Whenever we feel insecure, hesitant, or afraid, one of the first places our minds go is to questions like:
We start trying to figure out, “What’s true?”
Last week, I wrote about three kinds of self-trust fundamental to our sense of safety and agency in our relationships, and this week, we are diving into the first of those:
Trusting ourselves to see things clearly.
When we don’t trust our own perceptions, our own way of seeing things; when we wonder if we are really seeing things accurately, we can become riddled with self-doubt, insecurity and confusion.
Our fears filter our experience of the present moment by amplifying our attention to and focus upon possible dangers, and minimizing our attention to what might be going well. If we are used to seeing poisonous snakes on our walks through the wilderness, we are far more likely to be scanning the ground for signs of snakes, than enjoying the views in the distance.
Our brains are heavily influenced by our associations and memories, which frame up lenses through which we interpret reality. If our caregivers would frown and then hit us, anytime a person frowns at us now, we are more likely to have an activated nervous system respond and to interpret the frown as a sign of danger, or see that person as an angry person – even if we know they are just squinting in the sunlight.
The more we’ve been trained to take responsibility for other people’s well being, the more likely we are to view these situations as opportunities to sink into self-analysis: What is wrong with me? What did I miss? How did I not see that? Why didn’t I see that coming? I should have paid more attention; I should have asked more questions.
The more we’ve been trained to believe that our experience is “the” normative, healthy, effective way to be, the more we are likely to see others as “the problem;” thinking things like, How could they do what? What is wrong with them? They are unreliable, untrustworthy, liars, selfish etc.
Whenever we have suppressed or disowned what we see as the “bad parts” of ourselves, we tend to find and judge those aspects in other people – often erroneously thinking we are seeing these qualities in them, while they actually exist in us. For example, we’d like our friend to go on a long walk with us, but they let us know they are tired and need rest and decline the invitation. We then think of them as selfish, when in fact, we are wanting them to sacrifice their well-being to meet our needs … making our desire the selfish one.
When we filter reality through our fears, our interpretations, our projections and our stories of wrongness of self or other, all of these internal events move us away from relational clarity and are likely to lead to more shame and blame, defensiveness and disconnection.
We can become unsure of our sense of reality, disoriented and confused.
If we want to see more clearly, to develop more understanding, we need to slow down and become more conscious of a variety of points of data.
Here are some practical steps that I’ve found helpful in my own journey:
Presencing my raw reaction:
What feelings are being stirred up for me, and how are they filtering and framing up my perceptions of present moment reality right now? Getting connected to my body, my felt-sense in the here-and-now is a foundational step to grounding myself in my subjective experience.
What past experiences is this reminding me of, and how empowered did I feel at the time of that memory? Likely, my emotional reaction right now is at least somewhat tied to what happened to me back then, and is filtering my experience of this moment. Seeing my memories with clear awareness, I get more clarity about what was then and what belongs to now.
What unconscious, automatic predictions am I making about how well or badly this could turn out to be, and how is that filtering my range of what might be possible in this present moment? Watching my imagination predict nightmares and fantasies based on my history helps me return to the infinitely new possibilities that I could choose in this present moment.
Where do you doubt your own interpretations and perceptions of things, and what conversations can you have with yourself and others that could help you get more grounded in your lived experience of this present moment?