Cognitive Pearl #030 Tevet 20, 5775 January 10, 15

After a short digression to talk about the weather, let’s return to engaging clients who are hard to reach because of ‘political concerns’. This means that tribal, familial, marital, employment or other structures prohibit emotional authenticity. Such clients have been socialized to believe that opening up in any way is viewed as undermining hierarchical power.

In previous posts, we discussed some subtle and ‘back door’ techniques to bridge the taboos inherent in treatment. Now we’ll focus on more direct methods. To do that we’ll start with the Story of Pinocchio, a seemingly simple child’s tale but one with many many deep allusions.

The story goes that there once was an unmarried puppet maker named Gepetto. Given a piece of wood from a magical tree, Gepetto  fashioned a little puppet boy, perhaps to fill the void in his life. This puppet is ultra advanced: not only does he come with the standard strings and wires, he also has a special nose that grows whenever he lies. Despite Gepetto’s best efforts, the puppet cannot seem to stay out of trouble. Pinnochio gets involved with the wrong crowd, damages his wooden limbs, and eventually nearly drowns when he falls into the sea and has no idea how to swim. Gepetto, also unable to swim, also nearly drowns in an ill-fated rescue attempt. A large fish swallows the two. Pinnochio saves the day when he sets his leg on fire, causing the fish to cough the two of them up onto a beach. Impressed by his courage and ingenuity, a fairy god mother turns the little puppet into a real flesh and blood boy. 


Of all the allusions in this charming story, it’s the growing nose that is most relevant in our present discussion. Lying is a universal prohibition. Clearly, no civilization could exist if individuals were permitted to lie. That being said, lying has some redeeming qualities. Beyond the potential hurt caused by ‘radical truthfulness’, lying often creates a privacy space in which we can grow, regress, and try new things out without interference by others. 


An example will help: Let’s say I tell my friends that I’ve joined a gym; I will no longer be able to meet with them on Wednesday evenings. In truth, I’m going to an acting class. At this stage, I’m not ready to tell my friends that I’m doing something which they may ask questions and which I don’t feel like answering. So by lying to them, I save myself the trouble and I also create a space where I can comfortably grow and experiment with new opportunities. 


Of course, if I had enough courage then I could tell my friends the truth without worrying about their reactions. Perhaps if my friends were a bit more supportive and less judgmental I wouldn’t feel so threatened by them. Yet, the situation is not ideal; I want to take that class but I don’t want the hassle. So I create an invisibility cloak of sorts. My friends have no idea that I’m lying; all they see is me going to the gym. That lie allows me the privacy I need. 


Unlike me however Pinocchio could not even lie. So he found what he could: some bad friends and some self destructive behaviors. Sadly, and this is no child’s story, our politically silenced clients are in the same boat; they have needs which they can only get met, partially at best, through the self destructive ‘solutions’ of addictions, depressions, personality disorders, eating disorders, and somatic disorders. Unfortunately, we, as the ‘approved’ problem solvers can, even with the best of intentions, make matters worse. 


More on this tomorrow. 


Shavua Tov!