The origins of self-deception run deep within us. As we mature, small lies we tell ourselves about the past build into an impenetrable web of denial and fantasy that conceals our pain. This web has to be unraveled if we are ever to find our way back to the people we were meant to be. We all tell ourselves lies; we all have buried truths. Most of us fear revealing them, even to ourselves. So we leave them buried and do whatever it takes to keep them there. Our lives become more and more inauthentic.

One of the ways we can learn to live the truth is by example. When we hear of someone who has shown the courage to look honestly at the most difficult part of his or her life story we can be inspired to do the same. Empathy is a big part of that inspiration. Listening to someone talk about the toughest parts of their life triggers an internal barometer of truth in us. A part of the soul that resonates only with being genuine. We get courage by observing and listening to stories of courage. That’s a kind of miracle.

Interestingly, human beings have a reflex reaction to psychological pain no different from their reaction to physical pain. We withdraw from it. We try to avoid thinking about not only the painful aspects of our lives today, but those in the past, all the way back to childhood. This should come as no surprise. No one wants to feel bad. So the mind uses numerous “defense mechanisms” to distance us from bitter realities. Chief among these mechanisms is denial, in which we unconsciously ignore distressing facts about ourselves or others. Denial can make us look the other way in the face of evidence that our spouse is unfaithful or our children are using drugs. It can make us unable to hear feedback from friends and loved ones.

The impulse to keep one’s truth — especially one’s pain — secret is the most common, powerful and toxic elements of human nature. But when you are willing to hurt in order to heal, people respond to your bravery and honesty. Your pain becomes your power.  All too often, however, patients (and their doctors) are much too willing to settle for drugs instead of exploring the roots of their problem. In fact, many patients go to the doctor already convinced that they need a pill. For some reason, people today are discouraged from doing the right thing: digging down deep into their life story to learn what they can from every chapter.

Carl Jung has said, “That which we do not bring to consciousness appears in our lives as fate.” We need to stop believing that the examined life is not worth living. We need to stop hiding from ourselves. We cannot outrun the past. It always catches up with us. Digging deeper for the truth starts with identifying what trouble needs healing in your life right now. Then you journey back into your life story to see the early conflicts that set the stage for it. This can only be accomplished by looking directly and deeply into your pain, never away from it. Obviously, living in denial or diminishing your feelings with medication involves looking away from your pain.

The comforting distractions in your life are depriving you of the personal riches that are the proper rewards of genuine self-knowledge. The authenticity that comes with editing out the fiction from your existence will make you a better parent, spouse or friend. It can utterly transform your life. If you’re like most people, the biggest thing that stands between you and your buried past is fear. In other words, living in fear can completely stunt your emotional growth. This is because the emotional defenses we use to obscure our personal truths end up obscuring the miraculous qualities that lie beneath those defenses. Our God-given courage, compassion, devotion, trust and capacity to love.

Our emotional vulnerability is in itself a rare gift. Because without being vulnerable to sadness and disappointment and doubt, we would have no ability to truly experience and fully feel their opposites: joy, celebration and reassurance. Living in truth involves paying attention to our defense mechanisms and the range of our feelings, seeing where we are hiding out and trying to avoid our emotions. It is critical that we recognize where fear stops us from personal growth. Where we are denying how we really feel. Self-deception can keep us from facing the things we need to face in order to change and grow into our true potential. And this is the saddest way there is to live.

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