Know What You Know


If you are in therapy with me very long, you will probably hear one of my mantras: KNOW WHAT YOU KNOW. We humans are often very uncomfortable with the truths we perceive and we would rather deny them than live with the implications of knowing them. What do I mean? How many times have you allowed yourself to be annoyed and surprised that your spouse isn’t ready when he said he’d be even though this happens every time you try to go somewhere? If you really allowed yourself to know and accept that your spouse runs late, you would plan accordingly or work out a system to accommodate that truth. Or, have you ever insisted that you are confused about your mother-in-law saying she doesn’t get to see your kids enough while simultaneously declining all of your requests for help with them? If you allowed yourself to know what you already know on some level—that your mother in law is either unwilling or intimidated by the idea of watching your kids—that would hurt and you’d have to deal with that pain.

Punting to bewilderment and bafflement are tempting because they keep you in a victim state. If you don’t understand something, you can stay in the posture of powerlessness and zero responsibility. And honestly, sometimes that victim stance feels pretty nice. 1–Other people are to blame or are messing up, 2—you can’t understand it or weren’t expecting it, 3—you are blameless and victimized. What’s not to like?

Frankly, it’s easier to seethe with resentment than to know what you know. It’s easier to blame than to know what you know. Knowing what you know requires emotional courage and excruciating honesty. Knowing what you know moves you from being a victim to being responsible. When you put yourself in that responsible place, you have a much harder time letting yourself get away with blame and resentment.

How can you get started?

  1. Notice an area where you feel helpless or baffled or confused (preferably a repeating experience).
  2. Ask yourself, “What do I think I don’t know?”
  3. Then ask yourself, “If I’m really honest, what do I know?”
    • Example: “Wow, my mother-in-law doesn’t want to watch my kids” or “I shouldn’t expect my husband to be ready to leave on time if he hasn’t ever done it in the past.”
  4. Then do the emotional work of radical acceptance. It might be grief or disappointment or hurt and it may be a relatively straightforward shift or it could be a more complicated process. Whatever it is, invite God into it and allow the work to go as deep as it needs to go.
  5. Incorporate what you know into your future plans and interactions.

Take responsibility for what you know. That’s when you can do some real work in your relationships and face your world with eyes wide open.


  1. “Knowing what you know” and the alternative “Punting (WHAT A PERFECT TERM!!) to bewilderment and bafflement are tempting because they keep you in a victim state.”

    So succinct and yet so loaded! Awareness of this dynamic…so essential for growth and peace.

    Thank you for sharing!

  2. This may be touching on the responsibility part…and I have to say this is what bothers me…and that is this…

    I have to take responsibility when others don”t???

    I have to bear whatever weight
    I have to adjust my schedule
    I have to work around other’s insecurities
    I have drop whatever I’m doing and work on their problem because THEY can’t get their act together???

    Have to say…I’m just not with you on this…

    A person has only so much capacity based on who they are and when you suggest that I increase my capacity because others consistently drop the ball, and I”m the one catching the fumble, guess who still gets crushed under all the other players??

    1. I would say that you don’t have to do all those things at all. By knowing what you know, you can then create and set the boundaries you want in full knowledge of all that you know. For example, “I know my spouse will always run late so we can drive separately or create and artificially early start time. But I’m not going to let myself be surprised by this any more.” or, “Since I know my mother-in-law doesn’t want to watch my kids, I will make different arrangements. When she says she doesn’t see them enough, I won’t assume that means she wants to care for them.”
      It’s really, really hard to stay in a place of self-responsibility and often takes real creativity in the face of others’ irresponsibility and/or thoughtlessness. But knowing what you know is a great place to start and forces you to deal with all the information. Ultimately, it can lead to really hard choices; leaving work situations or ending relationships. But the ultimately, greater freedom is found when we stay out of that victim mentality.

    2. Interesting comment. I have worked on this type of thing as well, and sometimes I find myself where you are, Matt. Then I try to remind myself that, in Janice’s words, “accepting what I know” doesn’t mean that I have to fix the other person. I can only really control how I respond to a situation. If I accept what I know and then decide on a consistent, rational response, then I will probably have less stress about it, and then the ball is perhaps in the other person’s court.

  3. What a cool mantra…I think I’m going to borrow this one! I too appreciate naming the avoidance “bunting”, specifically to the victim state. Any good resources on radical acceptance? (I currently have Things May Go Terribly, Horribly Wrong waiting for me on my Kindle!)

    1. That’s a really good book! A couple of people have asked me for more about radical acceptance–perhaps I need to do some more thinking and writing about it!

  4. Janice. This is so simple and yet so profound. Most importantly, I think God is speaking a clear message (at least to me). You have spoken something that has been breaking forth in Scripture for me recently. This is a true way forward. Let the “mountains melt like wax”! (Ps. 97)

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