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Truth vs. truth

conversation-insideOne reason we have so many disagreements with each other is that there is Big Truth and little truth and we get mixed up over which is which.

There is the Truth (I walked towards you) and the truth (I lunged at you aggressively, I simpered as I tiptoed to you, I drunkenly veered your way). We both may agree on the Truth (I did indeed move from one end of the room to the other end of the room where you were standing) but we may violently disagree on the truth. You might say I deliberately tracked mud onto your just shampooed carpet. I might say that I was in a hurry because the phone was ringing. We might both be right. We might both be wrong.

Clearly, truth telling can create a lot of conflict.

So much of our struggling in our relationships has to do with telling our truths and denying your truths. We get hung up on specifics and never get to what’s really wrong. We are so busy defending our truth (You did call. You did not call. You never call. Well, you’re never home.) and so we argue argue argue but we never make any resolution.

A long time ago there was a woman at the shelter where I worked who was a liar. She had a very complex, very disturbing story about abuse and it was clearly not true (nor was she delusional). One of the case managers got a little obsessed with trying to get this woman to admit that the story wasn’t true but the rest of us felt (and told the case manager this at the weekly staff meeting) that what was True was that this woman felt victimized and harmed and wanted/needed attention around that. Now mind you, we were an emergency shelter so it was not our job (or our expertise) to counsel but we felt that what was more important than forcing this woman to shed her truth was to figure out how to help her within that truth so that she could get to the next place — secure housing, real therapy, etc. This haggling over details wasn’t getting anyone anywhere.

So the truth is not always True and the Truth doesn’t always matter.

Sometimes counseling is mucking around in truth and listening hard and honestly? To me it can feel a lot like writing an essay. If you’ve done any writing then likely you know how you write into what you know that you didn’t know you knew. (My favorite quote about this is: “How will I know what I think until I see what I say?” That’s E. M. Forster.) That’s how counseling can be, too. Just as we write to understand ourselves and the editor helps the writer (myself or others) in the process, so in counseling there is that storytelling structure.

So you can show up at a counseling office without any idea of what you’re thinking because part of finding out what you think is seeing what comes out of your mouth.

The counselor is a lot like an editor helping you make sense of your story. You don’t have to understand your story when you come to the counselor because she’s not listening for The Truth, she’s listening for your truth and seeing the big structure so she can ask the questions that will help you understand your experience.

11 Comments

  1. Well, there’s a whole field of narrative therapy which is all about telling and retelling stories as a means, especially, of overcoming trauma…wait, I feel like we’ve discussed this.

    Reply
    • Yes, I’m excited about learning more about narrative therapy. But this was different ‘cuz it wasn’t focused narrative. I’m gonna write you off-blog.

      Reply
  2. THAT is extremely exciting.

    You’ll be like the pella window installer of therapists… putting shelter in the holes of peoples’ cognitive structures without blocking the light.

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    • Oh Brooke, I may have to make that my tag line!!!! You think pella would mind? Ha!

      Reply
  3. Funny, I always see writing as structure, too. I’ve found that it both helped me and hindered me in editing and in helping students with writing, but mostly helped.

    I just had a conversation/disagreement with another fost/adoptive parent about the importance of telling kids “the truth” and I think the root of the disagreement is in the distinction between the big-and-little-T truths. I don’t think it’s possible for me to know the Truth, and telling the “you tracked mud on my clean carpet” truth might explain some things neatly but that wouldn’t make it the Truth…

    Reply
    • I see it in colors and shapes. So I’ll say to myself, “This has more red and too much clutter and it needs a little blue and space.”

      So what’s the truth truth thing you’re talking about here? I want to know more!

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      • Nothing unusual….the reasons her kids aren’t with bio-parents. I think “because they are on drugs and weren’t taking care of you” is a kind of truth that is neatly packaged and serves the official purpose of telling kids the truth, but doesn’t really amount to the capital-T truth; so she may be in compliance with the Cabinet’s instructions for telling the kids the truth, but…it’s really the tip of the iceberg and not the whole Truth, and not the whole truth I would want told if I were either the kid or the bio parent in that situation.

        Reply
  4. you know, often i read your posts, and i find it so interesting because it’s resonating something within me, but it’s not completely clear inside but i get more confidence that this mysterious “something inside of me” is /worthwhile/ because someone else is making it resonate.

    and i’m usually not sure what the heck to say in a comment, and i guess this comment is no different either. but i found your last few paragraphs (about seeing things as structures and getting a sense of the whole being illuminated when you explore the various aspects of the structure) — i know i have felt this in my life a LOT: film appreciation, doing math, practicing music, fond feelings with a friend. and i’m not sure how to explain what i just wrote, but i know i felt kind of excited when i read those last two paragraphs.

    and i find the distinction you make between truth and Truth to be ideas that i find intriguing and somehow with the potential to be illuminating to me, too.

    and yeah, a lot of your “theory” posts [ie where you make contrasts and give examples to clarify some ideas] interesting in this way.

    Reply
  5. I learned about that this year through my eldest daughter. Fiona is in an RTC and we have a lot of contact. She calls weekly and the calls are therepeutic and monitored. She would talk a lot at one point about events and experiences that she ascribed to doing with us or happening at our home. (these were not bad things they just never happened here) I did not know if it was my role as kind of the keeper of life facts (!) to help her order her memories more to what was real. (some of those things happened in other foster homes, others never happened anywhere) I talked with her therapist at length and she explained that the actual veracity was less important than the fact that it was Fiona’s truth. It was a powerful thing for me to learn and not particularly easy to get my mind around becuase I am a person who is honest and truthful in the more traditional sense. But it makes a lot of sense, especially when dealing with people who have experienced severe trauma.

    Reply
    • I’m thinking of you and Fiona, Lee. I know how hard it is to find help for the kids who need it and I’m glad you have. I hope that she is able to heal there and that you all are able to heal, too.

      Reply
  6. My wife and I had a similar conversation with my mother-in-law once. My wife’s older brother is her mother’s son from her first marriage. She then got divorced and remarried and had 4 more children. The second husband, my wife’s father adopted his step son. Now all the kids are grown and the oldest of them has always struggled with learning disabilities and then he went to Iraq and suffers some depression and PTSD. He now says he always felt like he was not quite equal to the other 4 children. My mother-in-law always starts arguing with him that all 5 were treated well and fair and as equal as they could. We tried to explain to her that she cannot change how he feels or what his perception was. The best thing is to tell him you are sorry that he felt that way, that you never meant to make him feel that way, and ask how you can change your behavior now to help alleviate this feeling. It can’t be changed, and his perspective and hers are both valid, they need to figure out what to do now, rather than just argue over whose view/memory is right.

    Reply

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