ONE OF THE MOST SHATTERING BLOWS an
individual can sustain is to have his sense of reality
distorted or denied. A correct perception of reality
is central to a person's well-being. To mislead him or
confuse his perceptions of the world around him is
extremely destructive, yet this action is carried out thousands
of times a day in families everywhere.
It has been shown by numerous
researchers studying the origins of severe
mental illness or psychosis that it is not simply
rejection that severely harms children. It is
denying and hiding rejection with double messages
that has the most damaging effect. Having
this sense of reality fractured by parents
whose words they trust and believe literally drives
children crazy. Rejection and emotional deprivation
are serious enough issues in young children's lives,
but if their parents also pretend that they
are not rejecting them if they tell him one thing
and do another they may cause more harm than most
children's egos are capable of handling.
On a larger scale, our society
is so permeated with these same kinds of double
messages that one can predict a corresponding
effect on a social level. If our sense of reality
is being subtly twisted and distorted, if our perceptions
are constantly being confused, then we must expect drastic
consequences. Mixed messages where we are told
one "fact" yet see something else
happening are prevalent in our society and do
have a devastating effect on all of us. It is
important to our emotional well being that we
be aware of the contradictions that every day
impinge on our sense of reality.
Many of us are aware of how many times we
have started off with the best intentions toward loved ones,
somehow gotten sidetracked, and then just could not reconnect
with those feelings. Many of us can remember how good we felt at
the beginning of our relationship with our mate, and we wish we
could recapture those feelings.
Many of my patients have complained to me
about their husbands or wives. When I reminded them that they had chosen
their spouses, they would universally say, "Well, wasn't
like that when we first met & dated. To a large degree these
husbands and wives were telling the truth. Their mates had
increasingly backed off from the loving way they were at first.
For some people this backing away starts
even before closeness has a chance to develop. Many people find
it too difficult to tolerate even more than one date with someone;
they feel doomed to go from one person to another, making little
contact. Many people cannot bear feelings of both friendship and
sexual attraction for the same person, although this combination
of feelings makes for the happiest kind of relationship.
People Maintain That They Really Love Each
other Long After the Romance and feelings Are gone. The man and woman who are still together yet have
retreated from closeness and genuine affection for one another
are in a truly unhappy position; this basic dissatisfaction is at
the core of their emotional life. These individuals have formed a
strong dependence on one another and at the same time will not
accept the true reality of their lack of feeling for each other.
This loveless dependency increases the destruction between them.
The same man who has described an awful and
hopeless situation with his wife, when asked, "Why don't you
leave her?" invariably answers, "Because I really love
her." It requires a great deal of imagination to see love
between these warring couples. By this time they may be
habitually treating each other with insensitivity and disrespect,
yet they do not want to see that long ago they ceased to be
friends and are now substituting a pretense of love and loyalty.
This deception may go on for a long time as the members of the
couple attempt to cover up the fact that they have lost the real
feelings of love they once had.
Ronald and Sharon, for example, had a
fantasy of being in love. They both felt that they had one of the
nicest relationships among their circle of friends. Almost immediately,
however, Sharon took it for granted that Ronald was hard to
please and critical of the way she looked and spoke. She had
forgotten that he had once been attracted to her looks, the way
she dressed, and her soft voice. Ronald didn't seem to mind very
much that Sharon was too tired at night to make love and that she
didn't seem very happy to see him when he came home from work
each night. They had been married for only three years, but the
romance was completely gone.
Sharon thought she had discovered other ways
to please Ronald. She was a perfect hostess and an immaculate housekeeper,
and she took pride in keeping the checkbook balanced. But Sharon
had only substituted serving Ronald for being affectionate and
sexual with him. Both Ronald and Sharon were deceiving themselves
about their relationship. They were no longer in love with each
other but were caught up in role playing.
The Denial of Truth Within the Couple Is the
Fundamental Dishonesty Within the Family and the Society. The
need to protect these untruths leads to hostility toward anyone
who might see and expose the truth; an outsider's point of view
must be suppressed to protect the illusions. We often feel angry
toward the people who might reveal our own destructiveness. All of
us feel ashamed and even paranoid when we are rejected or are
destructive and rejecting to others. We would feel humiliated if we
were overheard fighting with our mates.
By the time a child is born, very often the
couple has hardened into a dishonest style and has long since
retreated from basic feelings of love for one another. It is
likely love will be progressively withheld from the child as
well. When these feelings are withheld, there is a great deal of
shame and covering up. The myth of family love and closeness must
be upheld. The family will cling to one another desperately and dishonestly,
attempting to prove the lie of its closeness. It is terrified of
exposure and distrustful of outsiders, though family members
often treat each other with less respect than they would a
stranger on the street.
Form (the roles and routines of family life)
is substituted for substance (the real feelings) when friendship
is gone. This substitution can occur because parents feel that
their children belong to them and because the parents are so defended
that they cannot allow real acknowledgment, positive or negative
feeling of their feeling. The contradictions of family life and
the cover-up of this basic dishonesty are present in society at
large. All of us are drastic influenced by the contradictions we
see around us, by the discrepancy between what everyone says he wants
and what he really thinks or how he really acts.
Cynical Attitudes Abound in Our Society, Yet
Personal Happiness Is the Stated Goal.
We all say we want happiness and act as if we are seeking it. Yet
if happiness were achieved, it would interrupt one of our most prevalent
defenses: the thousands of cynical thoughts we have about the
world, about ourselves, and about members of society.
These attitudes, supposedly based on
extensive previous experience, serve as self-fulfilling prophesies
attribute to a natural feeling of helplessness. It is hard to imagine
that people really believe they could find happiness in the harsh world described
above thoughts. They are deceiving themselves about seeking
happiness, just as many couples pretend to still be in love.
