While writers such as Dan Ariely and Robert Trivers have explored the topic of self-deception from the perspectives of behavioral economics and evolutionary biology, the question we may often find ourselves asking is, just how do we stop lying to ourselves? In his new book, The Lies We Tell Ourselves: How to Face the Truth, Accept Yourself, and Create a Better Life, psychotherapist and founder of the Intensive Short Term Dynamic Psychotherapy Institute for Training and Research, Jon Frederickson, explores this very question.
Through revealing vignettes and powerful psychological insights, Frederickson removes the mask of our illusions to uncover a deeper, more profound truth — that when we live without distortion, avoidance, and deception, we also live with much more connection to ourselves, others, and the world around us.
Frederickson begins by reminding us that lying to ourselves is a universal way to avoid pain. And yet telling ourselves lies doesn’t really help us avoid pain, instead it usually causes more. “We suffer because we run from life, death, and the teachings they offer. We become healed when we embrace our inner life, our loved ones, and life itself,” he writes.
Just how we go about embracing the truth of our lives is through the therapeutic relationship. Frederickson tells us that therapy is not a method, technique, or something that is done to us, but rather a heart-to heart encounter — two people devoted to discovering the truths that have been avoided.
Sometimes it is our illusions that torture us. Here Frederickson introduces us to the mother who held on the desire for her forty-year-old son with autism to be normal. Only when the impossibility of her desire was brought to her attention could she accept that her suffering had been brought on not so much by her son’s autism, but her refusal to accept autism for what it is.
Healing from our illusions and the pain they cause, Frederickson tells us, begins in a relationship, “a relationship where the therapist doesn’t talk at us but with us.” Through this relationship, we explore our inner world, the feelings, urges, and desires that have been overlooked. What we discover is that we may have told ourselves something is wrong with us, with those around us, or even that we are broken.
And yet breaking down these truths, and the breakdown that follows, is often a breakthrough. Frederickson quotes the author, Jeff Foster, “Breakdown can always point to the breakthrough of a deeper truth, since only that which is false in you can break down. Truth does not break. Some call this recognition ‘waking up’, some call it ‘self-realization’.”
What we learn in therapy is the truth. When we can embrace reality, we can also see just how we may have engaged in a set of beliefs that were not only false, but the very beliefs that kept us imprisoned. “Grief,” Frederickson writes, “is not a problem, however, but a path. When we grieve, we surrender to the truth that washes away the false and leaves the real.”
Sometimes these falsehoods are less obvious, like when we choose to deny reality and employ what Frederickson calls “optimal hopelessness.” The trick here, he tells us, is not to give up on ourselves, but on a hopeless fantasy.
Yet embracing reality is not easy. We can refuse to embrace the truth for many reasons. Not only do we distort reality in our favor, something Frederickson calls “psychological cherry picking,” but we also may devalue those who wish to offer truth to us. And sometimes others devalue us, gaslighting us and attempting to convince us that we are, in fact, flawed.
It is here that Frederickson offers his own solemn truth: “In therapy and in life, we face two deaths: the death of our bodies and the death of our illusions.” By learning to stop hiding behind facades, we experience within ourselves a welcoming openness. As the barriers between us and what is dissolve, we begin to embrace ourselves not as ideal, but real.
The question for many then becomes, “freedom from the past, or freedom to embrace the future?” And freedom, Frederickson reminds us, “will not come by doubting our inner life but from accepting it as it passes by.”
In this embrace, we discover not what we want to be, but who we have always been. No longer will we fail to see ourselves clearly, but we will also see others as they are. Within this larger reality lies a relating that is deeper, more honest, and more percipient. As Frederickson explains, “Perhaps it is not so much that we see more deeply into others, but that we see more deeply from within ourselves, from that space in which knowledge arises.”
It is gritty wisdom such as this that makes The Lies We Tell Ourselves a transformative gem for anyone looking to live a more authentic, richer, and better life.
The Lies We Tell Ourselves: How to Face the Truth, Accept Yourself, and Create a Better Life
Seven Leaves Press, January 2017
Paperback, 156 pages