The Lies We’re Told, The Lies We Tell Ourselves, and the Hopeful Truth

Above all, don’t lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to a point that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love.

~ Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov

Fotini Hamidieli, Veria, Imathia, Greece

Fotini Hamidieli, Veria, Imathia, Greece


ies. There are those we tell to spare others and ourselves the discomfort of hearing the unpleasant truth, and then there are that other kind: The lies others tell about us and we tell about ourselves.

In this, the first installment of his special series for Combustus magazine, New Jersey psychotherapist, Andrew Nargolwala explores the effect lies can have on our lives and how we can begin to extricate ourselves from their suffocating hold.


As a psychotherapist, I know the key to greater self-awareness and contentment with oneself and one’s life is to start shedding those myths that we are all exposed to from an early age: the lies that our culture~ and sometimes even our family and friends ~ tell us. The worst lies are the ones we tell ourselves; these cognitive distortions can become ingrained and then distort our self-perception and our perception of others.

Fotini Hamidieli  640

Fotini Hamidieli

Believing We Caused the Abuse

Such lies can take the form of blaming ourselves for others treatment of us: the employee who learns that a colleague has been bad-mouthing him to clients or his superior; the lover who discovers her partner has been carrying on another relationship behind her back; the child who thinks he must have encouraged the advances of a sexual predator; or the wife who is certain she brought on her husband’s rage. Even those who have been victimized as young children can carry this self-blame for years.

fotini Hamidieli

Fotini Hamidieli

Abusers Are Opportunists

The truth is that most victims are abused by people known to them ~ people whom they trust and care about.

I’ve worked not only with victims of domestic violence and sexual, emotional and physical abuse but with abusers themselves. And to them, it’s about opportunity, not selectivity. While victims desperately search their own behavior for what they might have done wrong to have triggered the abuse, the victimizers are already on to their next prey.

For the abuser, it’s about the process, not the person: gaining access to indulge his or her drives.

Fotini Hamidieli

Fotini Hamidieli

Don’t Put Yourself in the Center of Their Addiction: It’s Not About You

The same is true for those who take responsibility for other’s addictions: If only I had parented differently, if only I had been a better child, if only I had been more desirable, then the addict would never have chosen their addiction over me. The truth is that addiction is a complicated process that no other person can be responsible for, only the addict. To believe otherwise is at the heart of codependency.

One is responsible for removing oneself and one’s children from abuse ~ to get away, using a support system ~ but that is very different from being the cause.

The hopeful truth is that if victimizers take one hundred percent responsibility for their negative actions, they can change, in most cases. And, when survivors put the responsibility where it belongs, on the abuser, they can stop blaming themselves and see all they have to offer.

Fotini Hamidieli

A Common Belief: Other People Have Special Gifts, I’m Just Me

One of the common lies we start telling ourselves at a very early age is what we believe we’re talented in and what we think we’re not. Being artistic or creative is a perfect example. We look at the work created by others and tell ourselves that they must have been born with that “natural talent.” Whereas for ourselves we know that creating something pleasing takes work. It’s easy to conclude then that we just weren’t meant to be ___ (fill in the blank).

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Awakening While the Peacock is Watching, Fotini Hamidieli.

But in this culture, we don’t give nearly enough attention to nurturing creativity in everyone. Whether in school or in the workplace, we seldom provide sufficient opportunities for each of us to tap into our full creative potential.

Fotini Hamidieli

Fotini Hamidieli

When I taught writing, I often encountered people who felt they did not have interesting stories to share, when actually their ideas and experiences were often quite rich.

Living itself must be seen as a creative activity. This means that whatever that person values in terms of expression should be acknowledged, whether it be cooking, parenting, performing, playing sports, teaching, or something else deeply satisfying.

Fotini Hamidieli

Fotini Hamidieli

Relationships also can become so much more rewarding if we allow creativity into the equation. Rather than viewing the act of getting married as an endpoint ~ now we are married, so we must assume the patterns expected of us ~ we can see partnering with another as an opportunity to create and express ourselves in new ways, emotionally, physically, sexuality, and so on. Seeing our lives, relationships and our work as creative opens them up as dynamic and interactive, not static and regressive.

