The truth hurts sometimes, but trying to keep an obvious truth hidden inside yourself can hurt even more. Making excuses doesn’t help, rationalizing doesn’t help, yelling doesn’t help. Bringing yourself to a painful but honest realization will actually do you more good.
When some of my clients have been avoiding a problem and struggling with reality, I have often said something like this, “You can think that way about your problem if you like, pretend it isn’t there. Or you can face the truth and acknowledge its existence. Either way, the reality of your problem will still be there. You just have more power to make your situation better if you face it.”
This has usually gotten a knowing look from the people I’ve worked with. By that point, they have usually been struggling with some key issues for long enough that the whole reason they are in counseling is because they can’t manage it the same way anymore. The old excuses and rationalizations aren’t enough to keep the emotional pain in check. Reality is trying come to the surface anyway, and yet they keep trying to stuff it down.
Take a person with an alcohol addiction. The truth is, they cannot drink alcohol for the rest of their life. The risk for relapse is high given their history. If they continue to associate good times and stress management with having a drink, they will struggle to accept this reality. Even when they relapse and start thinking addiction thoughts, they keep fighting to ignore the truth.
They can try to pretend their addiction really “isn’t that bad” or that they know how to control their drinking now, but the addiction is still there. Period. Trying to justify alcohol use will cause the same problems they came to counseling with. The only way to be free of this bondage is to face the reality of the addiction and make different choices.
A very useful activity when you have an ongoing struggle like this is to check your expectations. Are they realistic? Do I have evidence that this situation will likely keep turning out the same each time? Is much of the solution out of my hands? Do I really want to create this much misery for myself trying to pretend or make this problem be something it can’t be? Am I harming a relationship because my expectations have been inflexible or unreasonable?
The person with alcoholism may have expectations that they can get over the worst of their problem and then resume some occasional drinking. In all likelihood, this will result in relapse and more life problems. Their expectation is unrealistic and they probably have much evidence to support the most likely outcome of resumed drinking. The solution is in their hands – sobriety – but they will need to be honest with themselves to have the best quality of life. They may very well be creating misery for themselves and important relationships by trying to shove reality under the rug. All of this comes down to accepting the ugly but ever-present truth.
Usually, facing the truth of a difficult situation is a shorter-term pain than most people anticipate. It can hurt like a sucker punch, but then the best part comes. You get the chance to move forward with your life, leaving behind a clunky, dirty piece of baggage that you’ve been dragging around behind you. As long as you keep trying to dress up that piece of baggage and keep it with you, it’s going to keep weighing you down. Call it out for what it is, dump it, and get on to the best part of life: Living with honesty.