"I don't know" and "I don't care"

"I don't know" and "I don't care" are two phrases that I have heard a lot in the therapy office. I don't say *my* therapy office because I have heard these come out of my mouth in my own analysis. What I have tried to do for myself and what I encourage my clients to do is to pause when they think or say either of things and ask: "Do I *really* not know?" or "Do I *really* not care?" More often than not, the answer to either or both of these questions is "No, I do know or I do care."

Now, don't get me wrong, there are obviously things that people don't know and there are things that they don't care about, so what I am writing about here is not a universal occurrence. However, what I find most often is that these two phrases become a proxy for avoidance, ambivalence, or denial. It is much easier to say "I don't know" than it is to say "It is uncomfortable to talk about this" or "I don't want to talk about this" or even "I have no idea what you are talking about!"

What to do, then? Here is something that I do myself and recommend to my clients and to you. 

First, check in with your body. The dancer Martha Graham said two wonderful things that I use when talking about checking in with the body: "The body says what words cannot." and "The body doesn't lie." While her meaning may have been different, I think that these phrases apply to checking in with your body.

What do I mean by checking in with your body? My sense is that people use this phrase though don't always explain it. Briefly, take a moment to quiet your mind and then pay attention to the feelings in your body without judgment or criticism. In the quick version, you can focus on the places where your attention is drawn most obviously rather than checking in with your entire body. 

Often, you will notice something--a discomfort, a quickening heartbeat, sweaty palms, or some other sensation--somewhere in your physical body that can be identified and explored. What I endeavor to do is connect any body sensations with feelings and emotions that can be named. Naming these sensations can help you to understand them.

If there are no sensations of note, that is OK, too. This could mean a lot of things and it is not imperative that you feel anything though I find it is usually the case that some physical feeling arises. These sensations can then be translated into emotional and feeling language and even a lack of feeling can be named.

Once a sensation (or lack thereof) is identified and named, I encourage you to identify what this sensation or lack of sensation is trying to do for you. I believe that all feelings and emotions have some good intention for us even if they seem unpleasant or destructive. (This is an important concept in the Internal Family Systems therapy that I studied. Though I had the notion before, that training helped me to make it more concrete. For more information about Internal Family Systems, I point you to The Center for Self Leadership) If you can identify what that feeling or emotion is trying to do for you, you can often reveal what it is that may make you uncomfortable and lead you to fall back on answering "I don't know" or "I don't care."

Something that I have learned myself and that I stress with clients is that this process can be uncomfortable though that discomfort is survivable. It may already be uncomfortable to think about something. That is likely why you said "I don't know," and now I am encouraging you to do something that may make you more uncomfortable. If I know a client likes humor, I might say "No one is going to die, no one will be struck by lightning, and the world is not going to end" while engaging in this self examination. 

Hopefully, having done this, you can be more comfortable exploring that thing that thing that you do know or care about. I teach this in the therapy room with the intention that clients will take it with them and practice it on their own. In the therapy room, I can inquire about the client uttering these phrases. In the outside world, I encourage clients to confront themselves when their internal self talk or their external talk includes these phrases.

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