Hope for Relationships

The whole-person approach to healing

Patterns of Perception

Are your perceptions self-fulfilling prophecies?

Mary had the perception that she didn’t deserve to be happy.

She grew up in a household where blame was constantly conveyed. Usually, the blame fell on her and she developed the view that happiness was only for those who never did anything wrong. Sensitive to her every flaw, Mary didn’t believe she deserved to be happy.

True to this perception, when Mary got older, she chose to be in relationship with a man who treated her poorly. Instead of waiting and seeking out someone who could truly love her, Mary settled for someone who merely needed her, for a variety of reasons.

Rather than feel guilty at being happy, she chose instead the familiarity of chronic unhappiness. It was hardly surprising when she entered treatment for depression after her eighteen year marriage ended in divorce.

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Internalizing Blame

Mary’s perception that she didn’t deserve to be happy sprang from a life pattern developed in childhood based on internalizing blame for the bad in any situation. Her pattern of life growing up was one of blame and accusation in her family. From this, guilt grew and crowded out any expectation of personal happiness for Mary.

She married a man who didn’t love her, who treated her without respect, because she didn’t feel worthy of anything else. When the marriage ended, Mary felt even worse. She knew her marriage wasn’t the greatest but sank into a deep depression when even that ended in failure.

One of the most significant things Mary experienced in treatment was the restoration of her self worth apart from oppressive guilt. Mary learned she wasn’t a bad person, a failure in life. Even though her marriage was over, Mary began to live life-her life-for the first time.

What Are Your Life Patterns?

Your life patterns are the result of your perception, or view of life, and what you believed would happen. These are often forged in childhood. Once you understand your personal life patterns, you will be better able to discover certain perceptions, and expectations, that led you to either negative or positive actions. If your life patterns are framed in negativity you can be sure your perceptions and expectations were also be negative. The more negatively your perceptions and expectations become, the greater they support any negative life patterns.

Another way to think of these perceptions is as a filter, through which you view the events of your life. Some people, who seem perennially happy, are considered to view life through “rose-colored glasses.” Their filter is weighted on the side of the positive. In depression, life is viewed through “gray-colored glasses.” Life appears negative, oppressive, filled with shadows.

If you have the perception that your life is supposed to always be smooth sailing, the inevitable ups and downs can cause great anxiety. Downs times are not put into a proper perspective because you don’t consider them to be legitimate in your life. Down times are supposed to happen to other people, but not to you. If unprepared to deal with these down times, confusion, frustration, and depression can result.

If you have the perception that you don’t really deserve to be happy, you will filter the events of your life to make sure you aren’t content. Good things will be met with suspicion and bad things will be welcomed as old friends.

If you have the perception that the only way for you to be safe is to be in control, you will have a heightened sense of anxiety over life events. Since people are rarely in total control over their environment, and never in control of other people, this perception leaves a persistent, nagging feeling of insecurity. This perpetual sense of unease can lead to anxiety and depression.

Acknowledging Negative Perceptions

By acknowledging negative perceptions, you can move forward toward a view of life that is neither unrealistically rosy, nor unrelentingly gray. Acknowledging your pace, patterns, and perceptions allow you to control them, altering them to support your optimism, hope, and joy, even when life throws you a curve.

2013 Gregory L. Jantz, PhD, Turning Your Down Into Up: A Realistic Plan For Healing From Depression, WaterBrook Press.

Gregory L. Jantz, Ph.D., founded The Center for Counseling and Health Resources in Edmonds, Washington.

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