HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH AN ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM? by Art Smukler author and psychiatrist

Dealing with an elephant in the room can be very challenging. Fear, guilt and political incorrectness, are the main reasons why we avoid pointing out what’s sitting right there in front of us.

My father’s a violent drunk, and he’ll beat the crap out of me if I say  anything.

I hate my mother, but feel too guilty to tell her, and that’s why we speak in boring platitudes.

Saudi Arabia continues to spawn terrorists, but we need oil so we don’t do anything about it.

At Joe Paterno’s memorial service, Phil Knight, Nike founder and CEO, was the 1st to bring up the catastrophic sex scandal that rocked Paterno’s legacy and may have even contributed to his rapid demise. Twelve thousand people were in attendance when he stated that he thought Paterno should have been treated by the PSU board and the media in a more respectful manner. It took courage to expose what was obviously on most of the attendees minds. To pretend that there was nothing amiss would have been bizarre.

How we deal with “elephants in the room” is extremely important in both writing and psychotherapy. The essence of creating good fiction is creating conflict, and the essence of good therapy is exposing and removing conflict.

Pat Conroy is a master at creating “elephants in the room” and then exposing them. The Catholic Church and how it relates to his “saintly” mother, in South of Broad, is a fascinating study in how to deal with a life-and-death secret. In Chasing Backwards, Art Smukler’s main character shows how his life depends on exposing the “elephant in the room” that his mother never divulged. Secrets are always fun to read about.

In fiction, how we deal with “an elephant in the room” can make or break a novel’s effectiveness. In real life, it’s usually more helpful to call an elephant an elephant and learn to deal with the roaring and potential stampede.

How do you deal with “elephants in the room”? Any advice? Any examples?

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5 thoughts on “HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH AN ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM? by Art Smukler author and psychiatrist

  1. This is your Best Post Ever! There have been so many times in my life when the elephant has never been addressed. It is such a complex issue!


  2. “Exposing and removing conflict.” Easy to to say. Challenging to attempt in an open forum. I enjoy helping clients find the “elephants” and review the POVs on alternative sides. Soon the unreasonable or emotional issues find their way to the bright light.


  3. In writing it is better to sneak up on th elephant (preferably with a spade of any name) You don’t start out by shouting ‘Look an elephant’ or your reader stops reading at that point. The book I’m writing at the moment needs Sam to realise that the murderer is his half brother so I have to tease him with snippets of information which all together lead up to the conclusion.
    In that way you are, hopefully, teasing your reader as well although they are going to be told eventually it’s noce for them to be able to work it out themselves just before Sam’s ‘OMG’ moment.
    In real life Rich is right, most of us go by whatever the situation is and our relationship to the owner of the elephant. Sometimes it’s just easier to say nothing and wear boots for a while.


  4. I am sometimes conflicted about when and whether to call a spade a spade. As a professional mediator, it is my job to point out weaknesses and strengths in a case in order to move parties to a compromised position. Yet, when in a personal setting with friends or associates, I sometimes let things pass to “keep the peace”. Obviously, there are times when things have to be said. There is no hard rule for me, more intuition.


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