How Do You View the World? 4 Common But Handicapping Lenses

We all look at life through a certain lens. Is it time to change yours?

Posted Sep 26, 2020

jonas svidras/pixabay
Source: jonas svidras/pixabay

Whether or not you are aware of it or can articulate it, you probably have your own unique filter, a lens through which you view not only yourself but what this stuff of living and life is all about. Obviously, some of this you inherited from your country, your culture, your family. But some of it comes from reacting to your country, culture, and family as well.

We cannot not try and make sense of this thing called life and living. We have to come up with a story and an overall perspective to keep our sanity, to make sense of events, to explain in often the most basic ways why things happen and happen to us the way they do. 

Successfully running your life in the sense of finding contentment, feeling safe in the world, achieving what you want to achieve is at some point about finding that lens, that perspective that works best for you. Fortunately, or unfortunately, you have an overwhelming number of options, some inherited, some chosen. That said, obviously some work better than others in helping us achieve what we desire most.

Here are some of the less-helpful kinds. What they all have at their core is a belief that the world, life, and others are not safe:

Lens #1. Always be on-guard

This is a core belief of many, especially those who grew up with trauma, with chaos, those prone to all sorts of anxiety: It’s you against the world. Often this can be fed by genetics—a long trail of anxiety running through generations. But it can also be fueled or arise from a larger cultural/political trauma—the fate of many immigrants, for example—where so much of life is out of your control, where you don't really know what might happen next.

Or the trauma can be closer to home—a family life where everyday life is chaotic, unpredictable, filled with mental illness, addiction. Lacking structure, safety, security, your only defense as a child is to be perpetually on guard, hyperalert to your parents, their emotions, the environment; you're always looking around corners, always preparing for the worst. You understandably develop a generalized anxiety disorder where the on-switch of your hypervigilance never turned off; even as an adult you continue to expect the worst, continue to look around corners.

Lens #2: Always be in control

Rather than staying anxious, you learned that power can help calm those anxiety waters. If you can get others to do what you want them to do and quell any opposition, or if you focus only on what you can do in a specific way, your world feels less dangerous. 

If this happened in the first 2-3 years of your life, you may develop reactive attachment disorder where it’s you against the world. There's me and there's... me, and I need to take care of me. As a result, you learn to see others less as people you can lean into and trust, but more as objects to manipulate to get what you need, to avoid hurt, to help you survive.

But in less drastic forms, here you may find those who seem to be control freaks, or bullies, narcissists, or those with OCD-type behaviors or eating disorders.

Lens #3: Hold things in, avoid any vulnerability

The world is unsafe so I separate myself from the larger world. You put on a social mask, you avoid any intimacy, you never let anyone in. You internalize your emotions, you accommodate to others to avoid any conflict. You pretend you don’t need anyone; you become the martyr.

Lens #4: Blame yourself

This may be the worst-case option: Any problems, any negative reactions are because of me—others are probably right, I screwed up, it’s always my fault even if I’m not sure what my fault is. The world is unsafe but others are okay. The problem with the world isn’t them but me. The result is often deep depression.

Changing Lenses

While these are some of the common negative lenses that folks can view their lives and living through, like those on a camera, they can be changed. Here are some options to try on:

I am not alone.

It really isn’t me alone against the world but me and… something, someone else. Here is where folks lean into God or a higher power, a therapist, or simply a best friend or partner or even a pet. Someone, something has my back, there is something, someone there that I can, when I need to, lean into.

The key here is to try leaning into that relationship, despite your own instinctive reluctance. Or if you have no one, no something right now, explore, take the risk of finding someone, something that helps you feel less alone. Stop thinking of life as a white-knuckled solo act.

The world is not as unsafe as I believe.

This is about realizing that you don’t have to carry over your childhood views into your adult life. We all have the capacity to feel small, to feel like a 6-year-old, but we can challenge those old ways of thinking—that you are as unlikeable or despicable as you imagine in your mind. That was then, you did your best to survive your past; now you are an adult. You really do have more power, more choices than you feel; others are not seeing you as the 6-year-old you are feeling inside. You can learn to override your past.

But you need to combine these new beliefs with new behaviors: Speak up rather than biting your tongue; act in spite of how you feel so you can find that what you think will happen doesn’t.

I can let go of expectations/control.

Buddhists say that if you live with no expectations you are happy. It is expectations—our thoughts about what might happen, about what we want to happen, how others might react, how we want them to react—that get in our way of living our lives. The little kid kicks in, we worry and strategize, we hold back. Instead act, act now with no expectations.

This is about giving up control of yourself and others to achieve something in the future. This is the stuff of mindfulness; life is now, this moment. Focus on this moment, push back against looking around that corner, what might happen next. You can’t control the future; you can control what you do now, and in some ways that helps you control the future.

Learning and doing this is a process. Just as you want to talk yourself back off the ledge when you feel like a 6-year-old, you want to do the same when you get into the swirl of worry and expectations and things you can't control. Instead ask: Is there a real problem, at this moment, that I need to fix now? What can I control and not control? Is this old stuff, irrational anxiety that I need right now to push to the side and see what happens next? What is important to me?

Then act, act according to your values and positive beliefs, rather than your fears, and then see what happens next. Try to see problems as challenges, opportunities to learn something new, transitions as the start of a new adventure, a new chapter. 

I can change and grow.

All this is about realizing that change, a changing of you is possible. We all come into the world with weaknesses and strengths. Running our lives better is about realizing that we can learn new skills, can learn from experience, that life can get better because we can get better. Life is not static and neither are we—the story you tell yourself is a story you can change. By moving forward in your life you have a better understanding of you and how you need to run your life. 

It will happen. You can change. You can choose how you want to view yourself and your life.