Fotini Hamidieli

Fotini Hamidieli

The False Belief That Happiness Comes from How Others Regard Me And What I Achieve

We live in a culture that reinforces this myth every day. Television’s popular “Mad Men” character, Don Draper, is a case study in living an external life: he has career success and recognition, a beautiful wife and children, is physically gorgeous ~ yet he is desperately unhappy. He self-medicates the gaping hole inside with alcohol and sex, but this just makes him more emotionally unavailable. He works in an industry that specializes in playing on people’s insecurity with externals: beauty, status, material success…

The lack of a stable, core identity is at the root for so many people with issues such as depression, anxiety, and poor relationships. 

Fotini Hamidieli

Fotini Hamidieli

This is not to say that there is no value in externals; they just aren’t enough. Each person needs to develop a core of positive self-regard that is not dependent on achievement; without it, we are hostage to the ups and downs of daily life. Certainly, one reason high-status professionals such as doctors and dentists have high suicide rates is that we are told that gaining a certain status will bring us happiness. But it’s not enough. If you believe that your life has meaning and purpose, and you direct your actions in that way, then both internal beliefs and external reinforcement can work together towards greater satisfaction with life.

Want Happiness? Diversify.

Putting all your self-worth in any one thing, no matter how worthy ~ parenting, work, marriage, relationships, financial success ~ put far too much pressure on that aspect. It would be like investing all your money in one stock. Having core beliefs about yourself and the world you have gained through study and observation, faith and reason that you then act upon with a good external support system of healthy relationships provide a better balance than externals alone.

~ Andrew Nargolwala

Further Notes

Andrew Nargolwala, MSW, LCSW, MA, was a practicing psychotherapist in Bergen County, New Jersey. He taught writing and literature at schools including Queens College. For more about Mr. Nargolwala and his philosophy on an intentional life, please enjoy my interview with him, “The Life Imagined.Andrew Nargolwala passed last month after a long illness. He will be dearly missed by many.

Fotini Hamidieli paints and teaches art in Veria, Imathia, Greece. Enjoy my personal interview with her here or by entering through the special Combustus piece, “Why Create Art? Wrestling the Muse.” We invite you to also connect with her here.

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  1. Anne McMaster on June 8, 2013 at 5:20 am

    I was in tears as I finished this article. Living life as a creative experience is something which should be as natural to us as breathing – yet we are often side-lined by our frenetic existence and drawn into numbness and self-doubt by those tiny, insidious thoughts which tell us that we are at fault or are to blame or are simply not good enough.

    The positioning of words and works of art here made this incredibly powerful: I read, paused and thought while my eyes found their way across each line, each image, each expression in these amazing pieces of work.

    I was lucky – lucky and blessed: I grew up in a rural community with two sisters. My mother was a teacher and my father a farmer. Farmers believed that sons would do the hard work on the farm and that having only daughters was a liability and so my father was ribbed by other men that he’d have to sell up his farm when his three daughters got married and left the rural life behind.

    My father, in turn, said that he was proud of and delighted by us whether we were boys or girls. He and my mother never limited us in any way – they encouraged us to be strong, independent women and to follow our passions. My passion became the farm. I worked it with my father and ran it myself when he was injured by an animal some years later. I also went to university, completed undergraduate and postgraduate degrees and travelled the world. My sisters, too, completed degrees and grew into the women I knew they would become.

    And now? I returned to Northern Ireland and to the old farm some years ago. I work now as a lecturer and playwright, encouraging truthful, creative living in the amazing young teenagers who come my way, but I still have soil in my veins: I have learned, as the article says so eloquently, to be true to myself. Reading this piece, with tears in my eyes, I was reminded powerfully that I wouldn’t – couldn’t – have it any other way.

    • Andrew Nargolwala on June 8, 2013 at 10:37 am

      Anne, thank you for your poignant and powerful response. You convey so beautifully the value of creative living. Your life is testament.

