Facing an Uncomfortable Truth

Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

From the #metoo movement to the #blacklivesmatter revolution, we are living through an era where we are being asked to consider other people’s truths more than ever. And often they are uncomfortable truths we can feel at a loss to navigate.

How can you best deal with difficult information that might even paint you in a bad light and cause defensiveness?

1. Don’t judge your discomfort.

It’s a sign you are coming up against something you know matters, and in therapy would be seen as a growth opportunity.

Think of a plant. Sure, a nice sunny day feels good. But if it’s never hit with rain it never grows.

2. Go towards it, instead of away from it.

Instead of seeking habits of distraction in times of uncomfortable truth -- boxset bingeing, drinking, overeating? Bringing mindfulness to your discomfort can give you new information.

Sit quietly with your discomfort. Breathe into it.

  • What does thinking about this uncomfortable truth make you feel?
  • Where do you feel the discomfort in your body?
  • Is it hot, cold, tight, aching? Could you give it a colour, a shape?
  • Does it remind you of other times of your life? Or bring any memories?

3. Clear the slate.

Often it’s hard to process uncomfortable truths and learn new ways of seeing because we are denying our own backlog of beliefs and assumptions.

These can be very buried, perhaps things we learned as children we never questioned, or thought we were long over.

Try a ‘brain dump’. Get paper, and promise yourself to rip it up afterwards to let your unconscious feel safe. Then scrawl out whatever comes, as fast as you can, without out overthinking. And no matter how embarrassing, harsh, angry, childish or wild. It doesn’t have to be readable (remember, you are ripping it up afterwards). Don’t judge what comes, and if you feel emotional, then have a moment.

4. Ask good questions.

These begin with ‘how’ and ‘what’ (why questions lead to rabbit holes and guilt over progress).

  • What is the truth you are avoiding, if you were to make it a sentence?
  • How is it challenging?
  • What do you feel about it, and what do you think you should feel about it?
  • How did you learn these feelings?

5. Admit what you don’t know.

Pretending we understand or know when we don’t stops growth and learning.

Studies at the University of California on intellectual humility found that being willing to admit what we don't know, on the other hand, led to be a greater ability to learn.

Make a list of all the things you don’t know and all the questions you feel nervous to ask.

6. Educate and seek answers.

This is where it’s easy to trick ourselves into thinking the job is done. We accept there was a gap in our knowledge, we were wrong, we ‘get’ it.

But the real job comes in the reprogramming. It means taking the effort to re-educate ourselves and learn other people’s perspectives.

7. Up your listening skills.

Learning about uncomfortable truths means listening to those who have lived through it.

Of course many of us think we are good listeners when we actually do anything but. Listening is not about planning your smart retort, or your matching story. In fact good listening means the only thought in your head is what they are saying.

Try repeating what they say in your mind. Then reflect back what they said to be sure you understood. Don’t feel you have to fill pauses.

8. Be prepared to make mistakes.

Learning works best when we drop a need to be perfect. We might think we understand something, then realise we got it wrong, and still need more information. That’s okay.

9. Take action.

Knowledge without action is like a snake that eats its own tail. You don’t have to go out and save the world or attend a demonstration. Use your own personal strengths and skills, whether that is sharing information, signing petitions, or bringing awareness to your daily interactions with others.

10. Seek support.

Feel overwhelmed by the world? Don't know what to think or feel, or feel so triggered by what you see going on you just dissociate and feel lost?

A therapist can help you recognise if childhood trauma means difficult truths trigger you into 'checking out'. Together you can work on ways of coping that help you navigate life better and become a person you feel good being.

Feel overwhelmed by the world and want to talk to someone who gets it? Book a session now with a talk therapist and feel heard.

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