By Dr. Ken Larsen
Our perceptions are what shape our responses to life. It is important to remember that our perceptions are not photographs of the reality outside of ourselves. They are more like drawings that we construct in our mind. We have some choices in how our perceptions are formed, and in turn those perceptions have a lot to do with our mental health and happiness.
I remember the 1964 movie “The Outrage”. Paul Newman plays a Mexican bandit who performs an “outrage” on the female lead. This incident was witnessed by four different people. When asked to testify to what they saw, each reported a totally different incident.
We contact the world around us through our senses. The data that is fed into our brain from our five senses is filtered through our past experiences, what we have learned, what we remember, what we believe, and our values. Each of these filters Is unique to each of us so that even when two people experience the same situation the perceptions that are formed will not be the same. When we realize this and engage in dialogue with others, we can share our perceptions to arrive at a deeper understanding of reality. We can also fall prey to the folly of the six blind men who fought over their perceptions of the different parts of the elephant and never did learn much about the elephant beyond their own limited perception.
We have all heard the question “Is the glass half full or half empty”? The quantity of water in the glass is the same in either case, even though an engineer would say the glass is too big. Aside from that, the perception of the glass being half full or half empty is a matter of choice. Dr. Glasser has pointed out that we choose our own misery. This is one way that illustrates the truth of his wisdom.
In my dental practice I would occasionally have a patient who was nearly paralyzed with fear. If I could establish a trusting rapport, I would help them come to the realization that their fear was a response to an internal perception and not to the present reality. If I could help them “be here now” the fear was dissipated and they would be able to manage their experience in a much better way.
There is a way that we can sort of step back from what is going on in our perceived world to evaluate our perceptions to see if they are helping us get our needs met. We can then make choices in how we are going to handle not only our existing perceptions, but how our perceptions are formed.
Dr. Glasser’s book, Stations of the Mind, is very helpful with what I am discussing here. Especially Chapter 7 “The Orders of Perception”. What we learn about how we process our life experience can and will help us make the choices that lead to better mental health and more happiness.