We all know what it is like to be locked into illusions. It is how we live most of the time. We believe what we choose to believe rather than what is true. Or we don’t tell other people the truth because we think it will hurt them, or just not please them, and then we think we need to believe our own story.
So all the information that contradicts it gets swept under the carpet—that is, until it bites us so hard that we can’t ignore it any more.
We can even fudge the truth about something that doesn’t seem negative or painful at all. Perhaps you can’t bear to admit to yourself that you really do love someone or even that deep down you value yourself.
And of course what you tell other people is not half as important as what you dare to tell yourself. The lies we tell ourselves get us in the most serious trouble.
On the way to burnout you can see really clearly how sticking to your story about yourself can be life threatening. People on the way to burnout who have hated the work they were sticking to with a passion told me that they dreamed of having an accident and having to go to hospital so they didn’t have to go to work. Then no one is surprised if they do have an accident or become too ill to work. A friend said that if there was a nuclear war at least she wouldn’t have to finish the project she was doing. Luckily, she had no power there!
But the point is that they couldn’t decide not to go to work or not to finish the project. That broke some rule about how they should be–which was of course an illusion. If it were true, they would want to be doing what they were doing.
The trouble is that if your identity is tied up in a particular belief—that you need to be successful to be okay, that you need to be good to be okay, that you need to be happy or you are not okay–then you just can’t bear to look closely when things are not working. This is why, on the road to burnout, you can be miserable, you can be alienated, you can be suffering every sort of physical illness, and manage not to put two and two together that something is not right with the path you are on.
It must be right. There isn’t another one.
This is so pervasive a thing that it spreads into every area of life, from the biggest (“I had such a happy childhood”) to the seemingly pettiest. One of my little failures to live truthfully happens when I tell people I will be somewhere or do something by a particular time which happens to be completely unrealistic, often in order to please them. I am then sometimes completely unable to admit to myself, much less to them, that I just can’t do it. Someone else would be able to, so I should.
In the past few months I was renovating and then moving to another flat which was 5 minutes from the old one. One day I was with the builders at the new flat and I wanted them to do something with a lamp I had in the old flat. Not wanting to keep them waiting, particularly because they were doing me a favour, and also knowing that I myself had an incredibly busy day with appointment after appointment, I said I could get the lamp in about 3 minutes. I just couldn’t bear to say it would take ten minutes.
As this was physically impossible, I ran there, I rushed home, dropped the keys somewhere, picked up the lamp, and locked myself out. Now I had to squeeze into that busy day the task of finding a locksmith as well and hoping he could open the door without changing the lock because if he couldn’t, my flatmate would return and would be locked out in my absence.
I hadn’t locked myself out of my home in at least fifteen years, and even then it was when I was doing something I didn’t want to be doing but told myself that I did.
A couple of weeks after the keys incident, I went with a friend to the new flat, and forgot something that we needed. I was embarrassed that I’d forgotten it, and once again said that I could get it in three minutes. I hadn’t learned.
This time I was careful about the keys, but because I was in a hurry, I tripped on the way back, twisted my ankle, and suffered from a swollen sprained ankle for weeks and weeks, again for the first time in many years.
Lying to myself is certainly detrimental to my health.