It’s helpful to think of lying as a defiance of the truth and BS-ing as a wholesale dismissal of the truth.
–Brene Brown from Braving the Wilderness
Having grown up in a chaotic, shape-shifting, confusing world filled with tortured adults who regularly lied or dismissed the truth, I discovered that finding solid ground inside my intuition and lived experiences was invaluable. I often knew those adults were angry, even though they claimed to be joking. Though I’d also get confused when reality would be completely dismissed or denied, my body registered the truth of what I lived and observed. Now as an adult I fairly quickly discern when something’s off with a person, an interaction, or a situation. My difficult childhood “training” serves me, especially when others may not initially see, feel, or notice what I do.
When a truth is known, yet denied, then dismissed as non-existent, a commitment to the facts becomes an act of courage, integrity, and authenticity.
At fourteen years old while attending a summer church camp, I witnessed my tentmate being raped by our male counselor. When I saw her black round saucer eyes, pale-white, terrified face that still burns in my brain to this day, I urged her to tell someone.
“If you don’t tell, I will.”
I held her hands. She remained silent.
This man did a brilliant job of both threatening and BS-ing. He attempted to convince me that nothing had happened, which was a wholesale dismissal of the truth.
The next day a man that I had not ever encountered during my time at the camp approached me. He took me out in a boat on the lake. Insisting that nothing had happened, he declared that I had had a great experience at camp, that I would tell my parents I had a wonderful time. He added that besides if this had actually happened, my counselor would get fired. “You like your counselor, don’t you?!” “You wouldn’t want him to be fired? He’s worked really hard. It would be your fault if he were fired.” At this juncture, I chose silence. Having persistently navigated much worse situations, I knew when to become silent. This man did a brilliant job of both threatening and BS-ing. He attempted to convince me that nothing had happened, which was a wholesale dismissal of the truth. He also alluded to some acceptance that the rape could have happened by threatening me with being held responsible for the counselor’s probable firing. When people refuse to see hard truths, interactions become quite challenging.
You know you’re in a hot mess when people are having arguments about whether or not the ketchup bottle on the table is a mug of coffee or a bag of potato chips. You also know you’ve entered a challenging situation when you walk in a room and others do not feel safe to ask questions, to be curious, to offer a fresh perspective or a common-sense way of seeing things. If individuals feel threatened and consumed with fear, then finding pathways to the truth becomes quite arduous. When fear lives in the underbelly of the conversation, it will be difficult to find common ground on some basic realities. The best you may be able to do is say, “Fear is palpable in this room. It’s distorting our ability to see or hear one another. What are we actually committed to? What needs to be resolved that’s in the backdrop? How are we framing the discussion?”
When words start flying around that contradict each other, when those same words consistently don’t match behaviors, or when you question your thoughts because your mind latched onto both the lies and the bs, then these become the moments to pause. Heightened emotions often block pathways to rational thinking. We now understand the neuroscience behind fear and the fight, flight, and freeze reactions. This state shuts down access to the pre-frontal cortex, the reasoning part of the brain.
We also know that deep breathing from the diaphragm, placing the tongue on the roof of the mouth, opening the mouth slightly, standing up, bending the knees slightly, softening the eyes, relaxing the arms by your side cues your body to a more neutral, calmer place. These body movements can interrupt a highly charged interaction. The body can lead the way and the mind can learn a new pattern.
Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
–Viktor Frankl, Holocaust Survivor, and Author
Continuing to strengthen the part of you that can hold space, that can be a detached observer of yourself, that can watch the movie of your thoughts and feelings while committing to a deeper place of quiet, allows you to hear the strong emotions and words of others. This expanded awareness will allow you opportunities to choose from many possible responses including bravely speaking the truth of your lived experiences and your observations. Sometimes you must be willing to set aside your need to belong for the truth to emerge. And just because people may not believe you does not mean difficult things didn’t happen. Their BS-ing does not alter reality. To be committed to your integrity and authenticity you must be very brave indeed. It takes courage to hear, believe, and speak hard truths. May you be courageous. May the truth set you free.