SPEAKING TRUTH: Is it venom or a cure?

Feb 1, 2024


Art Credit: Jano Tantongco, jano.tantongco@gmail.com


Truth, when articulated to challenge abusive authority or injustice, embodies a profound ethical obligation, often captured in the phrase “speaking truth to power.” Originating from the Quaker movement, this concept was initially a spiritual and ethical call to confront oppressive forces with honesty, integrity and even love. It promotes a vision of change and justice, albeit with potential risks and backlash. This act of truth-telling serves as a litmus test for the courage and ethical conviction of individuals, particularly in social and political activism contexts. However, its application is complex, often entangled in the web of societal power dynamics and personal biases.

The distinction between truth, facts, and reality forms a foundational aspect of understanding the complexity of truth-telling. Facts represent objective, verifiable statements independent of personal beliefs, whereas truth, especially with a capital ‘T,’ suggests a deeper, more philosophical interpretation. Reality encompasses facts and truth as a broader construct, highlighting their interplay in shaping perceptions and understandings. This differentiation is crucial in recognizing that what is often presented as truth might be a subjective interpretation colored by personal experiences, culture, and societal norms. Thus, navigating the nuances between these concepts is essential for a balanced and informed perspective.

In psychological and societal dynamics, Truth assumes varied roles, as illustrated by the Scapegoat and Cassandra complexes. The Scapegoat Complex, where individuals or groups are unfairly blamed for broader issues, reveals the darker side of truth manipulation. This complex maintains power structures and avoids confronting societal flaws, often leading to the marginalization of dissenting voices. On the other hand, the Cassandra Complex highlights the plight of those whose legitimate warnings or insights are disregarded. Such experiences underscore the challenges and frustrations of truth-telling in the face of denial or indifference, often leading to isolation and helplessness.

Psychotherapy’s relationship with Truth offers a unique view of its healing potential. Therapists often regard their practice as a “truth cure,” where uncovering and confronting repressed truths leads to healing and personal growth. Though potentially painful, this process aims to integrate split-off parts of the self, enhancing self-awareness and emotional well-being. In this context, Truth can act both as a venom and a cure – venomous in its initial capacity to disrupt and unsettle, yet curative in its potential to facilitate profound personal transformation and self-discovery.

The role of narrative and perception in shaping our understanding of truth is crucial. Individuals constantly create narratives to make sense of their experiences, often blurring the lines between subjective interpretations and objective facts. While providing a sense of coherence, these narratives can also lead to distortions and misconceptions. Therapy usually involves unraveling these narratives and encouraging clients to question and reevaluate their stories. This process is integral to understanding and navigating the complexities of Truth, highlighting the importance of discernment and critical thinking in distinguishing between what we perceive and what is.

The dynamics of the Scapegoat and Cassandra complexes within societal structures further complicate the act of speaking Truth. Scapegoating serves as a mechanism for societies or groups to transfer blame and avoid accountability, often at the cost of marginalizing individuals or groups. Conversely, those experiencing the Cassandra Complex face the challenge of continuously ignoring their insights, which can lead to significant personal distress and societal repercussions. These complexes demonstrate the varied responses to truth-telling within social systems and the intricate interplay between individual perception and collective narratives.

In the realm of mental health and activism, the relationship between truth and pathological behavior is a subject of significant relevance. Obsessive focus on truth or justice, to the extent that it impairs functioning or causes distress, may indicate underlying psychopathology. This distinction is crucial for understanding the difference between healthy advocacy and pathological behavior, emphasizing the need for mental health support in facilitating constructive societal engagement. The complexity of Truth in these contexts reveals its dual nature – as a potential source of conflict and a pathway to resolution and understanding.

The therapeutic journey illustrates the transformative power of Truth. Psychotherapy, as a practice centered on uncovering and integrating truths about the self, highlights the dual nature of Truth as both venom and cure. In therapy, confronting painful truths can initially destabilize the ego, akin to the venom of a snake bite. However, this disruption is often the first step towards healing, as it allows for integrating previously repressed or ignored aspects of the self. The therapeutic process thus mirrors the broader societal dynamics of truth-telling, where the initial discomfort of confronting brutal truths can lead to greater self-awareness and emotional health.

Narratives and perceptions play a critical role in our engagement with Truth, individually and collectively. The stories we tell ourselves shape our understanding of our experiences and interactions with others. In psychotherapy, part of the healing process involves examining these narratives and discerning the subjective interpretations from the objective facts. This introspective journey not only aids in personal growth but also enhances our capacity to engage with the world more authentically and compassionately. By recognizing the narratives, we construct, we gain insight into our perceptions of Truth and the influence of these perceptions on our behavior and relationships.

The concept of speaking Truth operates within a web of psychological, societal, and interpersonal dynamics. Its role as either venom or cure is contingent on its delivery’s context, intent, and manner. Whether confronting abusive power, navigating personal growth, or engaging in social discourse, speaking Truth demands a nuanced understanding of its multifaceted nature. As we grapple with the challenges and opportunities that Truth presents, it remains a vital component of our quest for knowledge, justice, and self-realization.


“I was walking outside the home I grew up in in East Tennessee. It had snowed, and there had been a deep freeze. I came across a Scarlet Macaw that had frozen to death; I noticed the bright, brilliant red of its feathers against the white snow and ice, but it had died of the cold; no life was left in it. As I walked around, I found two more dead frozen Scarlet Macaws; I intuitively knew that, due to climate change, their migration patterns had been disturbed somehow, and that’s how they ended up in North America so far from their homes. I came upon a patch of grass covered in snow where my mother was gardening or tending to the yard; here, I found a tiny baby, Scarlet Macaw, also half frozen but still alive! It was bright red like the adult birds I’d seen but moving around slightly. Like baby birds newly hatched, it was sort of ugly and desperate looking but also so fragile, helpless, and lovable. I wanted to protect it and save it-I knew it would die if I didn’t intervene. But my mom was acting unfeeling and cold. Without words, she seemed to express that it was a pest and should just be ignored. Her unspoken message was that I should not see it and pretend I didn’t notice it. I should not acknowledge its suffering or the earth’s changes that were causing these birds to go off course and die.”


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  1. robin

    Is ‘speak truth the power’ similar to the Ancient Greek, Parrhesia?
    Speak truth to the oppressed!

  2. Gwendolyn (Gwen) Murphy

    Here is what Ken McLeod, Buddhist teacher, says about truth: “Truth is not an object. There is no certain thing called the truth. What is true is balance, and balance is always changing. Serving what is true is to move in the direction of balance, moment by moment.”

  3. Gwendolyn (Gwen) Murphy

    From Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication model, I might say “I feel sad, hurt, scared, angry and I’m thinking you rejected me.” He advocates using feeling words separate from the actions of others.

  4. Lynn

    Where could I read about the frequent occurrence of snake bite dreams in those people training to be analysts. You mention this towards the end of the podcast.


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