PART TWO: Understanding “Unseen Things”

This post is part two of a series: It continues with a line of thinking that began in a previous post: 

So how is it that things which seem so obvious are easily ignored in our day-to-day existence?

This is a question that has burned in my brain since I was a kid.  I recall as a kid marveling at how adept everybody was at colluding with one another to perpetuate the most idiotic bullshit ideas for the sake of some abstract social rules that made no sense to me.  It was as if, I was living in a world which is unseen to others and I was forced to pretend bullshit is truth.  It  starts with personal fears, needs, beliefs and insecurities. It continues with a desire to deny certain unpleasant aspects of ourselves.  It ends as we collude with one another to create an idealized self in an idealized life situation that edits out critical aspects of reality.

As a social outsider, I didn’t understand the random logic of the social politics of high school.

For example, I recall overhearing a conversation my sister had with some friends at our house one evening.  I was in high school and she was about 12-13 at the time.  As the dorkus, I butted heads with her popular-girl ways, (although I’m happy to report we’re doing well today).  At one point, everyone started to give this one girl a hard time for being in band commenting at how dorky it was.  I recall everyone asking her “how could you hang out with that crowd of people?!?”  I marveled at the idiocy of that logic and wondered silently why band people were dorks and according to whom?  I became angry at the fact that nobody called “BULLSHIT” on that thinking.  Why were they so scared?

At school the next day, I usually received more of the same.  There was this “Breakfast-Club-Ish” mentality at the time (it was the 80’s), in which everybody was in the clique.  By the time you hit high school the reputations begin to stick, you are your label and nothing more.  I walked through the school with the intention of remaining unseen.  As the bullied kid, this was my safest strategy.  I spent my days, watching individuals, (who I interacted with on a personal level), transform themselves into a fictional and socially-acceptable version..  These airs were put forth for the sake of “fitting in”.  The rules that guided these fictitious selves were abstract social rules that were also random I saw no logic to it.   These rules dictated who to hang out with, what to be interested in and how to dress.  As I look back on this experience today, the concept of pluralistic ignorance immediately comes to mind:

PLURALISTIC IGNORANCE – “a socio-psychological phenomenon that involves a systematic discrepancy between people’s private beliefs and public behavior in certain societal contexts” (Bjerring, et al, 2014, p. 2445).

At home, there was this strange and stifling culture based on my parent’s preferred defense mechanism: “intellectualization” …

They are college professors who met in medical school.  My father, a quiet nerdy type, was an INTP personality type who lived in a world of logical analysis.  He was passionate about his work as a neurphysiologist who related to emotions as byproducts of neurochemical actions in the amygdala.  My mother, is from the Philippines, and grew up during WW2.  In her culture daily life centered around the family.  Concepts such as harmony and duty took precedence over individuality, pride, or our personal values.  Her way of being was quiet and stoic.  She held herself in this way as a matter of survival, putting outside her awareness those things that were difficult.  Overall, this tendency toward intellectualization in my parents, developed into what (Goleman, 1996, p. 129) describes as character armor:

CHARACTER ARMOR: “Defensive style is a character armor. In therapy, it leads to a typical mode of resistance…Defenses are…attentional ploys…The person’s entire mental apparatus…is shaped in part by his defense strategy….Character armor is the face the self turns to the world.” (Goleman, 1996, p. 132).

Together, they built a familial culture based on personal idiosyncrasies such as these.  My home life was one in which emotions were not expressed.  The goal was to present yourself as intelligent, logical, and pragmatic.  Emotions were managed quietly and we dealt with them by “trying our best to hold it together”.  If you ask them about how they feel, they would say, “doing well”, in their formal and polite manner.  Ask them to describe emotions they get technical and describe how it begins with the intake of sensory information when the limbic system works to assess its emotive relevance.  It continues in the hippocampus which stores memories of emotional events that trigger the amygdala to initiate the fight-or-flight system.  The moral of this story is to utilize your prefrontal cortex….

Hearing explanations like this leaves me saddened by their inability to understand that emotions have an intelligence all their own.  They are what make us truly human and add color to our life experiences.     In his book “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Goleman (1996) notes that “The family constructs a reality through the joint schemas members come to share.  The family’s self-image is one subset of shared schemas, the some total constitute the family’s paradigm.  The topography of the family’s private universe is implicit in routines…in how members take in, interpret and share…information” (p. 173).    As I look back on this familial reality construction, I am reminded of R.D. Laing’s  (1978) Happy Family Game in which he describes the rules which guide our efforts to deny certain aspects of shared experiences:  

  1. RULE #1:  Don’t do it! Don’t Say it! Don’t Acknowledge it!
  2. RULE #2:  Don’t Acknowledge Rule #1!!!
  3. Rule #3:  Do Not discuss existence of Rules #1 & #2!!

