- Factors that relate to one’s existence.
- One’s confrontation with the human condition.
- Recognizing that life is at times unfair and unjust.
- Recognizing that ultimately there is no escape from some of life’s pain or from death.
- Recognizing that no matter how close one gets to other people, one must still face life alone. Basic isolation.
- Facing basic issues of life and death and thus living life more honestly and being less caught up in trivialities.
- Learning that one must take ultimate responsibility for the way they live their life no matter how much guidance and support one gets from others.
- Responsibility for constructing one’s own life design.
- The capricious nature of existence. Contingency.
- Recognition of mortality- humanity, death, transience.
- Consequences for the conduct of one’s life.
- Seeking life meaning despite a universe without intrinsic meaning.
What are psychological blind spots??
A psychological blind spot (PBS) is a part of our mental life of which we are unaware of, potentially including impulses, beliefs, motives, emotions and prejudices that operate unwittingly and that may influence our everyday behaviour and conscious experience. They can include life-defining relationships or core beliefs that are integral to a person’s being beyond what a person explicitly understands or expresses.
An area of unawareness is part of one’s mental life which existentially is but remains unknown and can present as a latent, unreflective intentionality and inherent lack of awareness. A PBS remains hidden from our thoughts and does not show itself readily. It is an area of ignorance in which one’s awareness is obscured. It may be defined as a prejudice, or a subject area, of which one is often unaware or may refer to the characteristics that others consensually attribute to a person, which the person is not aware in relation to her/himself (self-perception) or his/her reputation (metaperceptions). They may consist of hidden weaknesses or hidden strengths that are beyond one’s awareness.
Psychological blind spots may include informational barriers such as implicit attitudes, latent self-views, unconscious bias or motivational barriers, such as coping mechanisms or ego defences. PBS can lie hidden behind one’s routine, dogmas, fixed beliefs and values, including suppressed experiences. They may include part of the psyche which contains thoughts, experiences, memories, motives and psychological material that have been forgotten, or repressed into the unconscious domain (Kahn, 2002).
Psychological blind spots may emerge via a deliberate process which is itself misdirected and, at other times, habitually ignored. Lack of self-awareness is one of the reasons why blind spots thrive; that is, we are unaware that we are deceiving ourselves. There are gaps in our self-knowledge and that some blind spots are due to a lack of information or cognitive biases. Blind spots are easy to detect in others’ behaviour, but that when people introspect, they largely fail to detect the unconscious processes that are the source of their own blind spots (Ehrlinger et al., 2005; Pronin et al.,2004; Wilson, 2002).
My doctoral research has highlighted the fact that there are many blind spots in self-knowledge and that they can have negative consequences on the self and on others. Previous research studies asked successful clients to rank 60 factors in therapy according to the degree of helpfulness. The research concluded that the single most frequently chosen item was, by far, “discovering and accepting previously unknown or unacceptable parts of myself” (Yalom, 1968, p. 354; Lese & McNair, 2000).
Types of psychological blind spots
- Eclipse of Awareness
The findings established that omitted or suppressed emotions manifested as psychological blind spots. All of the therapists experienced the concept of hidden or “implicit fear” and “latent anger” as a prevailing psychological blind spot. Interpretations from some of their narratives included, “projected fear” “unbeknownst fear” “passive aggressive” and “concealed or invisible anger”. Many of their clients were not aware of certain fears. According to Hawkins, (2019) fear is simply pushed out of our awareness and quickly suppressed so that we do not even realise it is there. Furthermore, if we do not examine it with honesty, we will believe that fear is coming from the world and that we have nothing to do with it (Hawkins, 2019).
- Safeguard Self
Therapists stated that at times, we need blind spots to survive or to live or to cope. It can be as a coping mechanism that people choose to avoid or suppress, that is valid and vital. Therefore timing and resources are paramount before the disclosure of some blind spots.
