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How Your Mind Can Fool You

By Linda Sapadin, Ph.D
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Think that just because you're smart and educated, you know what the hell you're doing? Hell no!

Why not? Isn't that what smarts and education is supposed to accomplish? Yes - to an extent.

However - and this is a giant however - the mind has an astonishing ability to fool itself. And fool itself it does. Do you want to frequently focus on how you futz up? Do you want to face painful realities about the people to whom you feel closest?

If you're a masochist, your answer to the above questions might well be "Yes, that's exactly what I want to do. I want to keep focusing on my mistakes. And I want to keep focusing on the fatal flaws of my friends and family."

If you're like most of us, however, you don't want to do any of those things. You want to feel good about yourself and the people you care about. So what do you do?

You rely on defense mechanisms that shield you from what you don't want to know, don't want to face, don't want to deal with. Defense mechanisms work precisely because they operate outside of conscious awareness.

How else could you be running up mega credit-card debt and not even know it?

How else can the proverbial wife be the last one to know about her cheating husband when all the signs were obvious to everyone else?

How else could the Madoff sons work the business without knowledge of the Ponzi scheme their father was running? (A proviso: I don't know exactly what the sons knew and what they didn't know. But, I wouldn't be surprised if powerful defense mechanisms shielded them from realizing the full extent of what was happening.)

Amazingly, defense mechanisms work well. Until the fateful day: the day the credit card no longer works; the day the cheating husband is caught with his pants down; the day the Madoff bubble burst.

When reality intrudes so forcefully, people generally find their defense mechanisms useless. No more projection (blaming someone else for your difficulties); no more compartmentalization (dealing only with what's comfortable); no more denial (refusing to acknowledge 'what is').

Sure, you may try to keep your defense mechanisms active, but generally, they no longer work. And without them, you're extremely vulnerable to whatever has just come crashing down on you.

How do most people deal with a major setback without the protection of defense mechanisms? Not well. Even everyday activities can seem too much to handle. Why? Because your thinking is confused; your feelings are jumbled. You're angry, you're afraid, you're guilty; you feel hopeless and helpless; you feel terrible despair; you are ashamed; you feel isolated; you believe there is no way out.

Defense mechanisms protect us from everyday hurt. We all use them. However, rely on them excessively and you distort 'what is', leaving yourself totally unprepared for the day that reality catches up with you.

How to Beat Procrastination in the Digital Age
Copyright © 2012: Linda Sapadin, Ph.D
Linda Sapadin, Ph.D. is a psychologist and success coach who specializes in helping people overcome self-defeating patterns of behavior. If your life is one long disconnect between what you intend to do and what you actually get around to doing, check out my new book, How to Beat Procrastination in the Digital Age.

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