The Gifts of Disillusion
None of us can know when the rapid and forceful shifts of disillusion will enter our life. Many in our country are going through a sudden disillusionment since the election, realizing troubling realities. As a couple’s therapist I witness the disillusionment of a newly broken heart, sitting with a couple as one turns to the other and says, “I am not in love with you anymore. Actually I have not been in love with you for years.“
In these times what someone thought they knew – about their partner, their relationship, their country, themself – no longer is relevant. The ground has shifted beneath them and the chasm of disillusion opens up.
What happens when the things we believed to be true are no longer true? When all of our comfortable answers no longer apply? The questions begin to flood in. Was there a moment when you stopped loving me? Was it something I did or said? Could this be a normal low in all relationships and it will pass? Have I been seeing things wrongly all this time?
The pain of this time can be hard to bear. However, within the questions there is an incredible creativity – an opening to fresh perspectives, to deeper understandings. We can begin to tune in to reality in a new way, our minds and senses are heightened because we are rapidly incorporating new information.
Of course, as the questions flood in we have to be careful to not rush to reductive answers. The growth that disillusion asks of us is exhausting and not many of us can tolerate being frightened and disoriented for long. We might be tempted to soothe ourselves with answers that are simply new illusions. A partner might fixate on the idea that their partner who has lost sight of their love must be having an affair. There is a fixed point of blame, a direct answer, a new ground to stand on. But I have seen this answer shut down the explorations of the more ambiguous, complex truths that could be uncovered.
When we rush disillusion, we limit our solutions. The answers we grasp are still bound by old paradigms, dragging forward old images of our self. In our hurry to be done with the impossible questions, the doubt and confusion and heartbreak, we push for resolution now. We may get to move forward and exit the unknown more quickly. But what have we lost?
We lose the gifts of disillusion when we do not make time for there to simply be no answers yet. And that is very difficult. It takes courage to sit still through the times in our life when we have no idea what is to come. Sometimes the best thing we can do is honor that we have no idea what to do.
After the pain of dislocation from the familiar, we may eventually find some sense of possibility. We are alive in an examined life. In times of disillusion we can meet our loved ones and ourselves in unknown territory and learn the skills of navigating together honestly. This is tender work and humbling and inspiring to support as a therapist.
Don’t know what is true anymore? Sit still. Breathe.
Don’t know how to handle the decisions that will have to be made eventually? Sit Still. Breathe.
Don’t know if you can rely on your own version of the past anymore? Sit Still. Breathe.
Don’t know what you want to have happen? Sit still. Breathe.
Don’t know who you are now? Sit Still. Breathe.
Be present to yourself without forcing a new reality. Something important is happening: don’t deny it, give it space. Answers will come. Old affiliations and definitions of yourself will be shed and you will be different than you were before. The grief that you feel will inform you about gratitude and vulnerability. New inspirations and revelations will come and be a part of the decisions you make. Surprising intimacy may develop out of hard won honesty and you may find yourself wanting more from relationships than you imagined before. And, perhaps most valuable, you may develop a potent trust in yourself as you begin to glimpse the capacity you have to face the unknown and begin again.
In these months since the election, I notice my own disillusion as it joins me in sessions with clients. I feel my resonate heartache and fear and desire for simple answers as I witness my client’s bouts with disillusion. I believe in their ability to find their ways through this to potentials previously unavailable. And so I believe in my own. I believe in the gifts that my clients can access in these painful times. And so I believe in those gifts for myself too. I believe that comfortable illusions keep us disconnected from life and from each other and so disillusion is actually an opening to life and love. And so I allow myself to open. And when I don’t know what to do? I sit still. I breathe.