Distorted Thinking

I’ve been writing a resource designed to help all the people who come to this site looking for help to stop being abusive.  I felt God was wanting me to help these people and, as I couldn’t find any similar resource, I decided to create it myself.  It is taking a long time because the more I work on it the more stuff I realise needs to be added so it just keeps getting more comprehensive as I go along.

The latest section I’ve been working on is one about various types of distorted thinking that people are susceptible to which create a lot of problems.  As I was working on the first of these types I realised God might have wanted me to do this project for my own good as well as for the good of others.

The first type of distorted thinking I worked on was one called “Filtering”.  Here is what I have written so far about this type of distorted thinking.

QUOTE

1.    Filtering
Everybody uses filtering.  It’s an essential tool we all need to survive the bombardment of information details that we are exposed to every single day.  We filter out the things we think are not important and take notice of what we think matters.

We filter everything from sights and sounds to experiences.  You should remember details about someones shirt if you spill your drink on it but not the details of all the other shirts you saw that day.  When it comes to shirts our brain filters out everything apart from whether someone is wearing one or not unless there is a reason to notice more.

People who live near railway lines or under flight paths will often tell you they don’t notice the noise and they don’t because the brain eventually registers those particular noises as unimportant and filters them out of consciousness.

If we are sick but doing something exciting we will filter the illness out of our consciousness in favour of excitement and notice the symptoms much less than we do when we have nothing to take our mind off the suffering.

Filtering works both ways though as it uses cues to help us pluck relevant information out of the stream of irrelevant stuff that is passing by.  If you are at a party you will tend to tune out all the other conversations going on around you, for example, but part of you will be alert to any cue that signals you to pay attention.  If someone in a nearby conversation mentions something of interest to you, such as your name, you will notice it and tune in because your name is a cue to the filtering mechanism that the information might be important.

Filtering is, therefore, an essential skill.  We would go mad if we had to try and process all the information that we come into contact with every day.  Filtering allows us to ignore the unimportant and notice what is, or what could be, of importance to us.

This same mechanism can cause problems though.  The person whose favourite shirt was stolen is likely to notice every single shirt they see for as long as the loss continues to bother them.  The person who was forced to move into a house by the railway line might resent the noise and notice it more, not less, as time goes by.  The person who takes note of every twinge and symptom will feel sicker than the person who tries to distract themselves from their illness.

Filtering becomes a major problem, however, when it is used to ignore what is good or positive and highlight all that is bad or negative.  Sometimes we can filter out so much of the good that the negative becomes magnified and seems even worse than it really is.

In extreme cases people can even filter all the good out of good things until they have actually turned a good thing into a negative thing!

The person who has a good friend but desperately wants a partner, for example, might gradually filter out all the positive things about having a good friend and focus entirely on the fact that their friend has a partner until seeing their friend becomes nothing but a painful reminder of their single status.

One of the ways healthy filtering turns into distorted filtering is when we develop beliefs based on negative things that happen to us as children and then use those beliefs to filter reality.

This type of distorted thinking used to be a major problem for me.  As a child I developed the belief that the reason nobody loved me was because I was unlovable.  Once I came to this conclusion I filtered everything through it.  If I met someone who claimed to love me I assumed they were either lying to manipulate me, didn’t know me well enough to realise they could not love me, or would change their mind and stop loving me one day.  For years I believed even my children didn’t really love me and that they would, sooner or later, turn on me and reject me.

Repeated let downs and experiences of being abused trained me to be afraid of letting myself hope or believe anything good could happen to me.  I developed the belief that my happiness could somehow trigger disaster so I began to filter out everything positive in my life and focus on the negatives.  Any positive thing, such as my childrens love for me, that I couldn’t filter out I would deny, discount, or distance myself from to avoid triggering disaster.

Over the years I have trained myself to reject the beliefs I adopted as a child in favour of more realistic beliefs.  I know now that nobody can ever be totally unlovable.  There is such diversity in humanity that it doesn’t matter who you are, what you look like, or what you do at least one person in this world will think you are perfect!

The two main problems with this fact are that you may not feel the same way about them and, if you are psychologically unhealthy, only another psychologically unhealthy person will be drawn to you!

This is why we see people who have grown up being targets of abuse partnering with people who perform abuse and people who perform abuse selecting partners who will tolerate being abused.  They have what I will call matching psychological dysfunctions.

The problem with matching psychological dysfunctions is there is always the chance that one of you will begin to heal and become more psychologically healthy which will throw things out of balance.  If the other person does not work on healing themselves the two will eventually cease to be a good match and the relationship will end.  The person on the receiving end of abuse is the one who is most likely to change because they will be the one who finds the dysfunctional relationship painful.  Pain will always push people into making changes as soon as they have exhausted their stamina and no longer have the ability, or desire, to cope with the pain.

END QUOTE

As I was writing about my own experiences with filtering I began to realise I am still prone to this type of distorted thinking.  I thought I had overcome it but I’m starting to think I’ve only dealt with some of it.

These days I tend to be filtering out the global positives leaving me with a world I don’t want to live in as mentioned in several other blog posts.  I’m not suicidal but I regularly think about wanting to escape this world because of all the horrid things that happen here.

