Can You Handle The Truth?

Truth is the North Star of a healthy life

Posted Dec 21, 2011

Courage is a precious commodity in psychoanalysis. Psychological growth cannot happen with out it.  Both analyst and patient must draw upon it.  But courage for what, you ask?  Courage to face the truth.  This is the guiding principle, the North Star of psychoanalysis.  And it is an essential aspect of any kind of positive change.

Why does it take courage to face the truth?

It takes courage to face the truth because the truth comes will all sorts of anxieties, disappointments, and responsibilities which we would rather avoid.  The truth can be painful.  It can be challenging.  It means we must pull our heads out of the sand and do something to help ourselves—wake up, get up, stand up, pony up, man up, grow up.

What are some of the truths we resist facing?

In an ordinary week of work as a psychoanalyst, here are some of the truths that my patients and I must muster the courage to face (in no particular order of difficulty or importance):

While we did not entirely create our problems, we are responsible for dealing with them.

We are stuck with our families, if not on the outside then at least on the inside.

Our parents did something right.

Holding onto grievances doesn't do anybody any good.

There is only so much we can do;  we have certain limitations which we cannot overcome.

The future is not pre-determined; we can do better.

We make mistakes, hurt other people, have ugly, aggressive, selfish, greedy impulses.

Everyone will die.


Now, if you have trouble accepting some of these as truths, feel free to take them with a grain of salt or throw them out altogether.  Or, instead, maybe stop and think why you might want to dismiss them.  Perhaps what I'm saying is worth considering.  Maybe it takes courage to face some of these truths about life.  And maybe your life would be different—even better—if you could.

How would our lives be better if we could face the truth?

Mental health involves being able to face life in a realistic way--to take the good with the bad, the strengths with the limitations, the love with the hate, the joys with the disappointments.  Finding that kind of balance is a lifelong task.  But it is a balance worth seeking because it allows us to do what we can do to make our lives the best that they can be.  As I like to say to my patients, you cannot become an entirely different person but you can become a better version of yourself.

I leave you with a beautiful poem written by Ellen Bass that speaks to the courage it takes to face (and embrace) our ordinarily good yet challenging lives.

The thing is
to love life
to love it even when you have no
stomach for it, when everything you've held
dear crumbles like burnt paper in your hands
and your throat is filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you so heavily
it's like heat, tropical, moist
thickening the air so it's heavy like water
more fit for gills than lungs.
When grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief.
How long can a body withstand this?  you think,
and yet you hold life like a face between your palms,
a plain face, with no charming smile
or twinkle in her eye,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.

Blogpost copyright 2011 by Jennifer Kunst, Ph.D.

Like it!  Tweet it!  Comment on it!

More Posts