Seeing What We Want to See vs. What is Truly There

Pretending, Denial, Willful Blindness, or just plain Stupidity are all synonyms for the same thing: closing our eyes to the truth of a situation. Untold millions—probably billions—of adults do this everyday. They invent all sorts of strategies designed to distract them from acknowledging their reality, but the reason underlying all of these excuses is the same: fear. I believe that fear of change is why people remain bogged down in their distress. The unknown is far more terrifying and inconvenient than the known.

How many times have you cowered from the truth? How many times have I?

It’s painful to allow difficult truths into our awareness because then we cannot escape them. They hover, waiting for us to lock eyes once again, waiting for us to act. I think the number one response strategy is to sweep whatever it is under the rug. There. Spic snd Span. Now, nobody has to look at it; we just walk around that giant lump under the carpet. Am I right? Eh, maybe. Actually, no, not at all. Those lumps have a tendency to grow bigger in the dark—sort of like that random assortment of mugs in your kitchen cabinet, they multiply whenever we look away.

Usually, our inconvenient truths start out small—a trifling dust bunny of sorts–for example, some snide remark or careless action of another that strikes us as “off.” We shrug, chalk it up as a weird, one time thing, and remind ourselves of all the excellent reasons we have to get along with this person. But then they do something else only this time, it’s a little more bothersome. A slight uneasiness rumbles through our gut. A flash of “This ain’t good,” hurtles through our conscience as we look askance at whoever it is who did whatever it was. Or, maybe it was us doing something seemingly out of character (“I don’t usually think/feel/act this way,” we think to ourselves as we frown. “What’s going on?”) More likely, we’re reacting to the actions of somebody in whom we’ve invested a part of ourselves. We rationalize that we’re being overly sensitive and make a mental list of all the positives. But that lump under the rug somehow seems bigger today than it did before. Huh…

Any of this sound familiar?

I have spent the majority of my life sweeping lumps of various sizes under rugs because I didn’t want to deal with the fallout of close examination. The ironic thing is that some of these lumps were actually positives! They just happened to be positives about myself that would force me to rethink how I presented myself to the world, positives that would require me to own my talents, positives that would mean I no longer had an excuse to hide. What do I mean by this? I mean everything from embracing the fact that I was now an attractive woman and no longer a graceless and bulky teen, or acknowledging my talents as a writer and a leader rather than sitting in the back row relieved nobody noticed or bothered to call on me, to addressing large audiences with ease where before I’d never believe anyone would want to listen to me for any reason. Ever. None of these are bad things—and still I pretended they didn’t exist because I wasn’t prepared to accept I could be what was there: a sophisticated, articulate adult. I didn’t know how to be that woman, so I bent over backwards not to see her. It was safer to tell myself that these were false positives—that they didn’t really exist and I was indulging myself in wishful thinking. Fearful of what might come next if I actually trusted what was there, I clung to what I expected to see—the awkward, unconfident girl who was regularly surpassed by her peers. The one who had to wait three days before the boy she asked to prom turned her down. The lazy one who liked watching tv too much to do a good job in her Latin class. Yeah, that girl. That was the one I was familiar with. You’d think it would be easy—a relief–to embrace the good parts of ourself, but it isn’t always

What part of yourself are you afraid to see? How much energy do you spend denying that this part of you exists? What excuses for maintaining your status quo evaporate if you accept that, yes, you really are a person who wants X, Y, and Z no matter how inconvenient they are to your life?

These are not small questions.

(So, that covers the positives we refuse to see. Now comes its mirror opposite.)


When it comes to the giant pile of negative lumps shoved under those rugs, I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all tripped over those a time or two. You know what I’m talking about: the uninvolved spouse, the mentally ill acquaintance, the addled parent. Maybe it’s a condition everyone pretends doesn’t exist. Perhaps its untenable money problems. Or a passive aggressive relationship that has morphed into abuse and permanently poisoned the well. Whatever it is, we’ve turned ourselves into pretzels to avoid it. We refuse to look in the mirror, let alone recognize the situation for what it really is. (It’s so easy to get confused.*) When asked, we parrot the party line: what we wish were the case—maybe what even used to be the case—but an honest assessment is more than we are willing to consider. (And so, the lump grows larger.) It is these situations which fester until they become so unbearable that we have no choice but to re-boot. “I can’t live this way, anymore,” we realize, terrified by what comes next but knowing we’ll drown if we fail to make a change.

Where are you on this spectrum? Do you see what is there or what you want to see?


What happens if you do nothing?

Are you ok with that?


Most of us fear change—especially when it’s up to us to make it. But you wouldn’t be reading this blog if you didn’t already believe that seeing situations and people for what they truly are is a far preferable alternative to a life of smoke and mirrors. The temporary instability, pain, and chaos that change invites is worth it if we come out on the other side with a much more honest and stable understanding of who we are and the life we’re living.

Don’t be afraid of what you see. Take the next step. You can handle it.

Closing eyes

*Keep in mind, too, the problems generated when we refuse to see changes in another person. A key example of this is an inability to recognize siblings as grown adults, different from who they were before. A lot of family issues arise from the inability to see them for who they are today, not who they were years ago.


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One Response to “Seeing What We Want to See vs. What is Truly There”

  1. Jim Patterson Says:

    Better yet, what part of you are you afraid to see that you don’t know even exists.

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