Sometimes, people truly don’t know what they’re doing when they engage in behaviors that are harmful to themselves or others. But other times, they know full well what they are doing and simply lie about it.
I’ve counseled many individuals over the years. They were of various backgrounds and presented a wide variety of problems and circumstances that needed to be addressed in therapy. Necessarily, I’ve had to come into contact with some of those horrifying realities of life that others have often described as “evil.” Whether it was severe abuse or neglect, issues of betrayal or abandonment, or the unbelievably disastrous events people unfortunately had to witness or encounter themselves, there was certainly no shortage of “evil” in the lives of many who sought my counsel.
For much of my time as a therapist, I have dealt with individuals who either had much character-development work to do, or had been victimized in some way by a person of deeply flawed character. Along the way, it became increasingly evident to me that there was a common factor involved in the problems people experienced as the result of character disturbance. That common factor was lying. And not just any kind of lying. More specifically, it was the lying to oneself and to others about the true nature of one’s intentions and actions that seemed to be the culprit. And I’m not talking about “denial” here either. Rather, I’m talking about the deliberate casting of a false impression so as to maintain favorable appearances while doing unconscionable things.
I can’t count the number of times that divorcing partners falsely represented their desire to inflict pain and punishment on one another as a sincere concern for the welfare of their children. There have also been many instances in which a person cloaked their desire to wield dominance and control under the guise of loving someone too much. Human beings have an incredible capacity to deceive, and it is said that the Devil himself is the father of all lies. In my experience, no one has either truly desired “help” or been amenable to it unless they have come to a point of honest self-reckoning. And most of the time, the truth is not pretty.
Sometimes, people truly don’t know what they’re doing when they engage in behaviors that are harmful to themselves or others. But other times, they know full well what they are doing and simply lie about it. Of all the “evils” I have encountered in my work over the years, this kind of lying appears the granddaddy. At a primal level, we are all animals with very basic desires, instincts, urges and raw emotions. And these primal characteristics of ours are not inherently “evil,” either. They’re a part of who we are. But because we are more than mere animals, we’re capable of functioning on a much higher plane. But before we can elevate ourselves to that plane, we must first “own” and then reckon with our baser inclinations. Of course, this is neither appealing nor easy. In my first book, In Sheep’s Clothing [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK](?), I proposed that deliberately taking on the burden of self-reckoning is a “cross” we’re all called to carry if we’re to fashion a better world. In my upcoming book Character Disturbance [Amazon-US | Amazon-UK](?), I explore this whole notion and what it takes in the way of character development to willingly carry such a cross in much greater detail.
There is another saying that the truth shall make you free. In my experience as a therapist dealing largely with the characterological messes people can make of themselves, reckoning with the truth is also the way to make a person well. For that reason, I have always resisted the constant temptation to be merely well-liked and frequently visited by my clients, even though in my business maintaining a heavy case load and having clients talk favorably about you are the prime barometers by which my peers and others gauge professional competence and stature. Instead, I have been much more mindful to be as benignly honest as possible when giving feedback to my clients, especially when it comes to the nature of the problems they’re experiencing. I’m not so vain to think I have a corner on the truth nor so naive that I think the truth is absolute. But at some level you know when the feedback you give is relatively free of your own psychological baggage, is given as honestly as is humanly possible, and is delivered in such a manner as not to cause unnecessary pain. Sometimes, the feedback is not rosy and the client is not of a frame of mind to receive it. I’ve learned to accept that. But I can’t count the number of times such a client has re-appeared years later, not only receptive, but hungry for therapeutic work. And most of the time they don’t hesitate to admit that the reason they came back to me as opposed to others they might have encountered along the way was because my willingness to be honest and to speak the ugly names of their demons suggested to them that I could not be manipulated and that they could trust me to help guide them through the challenging and difficult work ahead.
There was a book out not too long ago about the people of the lie. I found it to have a fair degree of merit but also to be largely over-dramatic and bordering on untruthful with regard to the nature of and amelioration of the “evil” situations portrayed. But I have no doubts about the capacity of the lie to invite true evil into the lives of individuals. And I believe in the power on honest self-reckoning. When the truth is alive in the therapy room, more is at work than either the confessions of my client or my attempt at conscientious guidance. For many years, the truth has helped both my clients and myself to be set free and made well.
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