I view the world as riddled with cruelty, corruption, selfishness, greed, evil and so on and I can see now I have been completely filtering out all the positive things this world contains so I thought I should see if I can write an entry that takes that filter off and replaces it with reality.

The reality is this world DOES contain all those negative things but they are not ALL it contains!

When I think of animals I think of all the awful things people do to them ranging from the careless cruelty of neglect that forces a little dog to live its whole life tied up in a back yard with nothing to make life worth living but the few brief moments its owner spares to bring it food and water through to a story about the torture inflicted on cattle when they are being slaughtered in Indonesia that made headlines here in Australia recently.  I think of all the people who get their kicks from watching roosters and dogs kill each other and it makes me want to vomit to know I am sharing a planet with people who LIKE violence, cruelty, bloodshed and the suffering of other living things.

I know there is another side to the story but I have just realised I tend to always filter that out.  Filtering it out means I ignore it.  I don’t accord it the same importance.  I get sick to my stomach thinking about all the people who do terrible things to animals but I don’t feel uplifted, hopeful, grateful and admiring when I think about the people who are working themselves to the bone to rescue animals, prevent or stop cruelty, and try to change the world to make it a better place for animals.

Hundreds of thousands of people work in hundreds of animal rescue organisations or donate their money to ensure these organisations can continue to do their work and I rarely think about that fact or accord it the importance it deserves.

I watch an animal rescue show and see a dog rescued from the backyard where she has spent her entire life.  I see she has never been taken for a walk or given a bath.  I realise her life is almost over, she is old and she has arthritis of the spine, some selfish human being has chained her up in his backyard and carelessly thrown her life away.  She has never had a chance to enjoy life and I am disgusted.

My disgust doesn’t leave any room for me to be pleased that the rescue organisation exists, that they found her, that they took her off the chain, that they gave her a bath, taught her to walk on a lead and found someone willing to take her in and make whatever life she has left a happy time for her.  I don’t register the information that there are breed specific and special cases rescue organisations designed to ensure old dogs or ill dogs don’t have to be put down.

I filter out the good and it makes the bad seem that much worse.

I read about the cruelty inflicted on Australian cattle when they are being slaughtered in Indonesia and was disgusted to think of people making a living from such suffering.  I didn’t stop to think about what the people who exposed this cruelty must have had to go through to turn it into news.  They must love animals to be willing to get the story out in an effort to stop the practise so how they must have suffered having to watch the animals be treated that way as they were filming.  I didn’t stop to think about how many people must have objected for the government to have felt forced to call a halt to the live export of our cattle so they could investigate and discuss what to do about the situation.

Maybe nothing will change and the cattle will continue to suffer this way but the other side of that coin is that all the people who worked to bring this to our attention will continue to work towards making it stop.  If this effort to bring about change doesn’t work they will try something else.  They won’t give up.  I’ve seen that kind of person in interviews.  They acknowledge how hard it is for them to see what they see and do what they do but they know the only way they can reduce the amount of suffering the animals must endure is to submit themselves to the pain of going into the places where animals are suffering and doing whatever they can to put an end to it.

I admire them so much.  I could not do it.  I could not bear the pain of seeing those things.  I am not strong enough but, now I think about it, I thank God from the bottom of my heart that there are such people in this world!

I saw a show where they intervened in a dog fighting operation.  The people running it were dangerous people and those who went into the house and confiscated the dogs and paraphenalia put their own lives at risk.  I hate having to share a planet with those who profit from, or enjoy, dog fighting but I am proud to share a planet with people who will put their lives on the line to rescue dogs from such people.

Well, when I think about it, I am proud to share a planet with them.  The trouble with filtering is that I don’t stop and think about these wonderful, unselfish, caring people anywhere near enough!

If a man showers an animal with cruelty I hurt and I feel the world is cursed.  Why don’t I have the opposite reaction if another man comes along to rescue the animal and shower it with love and kindness?  Why don’t I feel happy or view the world as blessed by the actions of that second man?

I should, I do when I think about it, but that’s the nature of filtering.  It stops you from registering things you are not used to thinking about as important.

The more I focus on this the more I realise the world really isn’t as black as I have been painting it to myself!

The meat industry here in Australia is a very powerful force and the Government would not upset it for a mere handful of bleeding hearts.  The response to that news story must have been so strong, so powerful, so massive the government was more afraid to ignore it than they were of offending the meat industry or of losing all the money even a temporary ban on exports would cost.

That means a significant number of protests must have bombarded the government.  That means even the voices of those who eat beef must also have been raised in defence of those animals.  That means the vast majority of the Australian public does NOT like to see animals suffer.  The government would have ignored them if it was a minority!

The idea that most of my fellow men are, like me, disgusted by cruelty is starting to gain weight and the scales that seemed so unbalanced a few minutes ago are starting to shift in favour of me believing the world might actually be a much nicer place than I thought.

Looks like I need to do some repair work on my filtering mechanism.  I need to reset it so it will register positives in the global arena.  The last time I worked on it I had to reset it on the personal level.  It took time and I had to keep reminding myself to resist negative thoughts and beliefs.  I had to look for positive thoughts and beliefs I could use to replace the negatives ones and then I had to practise the new way of thinking.  Those new thoughts and beliefs are solid and automatic on the personal level now so I know for a fact the filter can be reset.

I wonder if I will be able to reset it faster this time because of having done it once before?  I hope so.

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