Jason’s Articles

The original writings of Jason B. Fischer, MA, LPC (all rights reserved)

The Illusion of Negativity

The human mind can be easily deceived sometimes. In its perennial effort to accurately interpret our world, it is unfortunately prone to making some serious mistakes. This is exceedingly evident in the case of optical illusions, were the mind is tricked into believing something is true that, in fact, is false. The image above, for instance, is completely static and unmoving, made by colors and patterns fixed in space. Is this what you see?

Of course not! You see movement where there is none. (This is a jpeg, not a video, I promise.) Our minds are simply not as reliable as we like to believe them to be, which can severely complicate how we live our lives, and how we understand the truth about the lives we are living. In this article, I examine one of the biggest illusions that we all fall prey to, especially in relationships. To explain, simply look at the the image below.

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What do you see? What’s the first word that comes to mind? Undoubtedly, the word is “good”. Now, let’s say that this is an objective, but simplified, illustration that depicts your life in general. Although I’m not a huge fan of us judging individual moments as good versus bad, for sake of discussion, let’s rely on these terms. In real life, we have “good” (happy, peaceful, content) and “bad” (frustrated, unharmonious, discontent) moments both and, as hard as this may be to see sometimes, the “good” far exceeds the “bad”. This is exactly what this illustration displays. Although the word “bad” appears a full ten times in the image above, the overall interpretation of the whole is that the sum total is “good”. The “bad” may not even be noticed at all! Since in this image the words good and bad are favored equally (they are the same size and style of font), our minds average what it sees to draw a conclusion. In this example, you see the general picture as “good”–despite the ten “bad” anomalies.

In real life, however, this isn’t how we operate. We do not put equal stock in our “good” and “bad” moments. Instead, we put infinitely more weight on the bad moments, seeing them as infinitely more pivotal and relevant than those moments that are good. We do this, I presume, because we like to believe that our lives should be completely and utterly devoid of that which is “bad” (not what we want). Of course, this is kind of an absurd notion, simply because life is never going to be all-good or all-bad. Given the fact that we put so much more emphasis on bad moments, the way we tend to view our lives often looks like this:

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Now, what’s the first word that comes to mind? Bad, of course! And this is exactly what happens to us in real life, especially during trying moments of discord or upset in a relationship. While in a state of distress, we cease viewing our lives from the objective perspective of the first image and instead fall for the optical illusion presented above. We let all the “good” fade into the background while the bad stands out in bold, large, upper-case font in our minds. We think about the totality of our current relationship, in an attempt to assess it, and what do we see? We see…

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Noooooooooooooooooooooo! This is us being hoodwinked! This is us (our minds) being victimized by a cognitive distortion that separates us from objective reality and dupes us into believing that something that isn’t true is true. This is a truly dangerous phenomenon, yet not an uncommon one. In fact, I’m certain you’ve experienced this in your own life on one or more occasions. (I know I have.) It happens most often while we (or others) are upset and in the throes of a “bad” moment. All of a sudden, objectivity goes right out the window and none of the good remains memorable. We (or others) see only the bad and fights occur. We fight with others or others fight with us because, while our minds are betraying us, we honestly believe that our lives are infinitely worse than they are. And rather than build upon all the positives, we labor to condemn and vanquish that which is negative, convinced (at least during argument) that it is the negative that dominates and now demands our attention. Illusion, illusion, illusion…

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What do you see in the image above? I like this optical illusion in particular because it demonstrates how most of us view our own lives, and everything actually. We rarely perceive perfection in the world around us. We look at ourselves, others, and life in general in a way that we believe is objective and affirm that what we see is truth. Instead of seeing two, perfectly smooth circles, we see “wobbles” (a term used frequently by inspirational speaker and author Esther Hicks when talking about the Law of Attraction). Our minds tell us that the truth is that the “perfectly smooth circle” is clearly otherwise, that it is full of imperfections, curves and irregularities. But, no matter how convinced we may be of the veracity of this perception of ours, what if it actually isn’t true? What if, despite our conclusions about outward appearances, our lives are actually perfect? This has pretty amazing implications, implications surely worth considering. Really, what if?

As hard as it may be, the best way to keep from being hustled by mental misperception is to strive to be fair and honest with yourself about the possibility of another greater truth. Instead of allowing the nuances (the black and white areas within the two circles above) to distort your awareness of reality, aim to view the whole as it actually is (the perfectly smooth circle). Give all the details, all the “good” and “bad” moments, exactly equal weight. If you do, then you’re very likely to see the truth for what it is, noting how the less notorious good moments far exceed the bad and that the sum total of this is, still, something wonderful, a truth worth celebrating, honoring, and building upon even farther. Another thing that will help is to be aware of any use of absolutes during a time of upset, such as “You always….”, “You constantly….”, “You never….”. Such statements are immediate indicators that illusion is trumping reality. Luckily, this can be fixed.

Aim to see the truth. Understand that, whether you like it or not, “bad” moments are not only inevitable, but they’re okay. Give yourself permission to be (perfectly) imperfect sometimes and others this same permission, especially when this person is your partner in life. Seek objectivity, letting the truth be exactly as it is, without distortion. Refuse to let all the good disappear into the background. Doing so would be an amazing gift to both yourself and your partner. Then, instead of getting hoodwinked, you’ll find that just winking (a playful, somewhat flirtatious gesture) becomes an available option. You can wink in this knowing way at yourself, wink at the person you’re angry at or who’s angry at you, and wink at all of life. Wink, understanding the truth that everything as a whole is actually…

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