not succumbing to material solutions. What their daughter needed was emotional assurance that she was loved and cherished as a real daughter—no matter who her biological parents were. She didn’t need more stuff, or to be bought off or rewarded for their poor timing. They had to admit their timing was misguided, their reasons for delaying their sharing the truth, and ask their daughter for forgiveness.
We moved into the immediate future when the father said he wanted to speak with the mother of their daughter’s friend who had made the faux pas and read her the riot act. But after further discussion, the woman, who was not a family member, was absolved. No research into who told the woman about their adopted daughter or her biological parents would be mentioned as blame because it would likely only create further familial and social problems. A brief phone call to the woman explaining that all was well would suffice. They returned home equipped to speak with their daughter about why they didn’t tell her she was adopted sooner. They would also explain how blessed they felt to have her as their child and that they loved her deeply.
The following day, I met with their daughter. She was amazingly open to discussing her hurt and confusion. We reviewed what her parents had told her the night before. She had difficulty understanding how all her life she had thought her parents, grandparent, aunts, uncles and cousins were blood relatives—that they knew she was adopted but she didn’t. I pointed out that she was fortunate to be part of such a loving family and that after all this time if she had no clue, then in their hearts—and in hers—there was no real difference.
She accepted this and moved on to her new concern about her genes; she was afraid that genetically she was somehow faulty because her parents had been drug addicts. I explained that her biological parents had chosen a different path than her adopted parents and that every moment we make choices; we can think or act positively or negatively. Our genes do affect the color of our skin, hair and eyes, as well as to a degree our intelligence. But we choose what we will read for pleasure, the movies we watch, the people we hang out with, the folks we love. In our human nature, nurture counts more than our genetic inheretence. If she chose wisely throughout her life, she need have no fear of following the path of the couple who birthed her. And she was fortunate to have loving, caring, compassionate parents to guide her.
A week later it was a pleasure meeting with this threesome. The daughter shared that at her insistence over the weekend they had a family get together with grandparents and as many aunts, uncles and cousins as could attend. She made a short speech, telling them that knew she was adopted. She expressed her love for them all and thanked them for having accepted her into their family. It was both a celebration and an affirmation of deep family love.
Although not every white lie has such a happy ending, we can all insure the future is brighter by being honest, open and transparent with ourselves and others. If you feel you have to tell a “white” lie, even to yourself, take a moment to think about the potential outcome. You might save your friend, or yourself, future embarrassment—or worse—by not going there.
In an upcoming column we’ll discuss the difference between white lies, grey lies, and flat out lying—as well as the often negative effects they can have on others and ourselves.
Resources: Pluto, the Ninth Planet That Was a Dwarf, by Charles Q Choi, space.com, July 11, 2012
Check out our other Psychology Today blogs to get a fuller appreciation of how to create a more balanced time perspective in your life!
Visit our website, timecure.com, to view a free 20 minute video -- The River of Time; you’ll learn self-soothing techniques as well as how to let go of past negatives, work towards a brighter future, and live in a more compassionate present.
Take the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory at www.thetimeparadox.com to discover your personal time perspective.
See The Time Cure: Overcoming PTSD with the New Psychology of Time Perspective Therapy "Psychology Today looks at Psychotherapy" Therapy (Zimbardo, Sword & Sword, 2012, Wiley Publishing); for strategies to reduce stress and improve communication, visit timecure.com and lifehut.com.