What We Want to Hear

We have wishes. We want certain facts to be true, certain people to care, certain choices to be right. Being individual means being unique. Our own history, thought, and experience combine to formulate a view of the world, and we develop wishes about the way things are. To some extent we cling to those preferences and try to find evidence to support them. They seem right to us and we work to maintain them.

At a deeper level, though, we pursue truth. Mostly we would rather know what is true, even if it is not what we want to hear. Our capacity to be open to different realities is, in some ways, an expression of an inner sense of safety. We can allow the world to teach us a different truth because it will not unsettle our trust in ourselves. In other words, we can be wrong, and still be reliable to ourselves.

Of course this dynamic engagement with reality is most fraught with worry in our closest relationships. I would like to believe that my friend is as committed as I am to our mutual well-being, but I may find that is not true. If that person tells me things about myself that are not what I want to hear and abandons the relationship, it is difficult to maintain an evenly balanced attention and take his or her comments seriously without accepting them wholesale. The most difficult inner move is to engage with the situation, be reflective about it, and still not lose my trust in myself and my own motives.

When we are confronted with what we do not want to hear, it is a loss. It is a challenge to the ways we have understood something. There is an inner disorganization as we try to integrate new information. At the same time, there is a heightened awareness of our ideas and views and a possibility for true growth. We have to pull off the trick of recognizing the loss and acknowledging it as difficult while simultaneously remaining open to the new perspective.

In our ordinary relationships we tell each other what we want to hear. It is in the intimate ones that we are confronted with challenges to ourselves. Sometimes these challenges are dynamic in that they happen for other reasons and are not constructive. For example, when my friend has had a hard day and is crabby with me. It is not the content of the crabbiness that matters, but the dynamic reason for it. And sometimes the content of the challenge is a different perspective that needs to be accommodated. The art of knowing this difference is part of what we develop as we grow.

About norasblog

I am a psychotherapist with a private practice in downtown Chicago.
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