“Evasion of truth” was evidenced in the findings as therapist’s experience of a psychological blind spot. This manifested in the findings as avoidant behaviour and evasion of thoughts or emotions. A further finding that was established in the data was the notion of a blind spot presenting as a form of “counterfactual thinking”. This is where therapists understood their experience as a form of “positive illusion” or “denial”. They experienced it as a rejection of the full truth of the situation.
Palmer (1998) states that our placement of attention determines how we perceive the world however, the sobering reality is that the assignment of attention is largely habitual. Furthermore, previous studies have shown that low self-focus was associated with automaticity (Silvia & Duval, 2001).
Participants interpreted their understanding of psychological blind spots as being hereditary. Several therapists felt that a blind spot was inherited from previous generations (McGovern, 2020).
- Polarised Perspectives
The current findings add to existing research by demonstrating how various participants noted that “preconceptions”, “ignorance” and “subjective opinions” presented as blind spots of which people were not aware (McGovern, 2020). “Concealed judgement” presented as a form of “tunnel vision”, “social prejudices” and “narrow mindedness”. Several therapists experienced psychological blind spots as implicit attitudes and a non-conscious resistance to a different perspective.
The research further exposed therapists’ lived experience of a blind spot as a form of attribution. Further depth of knowledge from new qualitative information manifested through the use of metaphorical language, such as “The enemy is within not without–everyone is my mirror”. This metatheme emphasised therapists’ understanding of a blind spot as viewing aspects of other people which are an unconscious reflection of themselves.
Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves. (Jung, 1961/1995, p. 275)
• Familial Opacities
All of the psychotherapists in the current research experienced psychological blind spots as a type of familial opacity. The notion of “taking on somebody else’s behaviour” or “swallowing down others’ beliefs or values” emerged in relation to the therapists’ understanding of blind spots within a family context. Their interpretations included the theme “Childhood conditioning”, where one took on another’s beliefs or values unwittingly.
This finding concurs with that of Cramer’s (2012) study, which found that parents are our first and most powerful objects of identification. Identifications or introjections involve taking on another’s attitude, thoughts, belief, values or behaviour as one’s own (MacIntyre, 2004; Cramer, 2015). By taking on the qualities, attributes, opinions and values of others, the individual gains a sense of belonging, and thus avoids insecurity, bolstering self-esteem. These are developed in early childhood development from the behaviours of those closest to us.
The findings highlighted the literature further, with therapists’ understanding of a blind spot as an interpersonal template. Participants disclosed that “relationship patterns developed within the family unit were a big blind spot” and that many “parallels between past and present relationships” existed without their awareness. The therapists viewed an interpersonal relationship through the lens of principles by which they have learned. This finding resonates with that of Kahn (2002), who states that themes and templates are formed at childhood and that the rest of our lives are variations and developments of those themes. Stern et al. (1998) and Lyons-Ruth et al., (1998) have been central in drawing our attention to “implicit relational knowing”. According to Lyons-Ruth, the construct of “implicit relational knowing” encompasses normal and pathological knowing, integrating behavioural and cognitive dimensions (as cited in Boston Change Process Group, 1998).
My Empirical Truths for Peace of Mind
1 Discipline your mind. It’s a choice.
2 Create awareness of your Ego. Embrace your Essence.
3 Become the witness/observer of your thoughts. Commit to refusing futile/negative thoughts.
4 What you hold in mind tends to manifest (Hawkins, 2011).
5 Language reflects thoughts which influences behaviour. Be aware.
6 Think good thoughts; speak positive language in the present tense.
7 Guilty ‘shoulds’ and repetitive regrets are pointless. Let them go and commit to making a better choice next time.
8 Notice the narrative you are telling yourself. Challenge it.
9 Create awareness of your core beliefs. Input new software the other is often obsolete.
10 Live in the present moment.
11 Stop thinking; notice nature.
12 Connect with your body and breath. Seek out a good yoga teacher. Learn the art of yoga.
13 Seek out a spiritual space. Surrender, pray, connect with your higher consciousness. Find a way to pray that feels right for you.