"All women are bitches."
"Men only want sex."
"Women are just after security and want
to tie you down."
"You can't fight city hall."
"Men are always trying to keep women
"There are no honest politicians."
"A woman's place is in the home."
"Men aren't supposed to cry."
"The rich and powerful must be
Personal Freedom Is a Cherished Value in Our
Society, Yet It Terrifies Most People. Everyone says that he
wants the freedom to live his life to his fullest potential. Yet
most people run from freedom as they would from the plague. They prefer
to feel victimized by the political system rather than live
freely in a democratic government. They use these attitudes to
support their feelings of powerlessness. Their search for
personal freedom is doomed because of their fear and cynicism.
What people do with their freedom often
proves that they are really terrified of it. A prominent
professor had achieved a certain amount of prestige in his field
and felt that his career was successful. Having reached this
happy situation, he found himself more open to the reality of his
miserable relationship with his wife of twenty years, who was
severely mentally disturbed. He felt restricted by this insanely
controlling, domineering woman, and now, with a spirit of
determination, he decided to obtain his freedom. He divorced his
wife and slowly began to make some new friends. For a few months
he enjoyed the exhilaration of his freedom. Soon, however, this
usually sober man could be found in the cocktail lounge of the
university faculty club, drinking heavily. Within two years of
his divorce he was fired from his position and admitted to the
alcoholic ward of a local hospital.
In this extreme example a man essentially
destroyed himself after gaining the freedom he had so longed for.
Even though he had become externally free, he was still a
prisoner of his defenses. It would have been very difficult for this
man of intelligence to admit that he was terrified of freedom.
Even today he is probably unaware that he ran away from the life
he had said he wanted all during the confining years with his
wife. His desire for freedom and his actions after gaining his freedom
constitute a strong mixed message.
Mixed messages and cynical attitudes are
capable of having an insidious effect on you because they
interlock with your defense system. There is also a strong social pull
to go along with these contradictions, to imitate other people. You
can help yourself resist this social pressure by becoming aware
of these mixed signals. Becoming more observant of the
discrepancy between people's words and their actions can clear up
the confusion you feel when receiving this kind of mixed communication.
Also, if you learn to trust your own perceptions, you will dilute
some of the effect of these conflicting messages.
A young couple I know had been dating for
several months. They usually met three or four times a week for
dinner and then spent the night together. One evening after they
had felt very close to each other, Paul expressed some deep
feelings. He told Alice that he was starting to care for her a
lot, more than he had for any other woman. He said that she had
the qualities that he had always fantasized about in the woman he
hoped he would someday meet. He said he wanted to spend more time with
her, and perhaps they could live together someday.
Alice was happy to hear all this, but her
good feelings didn't last. In the weeks that followed, Paul
stopped calling for dates as often as he used to. After a few
weeks Alice realized that they had only spent one evening
together during the previous ten days. When she asked Paul if he
was pulling away, he became angry and offended, denying the true
message of his behavior. She felt terrible and confused. Until
then she had believed her lover's words and hadn't noticed that
his actions had been the opposite for a long time. She would have
been better off if she had paid more attention to his actions.
You can practice a similar kind of scrutiny
on yourself. question habitual patterns of behavior that
contradict your supposed goal How many times have you said you want
love in your life and then pushed others away? How many times have
you pretended that others were denying you what you wanted when
in reality you were probably denying yourself?
In relationships it is vital to be honest
with yourself and others about those times when you are not feeling
love . More than anything else, try to be honest with your children.
Deceiving them with white lies in the name of protection confuses
them and tends to distort their sense of reality. Children read
your actions anyway, and it is your behavior that they imitate,
not your words. It is far better to tell a child that you can't
feel much for him at the moment than to try to avoid the pain of
that honest statement. One of the most destructive things you can
do is confuse and deceive a child about your feelings toward him.
If you attempt to live a life of integrity,
where you make your behavior correspond to your stated goals, you
will gain in confidence. And you won't be contributing to the damage
inflected on others that mixed messages create.
"The Truth is a
provocative and understandable adventure into life. It is
both profoundly simple and simply profound."
—Robert S. Hoffman, M.D.
Assistant Professor of Psychiatry UCLA
Director, Westside Mental Health Group
Diplomat, American Board
of Psychiatry and Neurology
... I am impressed by the
value it holds for all persons in the helping professions."
Richard H. Seiden, Ph. D., M.PH.
Professor of Behavioral Sciences
University of California, Berkeley
The refusal to recognize the
difference between what one believes about oneself and the
objective truth is the basis of neurotic behavior. As
children, people develop defenses to protect them from pain,
but clinging to them in adulthood keeps them limited,
insulated, and incapable of experiencing genuine love and
happiness. Yet most people would rather accept the way things
are rather than risk the anxiety inherent in change.
In this unusual book, Robert
Firestone and Joyce Catlett examine these defense mechanisms
so common in most adults' lives. Using detailed case
histories and step-by-step explanations, they discuss such
problems as reliving the past; withholding affection or
natural talents; playing the victim; manipulation of others;
the use of emotional painkillers such as alcohol, food, sex,
or drugs; and jealousy.
Yet The Truth also describes
in detail ten important, realistic steps to take towards
reversing these destructive tendencies. And to help make the
best choice towards professional help, if desired, the authors
discuss key types of therapy and how to choose a competent,
The Truth is a positive book
that maintains that any symptom or habit can be changed if
one really wants to change it. The secret is establishing -
and living with—the truth.
Robert Firestone is a
psychologist in Los Angeles with a Ph. D. in clinical
psychology from the University of Denver. Joyce Catlett is
an educational therapist with a degree in psychology horn UCLA.
EVEREST HOUSE Publishers