    • Laura Beach on June 12, 2013 at 11:52 pm

      Thank you, Andrew. Its difficult to say the least, to keep my thoughts to myself and let them (the out-there sufferers) destroy themselves when what they think they are doing is supporting others. Crazy… women with no self-respect supporting others with no self-respect. Its a vicious cycle and I can’t help them. So I give it to Spirit and pray for any kind of psychic moment to occur.

    • Laura Beach on June 12, 2013 at 11:58 pm

      Yep. I too often understand that whatever I say in response to their meager inquiries about what I think is just some kind of bah blah passed by the wind. Deeper, I suspect they are listening to me. I am seeing changes … some “I am important” kind of action. Thats only how I can support. :/
      Keeping it real for women and everybody else that dwells on this planet.

    • Laura Beach on June 13, 2013 at 12:11 am

      Anne McMaster… thank you for your story and the strength that your parents instilled in you and your sisters. You are a gem among women. I salute you!

  2. Laura Beach on June 11, 2013 at 1:43 pm

    Thanks so much for this wonderful article. It is, in fact, quite timely, as I have a few friends that suffer interminably (and in many cases, unknowingly) from the deep seated belief that they are responsible for abuses that occurred in their earlier lives. Getting professional help has only provided them with pharm. drugs that I can clearly see have tripped them up in accepting the existence of, and acquiring proper care to reach a healthy balance mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually in their lives. I believe they don’t even know what that place is and can’t possibly imagine that it actually exists. Pharm. drugs don’t exist for attaining healthy balance in human beings. So these poor women refuse any suggestion pertaining to holistic healing practices. I know, I’ve tried to gently suggest various things and have been “poo pooed.” This is very sad, yet I support any positive attempt by them to overcome their pain. In the meantime, I see so clearly that none of them truly believe, nor understand how to heal themselves and/or find a decisive healer that can get to the root of much deeper issues. They know what their reactionary issues are and yet, continue to medicate and self-medicate. It grieves me that most of these women suffer from depression, bi-polarism and other mental dis-ease for which, I believe, they consider incurable within themselves. Also, physical ailments such as fibromyalgia seems to be running rampant. I have come to understand firboM a little as it is evasive at best to medical professionals and has no cause or cure. I can only deduce that it is a by-product of these wonderful women’s inability to get proper help for the deep seated beliefs set on by childhood atrocities. Behavioral reactions whirl pool in their lives, sucking them deeper into the void set on by society’s post WWII attitudes. I also see some of them continue to remain in emotionally hostel family situations. And yet, what can I ever say to them except to support positive efforts to change their situations. But they don’t take my gentle suggestions seriously cause I don’t live in a hostel environment that continues to beat me down. In fact, I have been the mirror sometimes for their own hostility that I suspect is toward themselves. Sigh.
    Nargolwala’s article reminds me that these wonderful women are my contemporaries and that my mother, sisters and I too were subject to those societal views about women. My father was a pilot in WWII and was fortunate that the war ended as he was awaiting his orders. In addition to those views was a huge catholic upbringing in the mid-west that compounded an active disregard for women in general. So I understand Nargolwala’s views on the state of women today and am blessed that you have asked me to share it. I will share it in the hopes that at least one woman will sit up and look deeper into her self and understand the lies she has been taught about herself are just that, lies.
    Oh, there is so much healing that needs to happen for women in this world. Fortunately my daughter has the benefit of my deeper understanding of family history and a kind father that never went to war.
    Peace, Love & Light,

  3. Andrew Nargolwala on June 11, 2013 at 2:12 pm

    Thank you so much, Laura, for your kind and important comments, particularly on the ways the women you mention continue to blame themselves. I hope they are able to get true help in shedding that myth, so that real healing can begin.

    • Laura Beach on June 13, 2013 at 12:26 am

      Andrew.. it is my hope and prayer for these women that I have mentioned, that they find a hand-hold of some kind to rise above the current situations. More importantly to me is my daughter and my son that they understand that women are to be honored. I honor my daughter in all that she is and speak to her often about disregarding society’s rules and expectations. My son (almost 16 years) has been raised to respect his mother most … and all women in general. I ask Spirit every day that my son will be the kind of decent man that my husband is…. Namaste.

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