Dear New Shrink,
I often find myself wondering about karma. I am a very honest person, so when I find myself lying about something, I eat myself up for it. Recently, I had to lie to a friend about something that I should have been honest about. I felt really horrible about it, but as the days pass, I feel myself moving on, trying to put it in the past, with the attitude of not lying to this person in the future. Although I know I would feel better as a person if I just came clean, at this point, that is not an option for me, so I wonder … will this come to bite me in the ass? Not in the way of the truth coming out kind of situation, but in the way that something bad will happen to me as a punishment or cause of my bad behavior that I am consciously not correcting. Does life really work that way?
Kind of Worried
Dear Kind of Worried,
I am not exactly sure what you mean by karma. The word has become so commonplace as well as one of those that get thrown around as if it were something that everyone knows and agrees upon.
I certainly cannot answer you on the larger issue of karma, which is one of those long-standing debates of philosophers, originating in eastern Indian religions. Some are theistic; a God or super natural influence does not bind others. Some draw from a notion of reincarnation, others from a more western view of the Christian belief that “you reap what you sow.” Modern views in western societies basically stick with a cause and effect notion and often people will say “what goes around, comes around.” Existentialists would ask, “Do you believe in magic?”
I would have to say that I do think we create our own psychological karma … if we want to call it that.
We all have stories that we tell ourselves about ourselves and those stories govern much of our behavior. Part of our story is without question, our character and our morality.
You say that you think of yourself as a moral person who does not lie. So in lying to your friend you have violated your own morality, values and standards, and the ideas that you hold about yourself. This can lead to both conscious and unconscious guilt, which in turn can lead to acting out behaviors that are self-punitive or destructive in some ways. It sounds like you are already feeling guilty about this and that you have not found a good resolution to it for yourself. In so much, your question becomes a good one. If you do not resolve this in some satisfactory way, you may find that you subconsciously punish yourself.
It is our unconscious emotions that can create karma as you are thinking of it. There is a saying from the famous psychiatrist Carl Jung, “When an inner situation is not made conscious, it appears outside as fate.”
It would seem that your situation is conscious but in so much that you are still worrying about it, and not resolved it has an unconscious component. What is your conflict? Are you simply worried about being punished or is there something more to it?
For many who believe in karma, there is the question of motivation as well as actions.
To put it simply, there are little white lies and then there are those that are truly dark and destructive. All of us tell white lies if only by omission. Sometimes we tell them to spare unnecessary conflict or hurting someone’s feelings. When we lie to serve ourselves and take advantage of others or our lies cause harm to others, then we are talking about a completely different kind of motivation. Perhaps you need to differentiate what kind of lie you told your friend and what type of lie you are comfortable with.
If you have problems like so many of us with boundaries, you may find yourself lying when an assertion of good boundaries would do better. You make the comment that you had to lie when you knew that you should have been honest. This sounds like a lie unto itself. Why did you have to lie when you knew better?
I think you will be more comfortable when you decide what your values really are and learn to stick by them. If you find yourself experiencing some bad luck, I think my first inclination would be to look at what you may be doing to yourself.
Finally, I hope you stop worrying and feel better soon. Not a one of us is perfect; just try to learn from your mistakes.
Dr. JoAnne Barge is a licensed psychologist and licensed marriage and family therapist with offices in Brentwood. You can visit her at www.drbarge.com or please send your anonymous questions and replies to firstname.lastname@example.org. Got something on your mind, let us help you with your life matters.