Chuck Palahniuk — ‘The only way to find true happiness is to risk being completely cut open.’
I love this quote. I wanted to use it as the main quotation on my website, instead of the Einstein quote I ultimately chose, but the idea of being cut open, even figuratively, scares people.
I ran the idea of using the quote by a few people and the best response I heard was this: “Ronda, I know you so that quote doesn’t scare me at all. Once people get to know you, they trust you so much that you probably could, literally—not even figuratively, convince them to let you cut them open. But if I didn’t know you and I was a potential client, that line would scare me. I might be thinking, ‘Hey … I don’t want mental surgery. Maybe I just need a little mental aspirin’.”
So in the interest of equanimity, I used Einstein. There is nothing wrong with Einstein.
But I’d like to share my thoughts on Chuck Palahniuk’s assertion.
I wholeheartedly agree with him.
We spend most of our lives focusing on trying to maximize our happiness and the happiness of the people we love, and trying to minimize our pain and the pain of those around us.
Most people will do just about anything to avoid pain. Obvious coping mechanisms include addictions: Drugs, alcohol, spending money, over eating etc.
But the most efficient way to temporarily avoid pain is to lie. We start by lying to ourselves and then we repeat the lie to others. This isn’t something that only bad people do. We all do it. It takes a huge amount of conscious effort not to do it.
These kinds of self-protective lies can be about little inconsequential things—like telling ourselves that a friend’s rude behavior didn’t annoy us—to lies about big things—like telling ourselves our marriages are fulfilling when we can’t even remember a time when we felt anything resembling romantic love.
There is something to be said for keeping our mouths shut when speaking the whole truth would damage ourselves and others … but what about our internal dialogue?
The closer we get to being honest with ourselves, the closer we get to peace.
You can go to therapy, but even a skilled therapist can’t get you to face the truths in your life if you are committed to your lies. This isn’t to say that you have to drastically change everything and turn your world upside down in the name of honesty and authenticity. This is to say that you will lessen your frustration and pain if you are honest with yourself.
A trusted therapist should be able to tell you anything. A productive counseling relationship relies on the client knowing down to his/her bones that the therapist may say things that hurt badly, but that the therapist will never say anything with the intention of being hurtful.
With this foundation of trust, comes the potential for massive growth. When we say, “I am ready to be honest with myself and deal with the pain in my life with my eyes wide open, and with honesty,” we increase our capacity for peace and joy.
When we “Risk being completely cut open,” we are courageously accepting that we are not perfect and that we don’t need to be perfect. We are showing compassion to ourselves for our failings, and we are opening ourselves up to more satisfying, healthy relationships with others.
If all you need is a figurative aspirin, that’s fine. But if you need to be cut open, and you are willing to take the risk, I think you will find that the pain you endure in therapy is a small price to pay for the reward of a more joyful life.