29: Ego’s Rabbit Hole

We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are.

Anaïs Nin

I have stories. Some happened.

The difficulty when feelings feel for the feeler, and thoughts think for the thinker is I am chasing the story’s meaning down the rabbit hole dug by my Ego. As Shankar Vedantam on The Hidden Brain Podcast reminds me, “Our feelings about risk are rarely shaped by data, or by data alone. Our feelings are shaped by stories, by images, and by the consensus of our groups.”

Too often, stories in my life have been real because I needed them to be true, not because they are true. At other times, stories have been real because someone else needed the stories to be true. In both situations, no one was interested in the truth, just the stories they imagine about the truth.

Recently, I heard someone say that all her ex-lover ever does is “lie, and nothing he says can be trusted.”

That is a story, of course.

I’m reasonably certain, or at least that’s certain as I can be, that if I were to talk to her ex-lover, he could demonstrate many places in his life and relationship where he can be trusted and tell the truth.

But as Anaïs Nin says, “we don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.”

It makes me wonder who she is behind the mask. If she sees only a liar, is she a liar? If she sees something as unforgivable, is she unforgivable? If she sees entitlement, is she entitled? If she sees narcissism, is she a narcissist? How do her past experiences, friends, family, and life inform her stories about her feelings?

Is it the truth or the truth she imagines?

There’s this great line by a therapist couple whose name I don’t remember (I think Bloom), and they write, “behind every accusation is an autobiography.”

As she told me the story, I realized how much her ego needs this story to be true. I wonder what about her accusations is autobiographical?

I left wondering her intentions and motivations behind the stories. Why are these stories important to her? How is she benefiting from holding onto the stories in the face of all contrary evidence?

What does the story say about her? How do these rigid perspectives and unyielding certainties serve her ego?

I walked away, adjusting my glasses, wondering about myself: “How am I like her? What do I not see by the way I see?”

Am I seeing the truth, or is it a story I am imagining in an emotional reflection?

More Reading

Fetherstonhaugh, David, Paul Slovic, STEPHEN JOHNSON, and James Friedrich. 1997. “Insensitivity to the Value of Human Life: A Study of Psychophysical Numbing,” ResearchGate (Springer Verlag) <https://www.researchgate.net/publication/227004861_Insensitivity_to_the_Value_of_Human_Life_A_Study_of_Psychophysical_Numbing&gt; [accessed 9 March 2021]

Fischhoff, Baruch, Paul Slovic, Sarah Lichtenstein, Stephen Read, and Barbara Combs. 1978. “How Safe Is Safe Enough? A Psychometric Study of Attitudes towards Technological Risks and Benefits,” Policy Sciences, 9.2: 127–52 10.1007/bf00143739>

Fischhoff, Baruch, Gabrielle Wong-Parodi, Dana Rose Garfin, E. Alison Holman, and Roxane Cohen Silver. 2017. “Public Understanding of Ebola Risks: Mastering an Unfamiliar Threat,” Risk Analysis, 38.1: 71–83 10.1111/risa.12794>

Götz, F. M., Andrés Gvirtz, Adam D. Galinsky, and Jon M. Jachimowicz. 2021. “APA PsycNet,” Apa.org <https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2020-76208-001&gt; [accessed 9 March 2021]

https://twitter.com/HiddenBrain. 2021. “Afraid of the Wrong Things | Hidden Brain Media,” Hidden Brain Media <https://hiddenbrain.org/podcast/afraid-of-the-wrong-things/&gt; [accessed 9 March 2021]

“Judgment and Decision Making, Journal Home Page.” 2021. Sjdm.org <http://journal.sjdm.org/&gt; [accessed 9 March 2021]

Loewenstein, George, Elke U Weber, Christopher K Hsee, and Ned Welch. 2001. “Risk as Feelings,” ResearchGate (American Psychological Association) <https://www.researchgate.net/publication/230896630_Risk_As_Feelings&gt; [accessed 9 March 2021]

Slovic, Paul. 2021. “If I Look at the Mass I Will Never Act’:\Psychic Numbing and Genocide,” Sjdm.org <http://journal.sjdm.org/7303a/jdm7303a.htm&gt; [accessed 9 March 2021]

Slovic, Paul, William Burns, and Richard John. 2020. “The Importance of Prior Probabilities in Coronavirus Testing,” Ssrn.com >

Slovic, Paul, and Daniel Västfjäll. 2015. “The More Who Die, the Less We Care: Psychic Numbing and Genocide,” ResearchGate (unknown) <https://www.researchgate.net/publication/283318445_The_More_Who_Die_the_Less_We_Care_Psychic_Numbing_and_Genocide&gt; [accessed 9 March 2021]

Västfjäll, Daniel, Paul Slovic, Marcus Mayorga, and Ellen Peters. 2014. “Compassion Fade: Affect and Charity Are Greatest for a Single Child in Need,” PLoS ONE, 9.6, ed. by Claus Lamm: e100115 10.1371/journal.pone.0100115>