the complexity of lying

cw: childhood abuse, discussion of lying, abusive relationships




As a survivor, lying can be a huge trigger for me. Lying has been weaponized to keep me silent, deny my experiences and isolate me. And, in year where I am surrounded by lies about who I am and what I have done, I have chosen to try and hold complexity about why people lie, including myself.

We all lie. 

To  be clear, I am not saying that we lie about having experienced harm. I am in full support of unconditional belief of survivors. The harm is always real and true. These thoughts are not a way to dismiss the actions of those who have caused harm. We all should be accountable in real and meaningful ways for the harm we do to others. And, I think this becomes more possible when we do the reflexive work to think about how we survive, and the ways that the system can infiltrate our survival in ways that do harm.

And sometimes, lying is a harm-reduction strategy, a way of coping and surviving. Sometimes, I need to lie to myself. I survived my childhood by blocking out the violence and abuse I was experiencing: lying to myself that everything was okay. Short-term this was a brilliant survival strategy that protected me from emotions and truths I had no skills or support to deal with.

And sometimes, lying is a way to get your needs met. And your needs are super legitimate. For me, I lied a lot as a kid about being sick. This meant that I didn’t have to go to school, a place where I was bullied and ostracized and felt very unsafe. Lying and saying I was sick meant I could stay home, a place where my need for safety was better met. And being sick meant it was more likely my parents would engage with me, meeting another important need, the need for attention.

And sometimes, lying is a way to establish boundaries. For many of us surviving violence from people who were supposed to love and care for us, it is incredibly difficult to establish boundaries with people we are connected to. Wonky attachment means we often stay connected to people in unhealthy ways, no matter the harm they are doing to us. Lying can make it easier to disconnect. We don’t lie about the person harming us; we create fictions about that person in order to support ourselves ending that relationship. We reduce people down to only their bad behaviors, denying ways they may be kind, or reasons that they perpetuate harm. This is lying, and it can be what makes it possible for us to justify protecting ourselves.

And sometimes, lying is a way to get your truths recognized. In our culture that systemically doubts and isolates survivors, we are conditioned to believe that our experiences of harm are not enough to be recognized. Especially for folks who experienced childhood abuse, we expect that we are not worthy enough to not be harmed and/or that our traumas are not bad enough to be recognized. Myself, I carry so much hurt, intense sadness and shame around the abuse I experienced that has not been recognized. And I know that I have projected this pain on to other situations. These situations were harmful. And their impact was directly related to triggering the truths of my childhood abuse I have never had recognized. I have lied and blamed the person involved with the smaller harm for all the pain because I needed it recognized. People can be accountable for the harm they have done, for the actions that trigger me; I don’t think they can be held accountable for all the hurt and anguish that comes up when I get triggered. But sometimes I want them to be.

I am sure that so many more reasons that we lie; legitimate reasons that allow us to survive in a world that is set up to erase us, harm us and delegitimize our identities and experiences. I think it is important to acknowledge the value of lying as as survival strategy while simultaneously beginning to reflect on the impact of these lies. Personally, I know I have done great harm to myself and others. And I have been greatly harmed by the lies of others. Beginning to think through the complexity of lying is an act of self-love and cultivating compassion for others. My goal is to hold more space for myself and others to be able to reflect on our actions as survivors, our actions as communities, and hopefully transform our ways of being to reduce the harm we do and expand our access to healing. 

the complexity of lying

the condition(ing) of my heart

I needed to take a break from writing. I have been really enjoying learning to write about my trauma, my grief and pain and I am starting to understand it as another important tool for healing, coping, sharing and connecting with others. And it’s fucking hard.

I took to last week to care for myself in the other ways I have learnt  over the last few years. Taking myself for walks, spending time with people who see all of me, solitude, physical activity, treats like Sour Soup and hi-chews.

Today is the first time I have sat down to write in almost a week. The prompt that caught my attention was “What condition is my heart in?” Here is some of what came out.

– – –

My heart is hurting. It throbs with a perpetual longing for connection, for healing, for safety. Safety in ourselves, in others, in community. Hurting heart.