14 Habituate Awareness.
15 Understand the difference between living subjectively and living objectively.
16 Create a space between stimulus and response. It is always a choice to think or act.
17 Think of the bigger picture.
18 Know that life is long and you are never too old to become who you were always meant to be.
19 Reflect on your true purpose in life (not your Ego).
20 You have choices everyday to move towards manifesting your truth.
21 In life there are two choices. Anything worth doing is hard.
22 Take Responsibility for your choices.
23 Ask yourself honestly what your motive is.
24 Stop judging; Stop comparing, self and others.
25 Appearance is not Essence (Hawkins, 2011).
26 Remember you are much more than your body.
27 The measure of your worth is more than the size of your skirt; you are much more than your body!
28 Don’t objectify your body. Be the example of a healthy balance.
29 Encourage rigorous honesty with self. Try harder. Look deeper.
30 Everybody is your mirror. The enemy is within not without. Be mindful of projections.
31 Celebrate other’s achievements and success.
32 Care less about what others think about you.
33 Be of use to another. Give your time.
34 Live life freely and spontaneously.
35 Best things in life are free (Cheesy but true).
36 Swim in the sea.
37 Eat organic. Less plastic- less preservatives- support local.
38 Be grateful for the small stuff. Cultivate daily gratitude.
39 Getting your needs met is not selfish. It's self-care.
40 Be the friend that you’d like to have. Be honest. Be non-judgemental. Be open. Be real.
41 If somebody is not in your heart they’re in your head. Learn forgiveness/acceptance to live with peace in your mind.
42 Remember life is precious and to be enjoyed!
Fear, worry and anxiety
A mind not to be changed by place or time. The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven (Milton, 1608)
With the recent announcement of the covid 19 pandemic in mainland Europe a prevailing sense of fear has manifested. As the Taoiseach stated in his national address fear is a virus itself. At an unprecedented and anxiety provoking time as this I refer to research and historical figures who have overcome great personal fears and anxieties in their lifetime. The first who comes to mind was the visionary and Holocaust survivor Dr. Victor Frankl. Within the confines of the concentration camp he managed to challenge his fearful thoughts and not only overcome them but find a sense of freedom and peace of mind. His infamous quote referenced in Man Search for Meaning sum up his philosophical outlook; “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way”. The fear of a specific fear such as covid 19 is clinically valuable, and is of practical use in one’s life, but it does not alter who one is mentally. We too can be the source of fear and it is important that we become aware of how we project it onto the world. Hawkins (2019) states the essence of pure fear comes from within and therefore willingness is essential to own that we are the source of fear.
How does one overcome fear and anxiety?
The human dilemma is that which arises out of a man’s capacity to experience himself as both subject and object at the same time. Both are necessary- for the science of psychology, for therapy, and for gratifying living (May, 1967, p.8).
According to Victor Frankl, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves”. To overcome fear, worry and anxiety it is helpful to dis-identify (not dissociate) from the negative emotion. One can do this by fostering objective self awareness. Therefore, we do not try to handle fear at its level of expression or extension into the world (Hawkins, 2009). Instead, we attempt to heighten our personal awareness becoming conscious of that which we are, which is greater than the fear, and learn how to remove ourselves from the emotion so that we can experience that we are more than our fear.
We have to learn to look away from the thoughts and instead deal with fear at a feeling level. To eliminate negative emotions it is important to let go of their associate mental images that attract and amplify associated emotions. According to Glasser (2016, p.37), it is a great challenge to control feelings but one can control their behaviour of which acting and thinking are most important. “Every thought that comes into your head and every physical action....is a choice” (Glasser & Glasser, 2007, p.24). Discipline is needed here. Just refuse the image and cancel the temptation to indulge in it. Useless I choose to change what I do and think, I will not change what I feel. Fearful thoughts and anxieties are primarily based on future worrisome thoughts. A fearful feeling will engender millions of fearful thoughts (Hawkins, 2019).We actually have to look below the feeling to the energy field out of which the feeling is originating and then learn how to handle fear directly (Hawkins, 2019). Radical truth allows one to experience the feeling of fear and not attach to the thoughts or concepts that one is projecting onto the experience. We become the witness observer of our own feelings and through awareness comes choice to change. “Paradoxical intention consists in a reversal of one’s attitude towards their symptom to enable them to detach himself from their neuroses” (Frankl, 1960b, p.534). The person is encouraged to face their fear and seek acceptance. The pathogenic fear is replaced by a paradoxical wish (Frankl, 1966a p.255). The purpose is to enable one to develop a sense of detachment toward their neurosis. Acceptance and humour ameliorate this challenge.
