I’ve studied and liked tons of psychologists. Maslow’s triangle of human needs and Jung’s collective unconscious continue to whet my intellectual appetite. Educational psychologists Piaget and Vygotsky continue to inform my work and open up avenues of exploration. But, without any doubt in my mind, my favorite psychologist is Jesus.
Now, I’m not a very religious guy and I can’t say I’m in favor of any belief over another. I can say, though, that when I do read the gospels, I find something in Jesus’ teachings that illuminates my work and allow me to find answers for questions I didn’t even know I had. While Jesus did teach using parables, he often was quite direct in how he approached his students. For example, he said, “Let your ‘no’ mean ‘no’ and your ‘yes’ mean ‘yes.’ Anything other than this is the work of the evil one.” He was saying that people should mean what they say without having to swear upon this or that. However, one of Jesus’ great techniques was using gestalt-type arguments to make his point. That is, what he didn’t say was often as important as what he did say.
Over the last several years, when working with families and individuals in recovery, trust must be rebuilt after long periods of time when substance abuse as destroyed it. Jesus’ statement about ‘no’ being ‘no’ often comes to mind, but the flip side of what Jesus said is just as important: Others have to let our no’s be no’s and our yes’s be yes’s; otherwise, there’s no point in meaning what we say.
For example, a man in early recovery from an alcohol addiction might tell his wife that the reason he’s late getting home from work is that he needed to finish a major assignment before he left. He may be telling the truth and meaning what he said, but his wife doubts him due to their history. She pushes him, as though her interrogation will yield “the truth.” He then starts swearing on a Bible, but never really convinces her. Mostly, she just gives up. The trust is not there, even though the man allowed his words to be his truth.
What’s worse, though, is when we tell ourselves “yes” or “no” about issues we face, but then doubt ourselves that we’re meaning what we say. For example, we can tell ourselves that we will keep to our diet and exercise plans, but doubt that we will actually follow-through on what we said we’d do.
I concur with Jesus that by not allowing our no’s and yes’s to be what they are, we are exposing ourselves to bad juju. If there is that much doubt about what we say, there’s clearly a lack of trust and faith that we can use our words to convey our truth. When our own truth isn’t received, even to ourselves, we can become spun out and do things that only lead to more distrust and anger. Jesus was right: We should let our no’s be no’s and our yes’s be yes’s. But we should also let others’s no’s be no’s and their yes’s be yes’s. That Jesus: What a psychologist he was!