My heart is bitter. In protecting itself, it has become judgmental, mean. From all the times I thought I would get what I needed, that I was going to have connection, care, community. Bitter heart.

We are tired of thinking there are places for us. Places for broken hearts. Places for hurting hearts. Places for bitter hearts. We can sense we aren’t the only bleeding heart in this room, in this community. But like us, those hearts are guarded by sharp-beaked, short-fused egos. By frontal lobes, brains of great dominance, our survivor super organ. It gets us through, protecting our hearts, keeping us moving. We’re mean. We’re insecure. We’re defensive. We’re protective. We’re malice. We’re insecure. We’re heartbroken.

I am a fine connoisseur of over-developed ego. I am the president of the Protective Brains for Feeling Eradication Association. And I am hurting. I am heartbroken. Broken hearts let egos run rampant. Big brained. Broken hearted. Dangerous. Reactive. Unpredictable. Hurting. Lonely. Trauma-bodied, Survivor-brained.

– – –

My heart is an exile. Rejected by community, by relationship, by self. We don’t survive when we hurt. We don’t survive when we feel. Just need to think, to plan, to get in control. My heart lives under the reign of the fascist powers of logic and reason; subject to the judgement, the violence of my brain, my ego’s internalizations of your expectations.

Think. Act. Do.
Reason. Logic. Explain.
No feel. No affect. No flow.
Surviving is “one step at a time”
One calculated, logical step at a time
In the Right direction
Progress.
Move forward.
Not sideways
God forbid backwards.
Integrate.
Don’t disintegrate
ONE self.
Only one self
One brain, no heart
Tin Man ideals
Hold yourself together.
Put yourself back together
Like there was a before

Be the best cog you can be
Functioning means thinking
Means going to work
Means paying your rent
Integrate into society
Not with yourself
Segregate your pain
Eliminate your hurt
Eliminate yourself
Think. Act. Do.
Strategize.
Play the game.
Make your mother proud.

– – –

I have a stronger relationship with my heart than I used to. A direct relationship. Before, I would speak my heart with my brain, know my heart with my ego. Ego knows nothing but itself. Like a politician speaking “for the people” ego only truly speaks for itself.

Me.
I.
Survive.
No Us
just me
just I
Singular.
Logical.
In control.

My body is much better at speaking my heart. My body has always been speaking my heart, even before I understood what it was saying. In anxiety. In panic. In chronic pain. In nausea. If I pay attention, body is always speaking heart. Swollen fingers, swollen heart. Nerve pain, heart pain. Nauseous stomach, nauseous heart.

I have been working hard to learn to listen to my body, to understand the messages my exiled heart is sending through this embodied morse code. I have been learning to decipher the code. And learning to send messages back, learning this body code so that I can care for my heart even when I cannot connect with it directly. This secret code has kept my ego out of it, protected my heart from the violence I enact on it when it directly shows itself.

Panic.
Put your feet on the floor
Anxiety.
Take these bones for a walk
Nausea.
Listen to your inner voice
Nerve pain.
Soak these muscles

Panic.
Put your feet on the floor
Touch the ground, look to the sky
Dirt between your toes
Anxiety.
Take these bones for a walk
To the library
Touch every book you desire
Nausea.
Listen to your inner voice
What aren’t you saying?
Write it down, yell it out
Nerve pain.
Soak these muscles
Stretch them out
Open up the channels again

– – –

My heart knows when people are hurting. We can register another broken heart from a miraculous distance, across mountains, across oceans, across conflict, across isolation. We can perceive this hurt, this intensity with such complexity, with such reverence for the pain, the trauma, for those things ego could never speak. My heart always believes you. My heart always knows it’s true.

Sit with it
Be with it
We see you
all of you
all truth
all legitimate
all honest
Your strength
to feel
to hurt
to struggle
Your exhaustion
at surviving
getting through
If you stopped right now
you would be enough
Sublime
Absolute
True

 

the condition(ing) of my heart