On a morning walk last spring, I happened by an enormous white pick-up truck parked on the street. The truck was so big that the rear view mirrors were almost at eye level. There was a mockingbird pecking and fighting with the passenger side mirror, caught in an intense dual that was clearly real to him. It was spring time, after all, and he was sure his image was another male, challenging his territory.
As I kept walking, I wondered at the fearful reflections and storylines I have saved and continue to mirror from my past. Hurtful experiences, snapshots of a feeling, or an image held in my mind that I fight with and peck at. Projections or worries that seem so real but aren’t true at all.
Emotional reasoning is an irrational way of thinking that says, “If I feel it, therefore it is true.” “It” often is a negative construct that gets laid down in the mind as a truth.
What is so challenging is that many times when I am going through a difficult or upsetting experience, the way I feel in that moment is accurate. If someone says something hurtful to me, it’s appropriate and normal to feel hurt. If a client of mine talks about abuse he or she was subjected to as a child, pain is the logical end result. In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl writes, “An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behavior.”
When we have difficult or hurtful experiences, especially as children, we don’t have the ability to zoom out and see a situation from an observer perspective. And our prefrontal cortex, the part of our brain that reasons and analyzes information, is not fully developed and “on-line” until our late 20s.
The younger we are, the more literally we experience things. A sweet example of this is illustrated in a conversation my ex-partner had with my seven-year niece. She was at the kitchen sink, giving her baby doll a bath, and my ex teased her about how careful she was being with the doll’s head, avoiding getting water in her nose and ears, acting as if the doll was real. My niece dramatically stopped what she was doing, looked at my ex, and very seriously said, “It’s real to me.”
The brain is also wired to notice danger for survival purposes. This was helpful when we had to look out for saber tooth tigers on a daily basis, but can get in the way when we are young (or old) and trying to sort through psychological distress.
So, it is essential to be mindful of when I am allowing an experience to linger and create a negative and more solid belief about myself, because it can in turn seep into and contaminate the water table of my consciousness and current experience. Sometimes there may be a grain of truth in a distorted belief that I need to be motivated to change or address, but it’s the inability to be more objective about the belief itself that hurts me.
To see the bigger picture and not get caught up in the intensity of emotional reasoning is part of the solution. Challenging and changing incorrect beliefs starts with awareness and a sincere question, “Is this belief true?” See Byron Katie’s “Four Questions” at Oprah.com for a practical way to put this principal into action.
May I be more aware of false projections that mock me and learn how to see myself without bias.