Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


The Closed Mind

Why does it close, and how does it open?

Each of us knows at least one person whom we would say has a closed mind. Bias, bigotry, misogyny, xenophobia, and homophobia are all examples of closed-mindedness. When one’s mind is made up, there is no changing it. But there are other forms of closed-mindedness—for example, religious fundamentalism (regardless of the particular religion) is also a form of closed-mindedness. Fundamentally, what closed-mindedness does is shut out the possibility of original thinking.

The closed-minded person is not allowed to question her own beliefs. Such questioning allows a person to center on her own authentic self and to come to terms with—not what she has been taught to believe—but what she actually believes. Belief is very, very important, for it is upon belief that we formulate our lives. It is on belief that we build the foundations of our lives.

Source: Andrea Mathews
The Opening.
Source: Andrea Mathews

Original thought is a thought or belief that comes from the center of our essential being. Many, many of our thoughts originate externally. Someone has told us how to think, and so we just think that way without ever questioning the validity of such thoughts or beliefs. Original thinking generates ideas that hold water, not because they are right so much as because they are real. Original thinking allows us to fly free from the constraints of our own bias, see through it to creative, problem-solving beliefs

On the other hand, it is fear that generally keeps the mind closed. Often the fear is based on the idea that one must be right in order to be OK. It is not safe to be wrong. Therefore, once an idea is grasped, one must hold on to it, for fear that to question it might prove one wrong and thus unsafe.

Unfortunately, closed-minded people can take positions of power over others—thus training others to likewise have closed minds. Parents who have closed minds often train their children to believe as they believe—and will even go so far as to outright reject a child who does not agree with their beliefs. There are many LGBTQ adolescents who are homeless right now, because they challenged the beliefs of closed-minded parents. What was hoped, in these cases, by the parents, was that their closed-mindedness would create an equal set of closed minds in their children. When it doesn’t work that way, the parents are outraged and simply get rid of the whole problem by kicking their children out of their homes.

There are many who operate out of a closed mind as a coping mechanism for a deep-seated fear that they cannot even access, because to explore their own minds might be too frightening. The open-minded person is willing to explore his own mind and even find that he’s been wrong about something and self-correct. The closed-minded person is unwilling to do this. Being wrong is simply not safe. Being right at all times about all that matters is the way to feel safe. Even if one must resort to illusion or delusion in order to hold on to the belief that one is right and thereby safe, the closed-minded person may do so.

For this reason, trying to talk the closed-minded person out of a closed mind is not likely to succeed. Arguing, trying to prove your points, these are methods that are likely to fail. Rather, facilitating a safe zone for this person, in which safety is the primary interactive tool, might mean that the closed-minded person will ever so slowly begin to explore his own mind. When, for example, a white person biased against their darker-skinned brothers and sisters meets and begins to formulate a safe relationship with a darker-skinned person, he may begin to open some.

The problem is that because safety is the biggest issue here, this bias will generally not allow such a comradeship to occur. Therefore, we must continue to facilitate the openness of society necessary to allow for such engagements—interactions necessary to the living experience of working, buying, and generally intermingling with the world must continue to occur. We must not allow for the shutting down of these opportunities to engage. If we go backward in time, by shutting out certain marginalized individuals from the capacity to interact with others—including the closed-minded—we simply increase the possibility for more closed-mindedness.

More from Andrea Mathews LPC, NCC
More from Psychology Today