understanding “i don’t know” – part 4

how can we move out from under the helplessness of “i don’t know”?

as i mentioned a few days ago, what is underneath “i don’t know” sometimes is a fear of knowledge, a fear of what might happen were we to become aware of knowledge that we have hidden away, or perhaps of the consequences of speaking this knowledge.

this can happen in any situation where secrets are bred, which are most often situations where there are rigid hierarchies of power. one of the ways the holder(s) of power stay on the top of the heap is by enforcing secrecy. the means by which this secrecy is enforced can range from barely noticeable, subtle manipulation to extreme violence.

in the example i mentioned the other day, the situation was incest. it happened in concentration camps, it happens at the workplace, in marriages, in politics.

“don’t tell or else!” is the message.

the best way not to tell and to avoid the “or else” is simply not to know what’s going on.

unfortunately, this can become so deeply engrained that even after the threat is gone, there is still a habit of not knowing, of being fearful of knowledge.

whenever we have internalized hurtful rules, it’s a good idea to start rebelling against these rules and to do the opposite.

“don’t tell” can become “tell! speak out! speak up!”

when i work through this with clients, we rarely start with the types of knowledge that are about big, traumatic events. we limber up by addressing little issues here and there. i try my best to make it comfortable for clients to be honest with me, to tell their truth. i tell them that obviously, i need to earn their trust and that we may need to take our time getting there. i show them interest and respect for their life story – what they already know about themselves. i don’t throw around shoulds and shouldn’ts, which would just be another damper on their own knowledge.

after a while, this client accumulates a little store of acknowledged knowledge, of knowledge that we know to be safe and ok, and we start moving towards words like, “oh, wait a second, actually, i think i do know!”

isabella mori
counselling in vancouver

2 thoughts on “understanding “i don’t know” – part 4

  1. Jeff

    Is saying: “I don’t know” the same as saying: “Whatever” ? I have always hated that responce to my questions. It’s like, the person knows an answer, but is either afraid or to carefree to bother when a justified reply. “Do you want to go to the park today?” “Whatever” I hate that !!! Either you do or you don’t. A “Whatever” attitude to me, suggests that there is a communication break down and that needs to be addressed. There have been times when I do get the “I don’t know” reply to the same question. Again, communication break down. How could you not know wether or not you want to go to the park ? It’s not like I’m asking a question about quantum physics !!!

  2. Jeff

    Is saying: “I don’t know” the same as saying: “Whatever” ? I have always hated that responce to my questions. It’s like, the person knows an answer, but is either afraid or to carefree to bother when a justified reply. “Do you want to go to the park today?” “Whatever” I hate that !!! Either you do or you don’t. A “Whatever” attitude to me, suggests that there is a communication break down and that needs to be addressed. There have been times when I do get the “I don’t know” reply to the same question. Again, communication break down. How could you not know wether or not you want to go to the park ? It’s not like I’m asking a question about quantum physics !!!

  3. isabella mori

    as happens quite often when i write these posts, all kinds of other angles show up afterwards. yours is definitely one!

    my first thought was that for me, how i take “whatever” depends a lot on the tone of voice. does that tone of voice indicate, as you mention, some sort of offensive indifference? or is it, “whatever you prefer is fine with me”? the latter is much better but still it would be nice if the person were to actually take the trouble to spit out a few more words, wouldn’t it?

    the other thing i was thinking after finishing this post was that there are many situations where saying “i don’t know” is the very best answer. basically, when someone asks a question, we search our inner database of knowledge and can’t come up with anything.

    i guess the “i don’t know” posts were mostly about how accessible that database of knowledge is.

    thanks for making me think – once again!

  4. isabella mori

    as happens quite often when i write these posts, all kinds of other angles show up afterwards. yours is definitely one!

    my first thought was that for me, how i take “whatever” depends a lot on the tone of voice. does that tone of voice indicate, as you mention, some sort of offensive indifference? or is it, “whatever you prefer is fine with me”? the latter is much better but still it would be nice if the person were to actually take the trouble to spit out a few more words, wouldn’t it?

    the other thing i was thinking after finishing this post was that there are many situations where saying “i don’t know” is the very best answer. basically, when someone asks a question, we search our inner database of knowledge and can’t come up with anything.

    i guess the “i don’t know” posts were mostly about how accessible that database of knowledge is.

    thanks for making me think – once again!

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