This blog is just to bring some interesting ideas from cognitive psychology to your attention. And some of it, may bring some new insights for you.
We like to see ourselves as acting rationally and that our behavior follows our clear thinking. The fact is, our behavior is just too complex to be thought through by our conscious thinking. Let's look at an example. When we enter a room at a party, we don't think, "Okay, how should I behave now?" Rather, we just involve ourselves in the goings on. Yet think about how complex being at a party is. This person is not so close, tell her less. This person is a close friend, tell her more. The party is work-related, so drink less. The party is with old friends, so talk about old times. We don't think and decide these thoughts and behaviors, they just sort of come "naturally."
How else might this "below the surface thinking" affect us? We are more cautious with people who don't look like us--its a built-in bias left over from our evolution as humans. Research even suggests we are more friendly with a warm cup of coffee in our hand because we find it soothing. John Bargh, a noted Yale psychologist, found that if we are sitting in a hard chair, we are tougher in negotiations. He also found that if we holding a heavy clipboard in an interview, we think the applicant is more serious! Again, we didn't think through those things, they are ways we "think" that comes from below our level of awareness.
How is this relevant to our psychological distress or conflicts with others in our lives? Well, once we've created a framework about someone or some others, we create a distorted prism and any new information comes into us through that distortion. We do it politically and we do it with family members. People certainly are prone to do it with their ex-spouses. And we do it with how hard we are on ourselves, harder than we would be with someone we loved. So, perhaps we can step back and be a bit more truly thoughtful, gentle with ourselves and others, ready to take off the distorted prisms we have developed.
As in all my posts, these are not meant to in any way be a substitute for psychotherapy and counseling. Rather, they are attempts to share knowledge that psychologists have developed through their research. If you are reading this because you've been feeling a lot of distress, anxiety, or depression, talk to a mental health professional, talk to your family physician--help is out there. www.stress-resilience.com.