Truths that are powerful, essential, yet not always helpful

Stephen MarshMormon 13 Comments

I once knew a woman who complained of her new therapist (she had been in therapy for years) that after thirty minutes he had interrupted and told her that her real problem was that she was trying to be the child in the relationship with her children and husband and she needed to face that her role was to be the adult.  As she complained loud and wide about the therapist everyone she complained to thought “gee, that is the truth.”

The truth was essential knowledge that she needed to have.  But telling her was not productive at all, it was not helpful, all it did was build resistance in her to change.  The same mistake was made by the guy who told the Narcissist that his misfortune in having both of his ex-wives have their only episodes of mental illness, rather unpleasant borderline personality divergences, while married to him, was not bad luck but a direct result of the narcissism.

There are other things that are powerful, essential and yet pointing them out doesn’t always help.  That is especially true of the gospel.

For example.  It is an important truth that you resent those you have wronged.  If there is resentment, no matter what happened, part of it involves a wrong by you.  That is the core message of the Arbinger Group, btw, and the key to their miraculous successes in the past in reconciling parents and children.  Having resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.

Yet delivering the message the wrong time and in the wrong way can make things worse, especially for victims of random assault or violence where the only wrong may well be the resentment itself.  Resentment is sometimes the most lasting harm done to a victim.

Another example.  Blaming others and refusing to accept responsibility for your problems guarantees failure, it keeps you helpless.  You may not be legally, morally or esthetically responsible for the past, but only you control how you react to and create the future.  Coming to that understanding is a core part of recovery from grief, loss and life changing disaster.  Yet presented the wrong time and way all it does is make the harm to victims worse.

I think of things like this when I deal with those facing a recent loss of a child or other tragedy.  There are times when these spiritual truths heal.  There are times they only hurt and make things worse.

The point is that I think that as God deals with us, He has truths that are essential to us, powerful in their reach; yet, not always things that will help us at this instant time.

What do you think?  What have you experienced in the way of spiritual truths you feel are essential truths, powerful in their scope, yet not always helpful, that you can appreciate now but that if your younger self had been told them it would only have slowed you down?  I’d love to hear back on the perspectives and experiences of others because I am convinced that this is part of our being children of God, not yet grown beyond that status.

Comments 13

  1. When I was younger, I saw the world in black and white, right and wrong, us and them, “one true Church”, etc. I now perceive that we are all shades of gray, we all have truth and falsehoods, we are all one interconnected whole, and that there are many, many very good people who will make it back to God without being LDS in mortality.

    This would have significantly impacted me if I felt this way when I was 19 y.o. as it would have been hard to go on a mission. If I realized then that the world is full of amazing people and that the majority of people who return to God were never actually LDS in mortality, it would have been hard to a) even go on a mission and b) be as dedicated while I was on my mission. At that time, I basically had to have the mindset that I was absolutely right, that this was the “one true Church”, etc.

  2. Mike, that is an interesting point.

    Also got an e-mail comment:

    I thought this was why Christ taught in parables, so that those who were ready to learn could learn, but those who were not would not be held accountable for knowledge they couldn’t yet handle.

    I was given quite a lot of great advice about moving on and letting go. Even better advice about letting myself enjoy my life and not blaming myself, but it took years before I was even able to see that any of it applied to me or my situation. I like to think I’m starting to hear it, but I think that in a few years I will look back and think I was blind.

  3. I agree about the parables comment. There was a paper posted in one of the apartments I lived in that said there were no good and bad things in life, just lessons. A lesson will be presented to you over and over in different forms until you learn that lesson. Then a new lesson will be presented to you, until you learn that one. There will be new lessons until you die (perhaps Mormons would say forever, even after death).

  4. It is an important truth that you resent those you have wronged.

    Very true. Also, people tend to have very positive feelings towards people they’ve helped (especially if the help had a clear positive impact).

    I don’t know about the “not helpful” part — I think these are useful points to keep in mind when analyzing (and choosing) one’s own actions. 😀

  5. I think about this a lot too. It seems that many things are helpful if we could just view them as such. Human and spiritual development though – is set up for us to only handle today what we are ready to. Truthfully though, I wish a had a therapist who would throw it down on the table like that – it would be SO helpful.

  6. Stephen, excellent post. My impression is helped by the fact that I’m on my fourth reading of Warner’s book which discusses these ideas, so they are fresh in my mind.

    Part of the difficulty is that we as spouses or parents or friends often think we know just what the object of our helpfulness needs, when in fact we don’t. We may see the problem more clearly through objective lenses, but self discovery is generally far more valuable than the alternative. (It is, I suppose, why therapy takes so long in some (maybe many or most) instances.)

    As for having truths slow me down — I wonder if they would, or I would simply have ignored them until I was ready to hear them. I think that’s more my pattern.

    I have dealt for years with an addicted family member, but it was only in the last few years that I came to know Families Anonymous (one of a variety of excellent 12-step programs out there) and to apply those principles in my relationships. I really believe had I found them earlier, I would not have been ready, and I would not have benefited.

    (I say this as I’m on my fourth reading of Warner’s book — even that did not speak to me in the same way in the first readings because I was not ready to hear.)

  7. I think we learn powerful truths about communication on this subject in D&C 50 and 121. In the first section, it says that no matter what truth we may be conveying to another, if it is not given in the spirit of truth it is not valid. In the other section, we are given license to rebuke another – but only “betimes” – at the right moment, when the spirit indicates, when the person is ready, etc.

  8. cadams and only followed by more love. A good rule I have with my kids is that if I don’t spend more time on them on the love end than the discipline end, I’m not in the right mood to discipline.

  9. I see a lot of this in cases of grief. We get so nervous and anxious around grieving people that often we only know how to offer comfort in some type of spiritual truth – i.e. well, you will be with them again. These truths don’t necessarily take pain away and can feel hollow to the receiver. they also don’t validate the place where the grieved currently stands.

  10. Natasha, that is an excellent point, and I would add that most of what seems to go on in people around those in grief is they say whatever the speaker thinks will make the speaker feel better, regardless of how it actually impacts the person being spoken to. Added to those who feel a need to be comforted by the grieving party, it often creates quite an additional burden.

  11. Awesome post Stephen! Your first example stings a bit. When I went through my faith crisis I very much resented the church. Although I have decided to remain in the church, fully functioning, I admit that sometimes I still have a little bit of resent toward the church. Sometimes this is magnified (like during some Sunday School lessons), and other times I feel no resentment. I likely need to further examine this area of my life and root out the resent.

    I grew up with a family member having severe depression. For many many years I believed that she simply needed to be righteous and that God would help her. I believed that most of the things she did were to get attention, to play the “victim.” It took about 10 years for me to realize that this isn’t the way it worked. Her depression had little to do with God or her righteousness or her faith. And her ability to cope had much more to do with my ability to love her unconditionally than anything she did! Had someone told me this when I was 16 I would have thought they were crazy!

    I wish we all had the maturity to analyze ourselves and try to really discover our own personal issues. The flip-side, of course, is that there is likely a good biological evolutionary reason why we see ourselves through rose-colored lenses!

  12. and her ability to cope had much more to do with my ability to love her unconditionally than anything she did!

    That is another truth that is very important and very hard to grasp. Thanks for sharing it.

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