Check out this 1 min video before you read on…
(NOTE: it won’t be as effective if you skip ahead first)
Have you noticed how often you are right about people?
Some of that is because we are great at reading people, but sometimes it is also because the filter we have about others makes us NOTICE and INTERNALIZE all the times our beliefs are true and IGNORE and DISMISS all the times they are not. Just like in the video.
This is part of why prejudices, stereotypes, racism and sexism are so difficult to change!
This filter issue is the exact same thing that comes up when we are trying to
change negative beliefs about ourselves too!
If I learned to see myself as smart, I will notice all the times I am on the ball and contributing in “smart ways”. If I learned I was dumb, I will really take in and remember all the times I got a wrong answer or struggled to learn something new. The negatively held beliefs have a more sticking power though! Evolutionary Psychologists think this may be because it seems more important for our survival as a species to know which berry made us very ill vs the one that tasted the best.
We usually see what we are looking for and ignore the rest!
Big picture, this is how it works…
The fight or flight system is that energized and often panicky feeling we get when we feel physically or emotionally threatened. Physically threatened is when we feel intimidated, or someone is being aggressive. Emotionally threatened is anytime we feel NOT SEEN, NOT HEARD and like we don’t MATTER. Examples would be someone being dismissive, ignoring or excluding us, interrupting or talking over us, feeling taken for granted, or if we feel treated unfairly etc. This is the feeling that often leads to us feeling like we need to DO something, and if we have’t had modelling of healthy anger, that energy (which is intended to help us CONSTRUCTIVELY get back to feeling safe), becomes the fuel for poor choices and destructive behaviour, like being verbally aggressive, damaging property or even assaulting others.
Notice it takes a while for us to start to get worked up, since we are not really expecting anything to go wrong and our default belief is that we are going to be ok. When we do get there, we don’t peak very high and we don’t stay there for very long, after all, it is an exception that things went wrong this time! So it isn’t anything huge to stay upset about after the immediate threat is over.
Notice how because we EXPECT bad things to happen, we are always just a little bit below that threshold of loosing it. Not only that, because we expect bad things to happen, we are LOOKING FOR IT, so we are more likely to spike sooner and more often, and will even have a whole bunch of false positives, which others see as “over-reacting”. Once we are triggered, we PEAK HIGHER and stay there LONGER because whatever it was that triggered us just CONFIRMED that the world is dangerous, and we are not safe, so of course we will stay activated longer!!!! We have no reason not to! Everything in us is telling us we have to be EVEN MORE ON ALERT! When we do eventually come down, it is back to that baseline of being just below threshold and in a state of hyper-alert anyway.
The same process seems to happen regardless of the content of our negatively held belief. When we have a negatively held belief that gets confirmed, it understandably has more sticking power than when it doesn’t using this same process and feels like more of a threat! So when we put it all together, the difference between the two looks like this…
When we look at this, it becomes clearer why moving forward from low self esteem or even from our mistakes when we internalized that they have become part of who we are, part of our identity, can be so difficult.
So what do we do about it? After all, if it is hard wired into us, we are at it’s mercy right? NO!!!
PRACTICE changing your filter!
We don’t have to hang on to the one we were given, once we become aware we can consciously work to change them! Start to look for the times and ways YOU were actually in charge of your own safety and sense of worth and focusing on those.
See you next week!