Thinking errors are plentiful in the human condition and they lead us into patterns of behavior that cause us emotional pain and in some cases can be quite debilitating. As shown previously in this blog Mental Filters can skew reality. They are like a pair of sunglasses that one wears that colors the whole world.
Having Mental filters in place can change the way we look at life. It creates a kind of tunnel vision. We wind up looking at only one aspect of a situation and block out everything else. It’s as though we are in a tunnel and can only see reality one way. For me, this immediately brings to mind Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Plato describes a cave inhabited by prisoners who have been imprisoned since childhood. These prisoners are chained in such a way that their legs and necks are fixed, forcing them to gaze at the wall in front of them. Behind the prisoners is a fire, and between the fire and the prisoners is a raised walkway. Along this walkway is a low wall, behind which people walk carrying objects and these puppeteers display their puppets. The people walking are behind the wall on the walkway, so their bodies do not cast shadows on the wall, but the objects they carry do. The prisoners are only able to view the shadows cast upon the wall in front of them. It is the vision of the shadow that they think is reality. A mental filter is similar to this. Frequently, the filter makes one’s thoughts particularly awful or negative and this leads to the thinking error of awfulizing. Key words that are a highlight for this negative thinking pattern are “terrible” awful” “disgusting” and “scary.” When we find ourselves saying “I can’t stand it” that is usually a key that we are in a mental filter. Each of us are in our own cave or tunnel. And we look at the world in a certain fashion. If we are anxious, the slightest possibility of danger comes off as incredibly dangerous. Angry people see injustices and insults at every turn. You might get 20 emails on a given day. 19 were positive or neutral and 1 was negative and then we focus on that negative. It is as though we had a pair of sun glasses through which we view the world. The color of the sunglasses colors the world a certain way. This coloring frequently comes from our negative core beliefs.
Our memories are quite selective as well. I have led groups in an inpatient setting and I will go around the room and ask people “tell me about a time when you have been happy” and it’s not uncommon to have people tell me “never.” This is of course erroneous, but in that setting, when facing a serious depression, happiness might seem like the furthest thing away in the world. We need to be on the lookout for this in our daily lives. DO try your best. Aim for the sun and you will at least hit the moon. And when you have failed pick yourself up and dust yourself off and continue to march. No one is perfect. Be aware of the filters that we have at work in our lives. If we are aware of this then we can possibly change this shortcoming in our perspective.
In my years of working as a therapist in Burbank, California, I’ve worked in many different settings. I have consistently come across the reality that many people are saddled with mental filters. They view the world a certain way and cannot deviate from that. Mental Filters are a thinking error that we need to be aware of. When we remove this filter we open ourselves up to numerous possibilities that we weren’t aware of. In the words of Shunru Suzuki, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” We want to avoid being “experts” because this limits our options. Don’t be an expert. Be aware of your preconceived notions and try to see things in a different perspective.