 Bullshit is infectious & needs to be treated as a dangerous contagion

In the previous section, I provide examples of unseen aspects of social experience. When you examine these unseen things closely you find that self-deception can become shared.  Others’ bullshit ideas, when unexamined, can become our bullshit ideas.  Bullshit is infectious and needs to be treated as a dangerous contagion.  What do I mean by this?  Here’s my personal theory on how we inherit the bullshit of those around us and consume it blindly….

It starts when we bullshit ourselves.

Self-deception involves the acquisition and maintenance of a belief despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, (plato.stanford.edu, 2016).  The goal is to create a self-perceived reality that we wish to uphold.  Goleman, (1996) states:  “There are, it seems, vital parts of our lives which are, in a sense, missing – blanks in experience….our failure to experience these aspects of our lives…results in an incapacity to bring attention to bear on certain crucial aspects of our reality” (p. 15). In a post titled “Twisted Self-Deception” I make the following comments on the nature of unseen things:

It continues when bullshit creates unseen things in our lives…

Self-deception, is defined by those things that produce anxiety.  Various aspects of who we are and what we experience are too painful to face, so we create a zone of blocked attention.  For example, my sister and her friends were motivated by desire for acceptance.  By focusing only on wanting to fit in, my sister’s friends failed to question the logic or morality of these random social rules that guided their efforts.  In their desire to present a specific image to the world, my parents failed to develop emotionally.  As is the case with all of us, the reality they experience is based on what they attend to.  “Perception is selection” (Goleman, 1996, p. 21)….

We pay a price for repression with a self-fulling prophecy based on this bullshit.

So its clear, based on this description that self-deception is an emotional hot potatoes.  We find unseen things unpleasant and try to pretend they aren’t there.    In a post titled “stages of change” I provide an excellent example of what emotional hot potatoes look like.   If (hopefully) you read this link, you can see that my emotional hot potato was a desire to avoid re-experiencing the ostracism and bullying from my childhood.  Rather than experience this again, I entered a relationship with promises of more in the midst of more of the same.  I was so overwhelmed by unresolved trauma that it became a missing piece in my understand the world.  I became what others said I was and developed relationships with others based on this skewed self-perception.    You can’t solve a problem with the same mindset you had when entering into it.

Finally, blind spots in our thinking infect the relationships we have with others…

There’s definitely more than a grain of truth to the whole idea that like attracts like.   The key to being a bullshit magnet is failing to sort through your own crap.  Its impossible to see and perceive others with any sense of clarity if you’re wearing shit-stained lenses.  The following quote comes from a book “Secrets in the Family”:

“I will attempt to be some of the many important things you want of me, even though some of them are impossible, contradictory, and crazy, if you will be for me some of the important, impossible, contradictory, and crazy things I want of you.  We don’t have to let each other know what these things are, but we will be cross, sulk, become depressed or difficult if we do not keep up with the bargain” (Pincus & Dare, 1978).

References

Bjerring, J. C., Hansen, J. U., Pedersen, Nikolaj Jang Lee (2014). On the rationality of pluralistic ignorance. Synthese, 191(11), 2445-2470. doi:10.1007/s11229-014-0434-1
dictionary.com, (n.d.) Suspension of disbelief. Retrieved from: http://www.dictionary.com/browse/suspension-of-disbelief
Dostoevsky, F. (2014). Notes from the Underground. Broadview Press.
Epstein, L. (1982, October 10).  Roundup of the Usual Suspects.  Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/1982/10/10/books/roundup-of-the-usual-suspects.html?pagewanted=all
Goffman, E. (1959). The presentation of self in everyday life. New York: Anchor Books.
Goleman, D. (1996). Vital lies, simple truths: The psychology of self deception. Simon and Schuster.
Pincus, L., & Dare, C. (1978). Secrets in the Family. Pantheon.
Plato.stanford.edu. (2016, November, 7).  Self-Deception. Retrieved from:  https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/self-deception/
Laing, R. D. (1971). The politics of the family, and other essays (Vol. 5). Psychology Press.
Schreber, D. P. (1955). Memoirs of my nervous illness. New York Review of Books.
Shapiro, D. (1996). On the Psychology of Self-Deception.  Social Research, 63(3). Retrieved from: http://www.communicationcache.com/uploads/1/0/8/8/10887248/on_the_psychology_of_self-deception.pdf
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