Ever wonder why those people trying out for “American Idol” think they can sing, when in fact they’ve never even listened to a recording of themselves?
Or why some couples stay together even though it’s obvious both are miserable?
Or why Napoleon ever thought the French army could conquer mighty Russia?
Although all these examples are quite different from each other, the root of each one is the same: The situation was brought on by lies that people tell themselves.
Or, as Dr. Carl Alasko terms it, emotional B.S.
Alasko, a psychotherapist in Pacific Grove, California, has just published his first book, in which he details the poisonous effects of emotional B.S. and the ways in which it destroys relationships – and sometimes much more.
“Emotional Bull***t: The Hidden Plague that is Threatening to Destroy Your Relationships – And How to Stop It” (Tarcher/Penguin, $14.95) is already generating buzz, thanks to a mention in Elle magazine and a number of book signings that have been slated in the area. Foreign rights have been sold for Germany, Brazil, Spain and several other countries.
The book began after Alasko had a revelation four years ago, brought on by his teenage daughter’s lack of progress in completing her college applications.
“She was completely in denial about what needed to be done, and she was living in a delusional reality,” said Alasko, 67, and father of four. “And then, she blamed me for hassling her about it!”
Unlike most studies in parental frustration, however, this one led to a book.
The trauma of emotional B.S. starts with denial, leading to delusion and blame, which Alasko terms “the Toxic Trio.” One example Alasko uses in the book is of an overachiever who is dumped by her boyfriend. When Alasko suggests that her work schedule doesn’t leave time for relationships, the woman bristles and denies that her career interferes with other aspects of life.
So in this example, the woman denies there’s a problem, creates a delusion in her mind that it’s fine to work as much as she does, and blames her relationship failure not on her own decisions, but on the “fact” that “there are no good men out there.”
Bingo – the Toxic Trio.
Why do people fall into emotional B.S. when it is so harmful – and it’s so apparent to the rest of us that it doesn’t work?
Alasko notes that such tactics can appear to function as a short-term solution. Denying the obvious a quick, easy fix that allows us to avoid the hard work of dealing with the situation. But, as Alasko points out, the use of emotional B.S. eventually leads to long-term, intractable problems.
That’s why he calls it “the stealth disease.”
“(Emotional B.S.) allows us to do what we want, and allows our behaviors to continue,” said Alasko.
A common example of the syndrome is someone who drinks to excess, but denies that it is interfering with his marriage. By telling himself (and his wife) that his drinking isn’t a big deal, he’ll have the chance to drink some more: the short-term benefit. But ultimately, his alcohol use will destroy his health, his career and his relationships with others.
When we delude ourselves, it doesn’t work forever. In the long term, emotional B.S. brings nothing but anxiety, misery and disconnection.
Alasko also sees the aftermath of emotional B.S. in everything from the recent mortgage meltdown to the Iraq war, and also refers to historic examples – the defeat of the Spanish Armada, for instance.
It’s all about people convincing themselves that the facts don’t matter.
A lot of what Alasko has thought about and written about over the past decades has crystallized in the book, which he calls an “astoundingly simple” method for identifying relationship problems.
Alasko gives a number of case studies in the book – with names changed, of course – and then reveals pathways to dealing with emotional B.S.
Emotional B.S. is hard to avoid because of the way our brains are constructed. Also notes that fantasy and storytelling are intrinsic to the human animal.
“We’re constantly creating fantasies about the person we’re dating, who we’re married to, what our child is really like,” said Alasko. “It’s only when our core needs are ignored or the fantasy is folded into a delusional reality that it becomes emotional B.S.”
Modern culture hasn’t helped the problem either, with a constant barrage of messages from advertising, television and movies to fulfill our every whim instantly, never mind the consequences.
Also, Alasko writes in the book, he has observed that “the casual fib has mutated into a pervasive way of life.”
Being honest with ourselves and others may be a fading art in today’s world. But Alasko insists that it’s not unattainable. It takes both self-knowledge and regular honing of vital communication skills.
The solution to emotional B.S. is all about priorities – and really thinking about what is important in life.
“You have to slow down and say, ‘What do I really need out of this situation?’ You sit down and do what has to be done, and then move on,” Alasko said.