This Is When Blind Faith & Hard Facts Can Co-Exist
When we're caught in a bind (and we've been there a while) we need to find that magic spot between brutal realism and everlasting hope.
It’s not unusual, when life goes south, to want someone to tell us everything is going to be OK.
When my life hit a rough patch, that’s exactly what I wanted.
And the people I turned to were psychics.
Desperate for some kind of reassurance that things would get better, they were the only people I could think of who could give me a glimmer of hope that my life would get back on track again.
And each time they did.
I would come away after each session floating on air, filled with unbridled joy and an unshakeable belief that everything in my life would work out just fine — so much better than fine, in fact.
I became intoxicated with the drug of possibility.
And then I waited.
Impatient for life to get better, I kept expecting to see signs of its drastic improvement around every corner.
But I didn’t see any.
The bind I found myself in far outlasted the period of time I would give myself these heady injections of baseless joy.
And so my moods would go up and down like a psychotic yo-yo: excited and relieved one minute; desperate and angry the next.
It would take seeing another behaving just like me to finally get a grip on my own missteps.
A friend— like me — would also get a massive high from going to psychics and being filled with narcotic-free “hope hits” of galactic proportions.
And, like any other “hit”, the comedown was just as spectacular.
Within a week of these types of pilgrimages, I would watch as she would be left confused, deflated and despairing.
And as an observer, it was very easy to see why.
This fleeting glimpse of paradise was the part that was actually causing her more harm, arguably, than the predicament she was in.
I felt the same way. And so I stopped turning to psychics.
When Things Don't Get Better
The truth is, some things don’t ever seem to improve (note: this is being written in Covid-lockdown Stage 2) — or, at least they can take a very, very long time to.
We can always find ourselves trapped in situations which we once thought would resolve themselves quickly, only to find ourselves months — or even years — later, still there, still hoping for change, still trying to escape.
It might be a bad marriage.
It might be a shitty job.
It might be that we had to move back in with our parents because we finally left that bad marriage or quit that shitty job and now we have found a brand new place to be stuck in.
And life can suck for a very long time.
The thing is, just knowing that something isn’t working isn’t enough to make that thing change.
And blind faith that it will somehow magically get better next week, next month, or next year, isn’t likely to help either.
To survive the spirit-crushing nature of our predicaments, then, we have to throw ourselves a rope — one that is, conversely, both optimistic and pessimistic at the same time.
The real lifeline comes from embracing the opposites and living both truths side by side, as James Stockdale will tell you.
The Stockdale Paradox
Relentless optimism in a situation where you don’t really have anything to be optimistic about is more than just deluded thinking.
When you are a prisoner of war, it can actually be life-threatening.
Stockdale, a naval officer at the time of the Vietnam War, had to learn this the hard way when he was held in a POW camp for seven long years.
This is an account of his time there by Jim Collins in his book, Good To Great:
"Tortured over twenty times during his eight-year imprisonment from 1965 to 1973, Stockdale lived out the war without any prisoner’s rights, no set release date, and no certainty as to whether he would even survive to see his family again."
Initially, when Collins asked Stockdale how he endured this, he replied that he “never lost faith in the end of the story”.
He “never doubted” that he would get out one day, that he “would prevail in the end” and ultimately be defined by the experience in the best way possible.
Yet, at the same time, Stockdale said that the ones who suffered the most in that camp — and even died prematurely — were in fact, the optimists.
Again from Collins' book, Good To Great:
“Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again.
And they died of a broken heart.”
A Marriage Of Opposites
The lesson, said Stockdale — and the thing that kept him going — was to hold two contrasting beliefs in his mind.
He wasn’t getting out by Christmas. But he absolutely was getting out.
The trick was not to allow his optimism to blind him to the “brutal facts” of his situation, which were just as vital to his survival during this time.
As he told Collins:
“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end - which you can never afford to lose - with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
Facing facts might not be as sexy as “you will meet a tall, dark, handsome stranger” but it is vital we do so, particularly when we feel trapped.
While optimism is an essential component of psychological health; blind optimism — the kind where we think life will magically sort itself out on its own — is a dangerous state to stay in.
Just like the blissful high that comes from a visit to a tarot card reader, these kinds of states aren’t meant to last.
Eventually reality will come crashing in, regardless of whether we want to face it or not.
So balancing faith with facts, is an advisable way to navigate these times; to stay grounded — not deluded.
Aside from anything, it might just save us from a broken heart.
Find Out More ABout Radical Acceptance here
Want To Know What "The Shadow" Is All About? Here's An Easy Place To Start
If we want to get to know - and make peace with - the rejected and darker sides of our nature, we need to face up to our hypocrisy
When we talk to the uninitiated about Shadow Psychology: our repressed states, the idea about "integrating" our darker, unacknowledged traits in order to be fully realised "whole" human beings - we can forgive people if they look back at us blankly, unashamedly uninterested.
But mutter the word "hypocrite" in anyone's direction and we will get a decidedly different response.
We are ultimately talking about the same thing. But for anyone who isn't a self-help junkie, who hasn't studied the work of Carl Jung, been independently curious about psychological jargon, or spent time in therapy doing "shadow work", there is no reason why anyone else would even give this idea the time of day.
Hypocrisy, however, is a loaded - and very well understood - term. And it's powerful. It rocks people to their core and shakes their egos when branded in this way (if they actually listen).
There are, arguably, fewer powerful insults we can throw at someone than this one - particularly the more moral and ethical the target considers themselves to be.
It is a gift, in a sense, when we bump into it, as it is perhaps the ideal introduction into the world of Shadow Psychology, which in itself is also perhaps the most important widely ignored discipline that is so vital to our lives and well-being.
Do As I Say, Not As I Do
In psychological terms we could call it a kind of Cognitive Dissonance - the basic idea that we say one thing but believe something else or act in a way contrary to what we actually think.
It is the priest proselytizing on purity and abstinence while battling a drink problem or abusing the vulnerable; it is the avidly homophobic politician-in-public who is engaging in a homosexual relationship in private.
In essence, it is when we criticize and condemn people for acting in a way that we in fact are also acting ourselves (frequently unbeknownst to others) - and it can also be us hating on people for things we are not doing but wish we were.
As Jung once famously said:
“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”
Psychology and philosophy vlogger Einzelgänger gives a layman's introduction, below, and as he explains, it is not the fact that we are hypocrites in the first place that is the problem.
It is that we fail to recognize it.
We miss the opportunity to "integrate" these hidden aspects into our conscious selves so we are no longer dominated by misunderstood, unrecognized unconscious forces.
What We Resist...
Our darker urges exist because we resist looking at them.
And our hatred of other people's behaviour stems from the failure - or refusal - to recognize that the things we are villainising lie inside of us too.
Only when we bring these traits to the surface, then, facing them in the cold light of day and admit that we are, also, like that too, can they ever cease to hold power over us.
So how do we do this?
There are many different ways (you can find various techniques here).
One is via "The Work", by Byron Katie.
Katie has a simple "Judge Your Neighbor" exercise (with an explanatory video, below).
The basic idea behind it is also a fundamental lesson in hypocrisy - that whatever it is that is driving us nuts about XXX is generally the very thing we need to own up to ourselves.
And it goes without saying that it's easier to do in some cases than it is in others.
But it is always worth doing.
Take Byron Katie's