(You can't live very safely if your head's up your _____.)
The title of this post conveys a rude image, but I find it sadly and uncomfortably true. In pondering my own recent disappointments in life and establishing safety in trauma recovery, I found myself looking squarely at my own cognitive biases. And I realized that you can't see and hear if you've buried your head away somewhere, even if it is self interest.
“Cognitive” refers to thinking ability, and when teamed with “bias,” it refers to errors in our thinking that result in faulty judgements and poor decisions. The good news? We expereince them as a function of our humanity, and they don't seem much like biases or errors when we fall into them. And if you think about it, a life well lived might just be the long process of “pulliing our heads out” over the course of our lives concerning all sorts of sundry matters as our world and our experiences expand.
While we need to “fly from the dream squashers,” we also need to manage the task of keeping our feet on the ground, too. If we grew up in a high demand home, we very likely saw little of this kind of balance modeled for us, so we must learn it without our family's safety net in our adulthood.
Wisdom to Know the Difference
What do we do first? We focus our attention and our actions primarily on those things that we do have the power to control or change. We need to develop a balanced and realistic appreciation of locus of control – and that serves as the most basic element of safety and stability. If we've exited a high demand relationship or grew up in one, we might not even understand what is or is not within our realm of control. We may have believed the illusion that we're a victim of circumstances, have no choice or that we only have bounded choice. If we're battling chronic trauma, we may feel especially powerless.
We can also over and underestimate ourselves and our influence – so that is why the management of ignorance becomes so important to us. (See this previous post about types of ignorance – a very human trait of a lack of understanding.) That is also why educating oneself about the nature of our humanity can be so helpful. We can work to develop the most realistic view about who we are and how we fit into life to combat these human problems and to avoid the high costs of the hard pitfalls.
He (or She) Who Will Not See
An interesting thing happened to me as I sat down to look at material on this topic. Inaccurate memory proves to be on the most difficult cognitive biases that sneaks up on us, so it's always good to look at a reliable, fixed source. I definitely identified the errors that I notice in others with whom I share ongoing, frustrating conflict in my review. I didn't expect to recognize bad habits and traits that I make myself which do little but fuel the conflict. There were a few that I don't ever remember stopping to consider in days past.
I say this often, but the amazing thing about our human brain is not the capacity to realize things compared to our remarkable, creative, resilient ability to avoid, forget, miss, and fail to consider those things which cause personal stress, fear, or even just discomfort. That ability proves to be of great protective benefit, and it can also be our greatest curse.
Seeing new inconsistencies in myself becomes a good sign of my own healing....though it feels awful! as my first journey through this looking at safety and stability, I was in too much pain to take in as much as I can now. My world is bigger, and I'm stronger. I don't know that I feel any less disappointed that I'm not more further along in my growth process. Recognizing one's blindness and deafness hurts pride. But knowing that I'm human does soften the blow a bit. I'm strong enough in my own concept of self which partly depends on my own balance of locus of control to see. I have pulled out of some of the illusion of ignorance. The struggle of discomfort means that I'm still growing.
May you grow along with me in posts to come about what it means to be safe and stable and how our blind spots can thwart that process. The best way to begin disarming them starts with understanding what they are.
For further reading until the next post:
- Robert Cialdini's Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion
- Judith Herman's Trauma and Recovery
- Bessel Van der Kolk's The Body Keeps Score
Past Your Past