Life is a daily delight/onslaught of input.  From the time we awake to the time we sleep our senses intake information at a high rate of speed.  And our brains seek to make meaning from it and to navigate it using the maps of relationships, needs, wants, requirements, and survival to build it into something we call “My Day”.  Part of how we do that without our brains leaking out of our ears is through roles and masks and socially appropriate stock responses. People may grumble about “Fine” as a response to “How are you today?” and say it’s not authentic or a brush off, but if we only have so much energy and saying what is really going on would cause chaos or make things worse or just waste energy that can be put to better use elsewhere, then “Fine” makes perfect sense and works…well…fine.

Moving through life in various social groups requires shifting from one role to another and relationships come in varying degrees and depths and so we are constantly evaluating what we can say, what we want to say, what we will say in any given moment to any given person and a lot of the drama and trauma in life is about what we should have said or done, what we could have said or done, and what we actually said and did and how we can fix it.  Because Lord knows we aren’t going to be able to take it back.  Once the bell is rung and alla that…

So with everything in balance, going well, we’re cruising along and getting where we want to be or at least getting along when something happens.  Bang!  Something stressful happens.   You hear about something that affects your job, you find out something about someone you love, you find out something about something you’ve worked hard on or really want and emotions become the priority and what you’re going to do about them becomes your focus.  Whether that’s hiding them from others, doing something to alleviate them, or dissolving into them, you have to focus on that.  Which is good, but it has a side effect.  I diverts attention and resources to your internal processes and away from the masks and the roles and the social niceties. Oh, in some cases there are social formalities to use, but for the most part everyone is uncomfortable with them.  Which has the effect of giving you the space you need to deal with the emotions and that works at times.

However, what usually happens in times of stress, is that the person experiencing the stress, the emotions, can’t focus on acting  the way they should or even focus on how they should act. All of that processing goes out the window.  And that’s when the truth comes out.  Stressed out people become truth machines if the situation pushes them hard enough.  Get into a knock down/drag out fight with someone and no matter what you or they do to ‘make up’ later, the truth is what came out in all its ugly glory.  You’ll see it shining in the air.  Whether it’s the truth that this really hurts, whether it is a truth that has never been spoken about each other or about the relationship or about people you’re connected with, aside from all the words that are spoken to releave pain and to hurt the other, the truth is in there.  And you’ll know it.  That bell can’t be unrung.

The same goes for a death in the family.  It’s the subject of many comedies and tragedies but the truth is that funerals bring together people who are related, at a time of stress, concerning things that are important to them…or not….and forces them to interact.  This can be loving and caring or it can be crazy or it can be amazingly insightful.  Or all of the above and much more besides.  But it will definitely bring out the truth like putting a slide under a microscope.

So if you want to truly know someone, watch how they act under stress.  Talk to them, offer your help and support.  You’ll see who they truly are. But here’s the key: once you see it, believe it.  Because most people choose not to and that lie told to yourself can haunt you for the rest of your life.