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What’s So Hard about Facing Reality?


A client told me this anecdote. Her first therapist helped her to see that we can live quite well without controlling everything in our world and she was excited to share this enlightened insight with her mother. But when she told Mom that “anything can happen to anyone anytime,” Mom freaked out and quickly changed the subject.

This story reminded me of a former boyfriend to whom I was complaining about my mother when suddenly he slapped his hands over his ears (in a restaurant, no less) and kept repeating “no, no, please stop.” My complaints must have stirred up a helluva storm inside him that he needed to shut out the pain my words were triggering in him.

I’ve accepted that life can turn on a dime ever since my father died suddenly in the summer between my junior and senior years in college. Ever since then, I wince when people on the news say things like, “Well, I never thought something like this could happen in this town or on this block.” Why not? What is it about accepting the randomness destructiveness of life that is so unbearable? Why would any of us be exempt from being thrown a curve ball by life? 

Obviously, if we dwell on the fact that anything can happen to anyone any time, it would paralyze us, preventing us from enjoying life, so the goal isn’t to focus on this truth day in and day out. Alternately, we don’t want to shut out the truth as my former beau did because that would be not living in reality.

This question may seem wide of the mark from blogging about eating disorders, but it’s not. Our ability to face and accept reality is key to emotional stability and regulation. If you take unnecessary risks because you feel exempt from consequences and they boomerang back and smack you in the head, you’re doing yourself a disservice. One example is continuing to eat generally unhealthfully or be a couch potato without expecting consequences to your health. 

Believing that bad things only happen to other people is denial, pure and simple. We need to be able to hold the thought that awful things can happen in order to take care of ourselves. Knowing this also helps us live in the moment and cherish life. It keeps us aware of consequences and the need to make conscious choices. 

For those of you like my client’s mother and my former boyfriend who are overwhelmed with the terror of what reality might hold, it’s time to understand why and perhaps find a therapist who can help you make peace with the scariness and uncertainty of life.