I am working as a LADC (Licensed Alcohol and Drug Counselor) at a chemical dependency treatment center in Minnesota. Each day, I lead a three-hour group therapy session with clients in early recovery. Of course, I am not revealing any confidential information, but I want to put the spotlight on one of the more interesting and sometimes effective defense mechanisms that can keep people at arms length and sabotage recovery.
I call this the “Tears Of The Clown Syndrome”. If a person is participating in a group and they are fearful or insecure about sharing issues that are sensitive to them and are filled with emotion, then in their minds, they need a way to hide. They fear being exposed emotionally to the group. The person may be protecting pain or trauma that was pivotal to their personality development and how they view the world today.
Lately, I have seen this phenomenon displayed in group sessions and it has been holding people back. So here’s what it looks like: A person presents a happy, joking face, like everything in their lives is just great and there are no problems or worries or fears. Everything is great! When asked a serious question, for example about emotions or past pain, they immediately fall into the role of the clown and deflect the question with a comical diversion. The person is fearful that if they reveal their true selves with all of their insecurities, fears, vulnerabilities, sadness, anger, hatred, confusion, betrayal from others, disappointments, hurt and pain from past traumas or a feeling of being lost in the world. Secrets abound.
Many people are hanging onto, protecting and have vowed to never tell anyone about their secrets. There is an old saying which states, “People are only as sick as their secrets.” Many human beings are being poisoned by their own tightly held secrets and often times they are not aware of their own self-deception.
Back to the Tears of the Clown. When people do not want to reveal their true self, they lie about who they really are and what their real emotions are. They do this to put up a defensive wall against anyone who might get too close. This produces isolation and fear and loneliness, but somehow they believe that this sacrifice is worth it, to keep people at a distance.
The Clown is full of pain, going back years, but it is their pain and they hold onto it like a baby in their arms. It is like trying to swim with a heavy anchor around your neck.
It takes slow and delicate communication with the person, along with love and trust to build a positive relationship. Small steps toward sharing secrets and past pain and traumas can, in time, lead to relief, healing and peace of mind for someone showing signs of the Tears Of The Clown Syndrome.