According to American author and professor of psychiatry, Irvin D. Yalom, the experience of existential isolation engenders a highly uncomfortable subjective state, and similar to any case of dysphoria is not tolerated by the individual for long (Yalom 1931, p. 363). The defenses must work interminably to eliminate or ignore the feeling of isolation. Many people cannot bear this. Yet to be alone with the Self is the highest and most decisive human experience – one must be alone to find out what it is that supports oneself when they can no longer support self (Von Franz, 1975). Only this experience can give one an indestructible foundation (Von Franz, 1975).Yalom (1931) asks how does one shield oneself from the dread of ultimate isolation? One may take a portion of the isolation into oneself and bear it courageously, or to reference Heidegger ‘resolutely’ (Yalom, 1931).No relationship can eliminate isolation. Each of us is alone in existence (Yalom, 1931). However, we are also aware that no man is an island and we most definitely do need each other as an emotional or mental support if nothing else.
Self-efficacy refers to ‘beliefs in one’s capabilities to organise and execute the courses of action required producing given attainments” (Bandura, 1993, p.3).
Taking time to reflect and self-talk is important. Self-talk including affirmations and positive thinking are useful to surrender and let go of fears. Journal –keeping is good practice in facilitating self-reflection. Mindful living including hobbies such as, reading, singing, movement to music, walking, yoga, art, cooking, gardening, connecting with nature and /or a pet, even getting physically engaged in housework all have a grounding function and aid self-regulation. Finally, Frankl confronts coping with tragic events, as often shifting the focus onto meaning and proper attitudes. Viktor Frankl’s approach focuses on a search for meaning and purpose that helps others triumph over tragedy. Upon rigorous reflection what we will find is that every fear ultimately leads to the fear of our mortality. The only protection is owning that we are the source of our own experience, that we are the master of it, that we can handle it, and that we are greater than it. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) focuses on one’s automatic negative thoughts (See on resources page CBT work sheets). Letting go of the worst-case scenario is extremely beneficial. With the quieting of emotionality that is consequent to acceptance, the way is now clear to facilitate the use of reason, discernment, and the intellect without interference from a stressful feeling, such as fear of survival.
People will be challenged to view their reality from a different perspective. They will be challenged to re-evaluate their lives and prioritise what really matters. I feel sure that some good can come from the crisis if we take responsibility for ourselves and how we relate to others. I am reminded of an apt quote form Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed it’s the only thing that ever has”. However, knowing what is best for you does not always lead to behavior that is congruent with this knowledge (Alberts et al., 2011). Continue to make the rights choices in relation to your thoughts, behaviours and interpersonal contact. This crisis will force many to stop and take stock. Akin to any experience out of our comfort zone it will be painful and difficult. Focus on the choices you have in the here and now. Tolerating uncertainty and staying focused in the present moment are not done lightly. It will demand great strength of character. Use this time to dig deep and connect with a higher level of consciousness within, where one can find the capacity to rise above the situation. I don’t doubt that we will overcome this virus and when we do we will appreciate life in a new light. Simple pleasures and the freedom that we inherited will be valued in a real way. That can only be a good thing. There are certain teachings that say there are really only two emotions -love and fear- all negative feelings below love are nothing but variations of fear, such as, fear of loss or fear of mortality. We have the capacity to let the fear of fear go, as well as fear itself, and move into the presence of love.