Delusion and the Pursuit of Personal Growth

I often talk about delusion as a major block to being able to see the world, and ourselves, clearly.

The official definition of delusion is, “a belief that is firmly maintained despite being thoroughly contradicted by fact or reality.”

Delusion is a natural tendency of the human mind for two very good reasons. First, we are emotional creatures and emotion puts filters in front of everything, shading our ability to be logical. Second, we humans often think in shortcuts. We construct rules of thumb about the world that become our default filter in all similar situations.

The terms used in psychology to describe these two things are:

1: The emotional hijack. When our emotional reactions around something keep us from being logical and shade the truth.

2: Heuristics. Rules of thumb we create in our minds to categorize certain situations.

The deluded brain:

Emotional reactions and heuristics served a protective role through our evolution and still do. It is not that they are bad; in fact, they are highly valuable aspects of our survival programming. However, they also can cause us to get things very, very wrong. Apparently, we do this all the time.

Here is an example:

Imagine you are having a conversation with your significant other. She/he grew up in a family that was not very warm, but rather more cutting, combative and sarcastic.

You grew up in a family where things were more warm and friendly. As a result, you are more thoughtful and sensitive.

You say something, she/he replies and it sounds rude, dismissive or degrading. But was it really? It certainly could be, but is there a chance you just perceived it that way due to your natural tendency towards delusion?

Maybe, because of your mental heuristics, you categorize people like this as cruel and cold. That may be a good rule of thumb for most, but is it in this situation? Do you categorize others the same way?

As a result of this mental shortcut, and because we are emotional creatures, you feel hurt as well.

The combination of your mental rule of thumb, regarding comments like this, AND the emotional hit renders you unlikely to accurately interpret what your partner actually meant, and perhaps, even what they said.

This “glitch” of our brains is behind all manner of misunderstandings, assumptions and communication issues.

Many people are operating so strongly from these mental shortcuts that they may inadvertently put their partners and/or friends in categories that are untrue and destructive to the relationships.

An example would be, a woman whose mental rule of thumb pegs all men as untrustworthy; or a guy who labels all women as insecure.

Things can really head south when one partner gets labeled something they can’t escape from because their partner has taken this mental shortcut and classified them as lazy, spineless, inconsiderate or whatever.

Maybe these things are true and maybe they are not. The trick is to see through delusion to the facts.

Delusion is so powerful, your partner could be considerate and caring nine times out of ten, but your mental heuristics and emotional reactions make it so you only recognize the one time they are not.

We rarely speak in these terms, but it is the stories you are unaware you are telling yourself that destroy relationships, and keep you stuck in old patterns again and again.

How to know:

To be sure, delusion is a bell-shaped curve. Meaning too much emotion and wrong heuristics is not a great thing. But they play a role too, so you would not want to be without them.

The trick is having tools at your disposal to uncover where you might be running these automatic mental shortcuts and how they are getting in the way.

One way to know is, if you hear the same complaints from different people, at different times in your life. Or you experience the same patterns again and again.

If you find yourself getting laid off from jobs again and again; that is a sign it is you, and NOT your coworkers.

If you hear from different people again and again that you are argumentative and don’t listen well; you might want to take the hint.

If you are told, you are a poor communicator, mean and insensitive by many people in repeated relationships; it just might be you.

Relationships to the rescue:

Your relationships with others provide the mirror to your delusion. If you are willing to look all the insight, into yourself, is found from others. You need only develop the observation skills and ask.

It is important that you understand one critical point:

All humans have their filters, and often theirs are every bit as distorted and emotionally volatile as yours.

This is why you must always consider the source and the circumstance. Obviously, you can be a sweet, considerate person to most everyone, but have a person in your life whose own heuristics and emotional baggage peg most people, including you, as cruel and inconsiderate. You vet their correctness by looking to see if anyone else sees you that way and how others see that person.

Humans are our psychological mirrors; just make sure the person you are looking at isn’t a window in disguise. This is why we must seek feedback from multiple sources, and consider the sample.

If you seek feedback only from your romantic exes, you are going to get a specific type of feedback. If you seek it from your peers or family, you will get a different type.

Knowing the source helps you hone in and determine what you want to uncover, and where you want to improve.

The feedback survey:

It is hard getting honest thoughts from people. They often are not 100 percent candid due to social norms. We are strange creatures, who gossip behind people’s backs versus just telling them how we feel. Gossip has some use, but can be destructive to relationships. It is a behavior you may want to learn more about. If so, read this blog on gossip.

In order to circumvent this issue, I use an anonymous survey. I send this out to friends, peers, coworkers and family. I usually send it out around my birthday, both because my birthday is my yearly reflection day, AND I see this feedback as the most valuable gift I can be given.

Here is a link (click here) that I just sent out to 50 or so of my friends and family, who I love and trust enough, to care what they have to say. I purposely include those I have had strained relationships with.

I have had clients send similar surveys to specific groups of people in their lives. Sending something like this to your past five exes may be asking for some of the most horrific and difficult feedback you can get, but if you can look past the individual responses and find a pattern, you have the opportunity to change your life in huge ways.

Notice how there are just a few questions and they are open-ended so they can elaborate. You want this short and open.

A word of warning:

If you are highly sensitive, this may not be the tool for you. People are often far freer with their critiques than with their praise. Especially, when it is anonymous.

If you ask for feedback, you are going to get it. Old hurts will be on full display, and there is a good chance, one or a few of your targets will let you have it. In fact, those who have a bone to pick with you will be the most happy and vocal to tell you what a complete asshole you are.

You will NOT like what you hear and you MUST understand: you do NOT send something like this to be told how great you are. This survey is about getting very, very uncomfortable. Anytime you seek to confront your own delusion and blind spots, you are asking for something most people simply can’t stomach.

Remember though, this is for growth. Most people never think to send something like this because they operate from a world where the problem is always “out there.”

Realizing you are the common denominator in your life, and that delusion keeps you blinded, is why this exercise is useful. It has the potential to wake you up.

It also allows you to see the types of people you will want to quickly recognize, and avoid in the future. One person out of fifty who sees you in a way no one else does? Yeah, that is about them and NOT you. This exercise helps you uncover where your issues start and end, and when theirs begin.

It’s patterns you are looking for. A single rant about what a bitch or dick you are is about that person, not you; but a stream of rants, and similar repeated, feedback and themes? That is you, my friend.

Remember, self-development is very much like the pursuit of physical fitness. It’s a value system people have, or don’t have. Many people don’t care to work out and support their physical health. Likewise, many could care less about the pursuit of self-actualization.

This pursuit is for you and your personal growth. Others should not be judged if they are not ready, or even interested in looking at their shit.


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