My dad once gave me a notebook and inscribed “write your truth and the truth will set you free,” inside the cover.
Truth and Freedom have been orienting values for most of my life.
In my twenties, as an ardent seeker of spiritual wisdom and mystical experience, I believed that some transcendent truth about the nature of reality would lead to Enlightenment, freedom from suffering.
Now, as a psychotherapist, it is the truth of insight, of how we are influenced by our unconscious that liberates. Freedom is about greater psychic flexibility. More options for behavior when confronted with triggering situations. A wider emotional range. Increased self-care and self-soothing. Greater tolerance for suffering and grief. A developing sense of meaning and purpose. Increased capacity for intimacy.
Group is huge part of that process. It is an unparalleled source of insight. Imagine being in a room and having several people tell you exactly what they think of you. For most of us, this is utterly terrifying. Usually what we hear is both worse and better than we expect. It’s worse because we’re faced with how we’re affecting people, the unpretty parts of our personality that we’d prefer not to know about. It’s better because we discover that the parts of ourselves that we believe to be unlovable aren’t actually as off-putting as we thought. People still like us. And they like us all the more the more we’re able to acknowledge and own those unsavory bits.
There’s an important concept called the Johari Window, formulated by psychologists Joseph Luften and Harry Ingham.
It provides a map for our self-knowledge:
The first category is what is known to both ourselves and to others. This is the area where we feel free to “be yourself.” The other boxes show territories of the unknown about ourselves, either by us, by others, or by both. The process of insight is about expanding the first quadrant by assimilating parts from the other three.
Group excels at helping us understand our blind spots–the parts of ourselves that are evident to others but we can’t see. It also brings our hidden parts to awareness, as in an environment of sharing and vulnerability, we become increasingly aware of our resistance to being seen and known by others.
One way of tapping into the truly unknown is to cultivate sources of knowledge that are unfamiliar. One of these is the Felt-Sense, or Interoception. My friend and colleague, Richard Mungall, wrote an excellent short article on this concept. Essentially, the felt-sense is our internal sensory information, what is happening inside our bodies, in our guts, that is relevant to our situation, environment and psychic emotional-mental state. When you “have a bad feeling,” about a person, you’re tapping into this source of information.
Another way of tapping into the unknown is by working with our dreams, as I’ve written about before.
If this post speaks to you, I’d love to hear from you. What do truth and freedom mean to you?