When we see what we want to see.

“Our fears are more numerous than our risks, and we suffer more in our imagination than in reality.” Seneca

After completing a cycle of coaching sessions with a client, I was reflecting on her case, and how our selective perception strongly influences our reality, how “we see what we want to see”, and exclude what we decide not to see. What caught my attention about her case, was her ability, and that of all of us, to “not” see, “not” want to believe, “not” want to perceive what “is there”. The “is there”, to which I refer, is the denied reality, which goes hand-in-hand with the reality perceived and memorised by my client.

Although my client lived both realities – what she saw, and what she refused to see -, she “breathed”, passed through both.  And you may think that my client turned off the negative part of reality, that which is difficult to deal with, that which hurts. But you are mistaken if you thought that. She turned off the positive part. What was happening with her?

Our perception is selective. We are able to concentrate our attention on a series of stimuli that correspond to our expectations and ignore those that do not go in the direction we want. One of the strong filters we have to include or exclude reality is emotion. Our emotions interfere enormously with the decision of reality perceived and eliminated, even when an eliminated fact can be obvious. Emotion acts as one of the subjective principles for our selective interpretation of reality. It is a strong filter that will give us the indication of what we do or do not like. It is what leads us to emphasise a reality, or not, and guides us to decide if we will be miserable or happy.

Getting back to my coaching client, she stated that her husband did not love her any more. For her, the proof was in behaviours, which she could list with precision. Some of the behaviours pointed out, for instance, were that the husband “did not want” to be with her, since he avoided her at home, and in the last few years had not invited her out, to go away for a weekend.

When I worked with her and her past hurts, her emotional world “changed”, and in the next session, in response to one of my questions, she revealed that, not long ago, her husband had offered a surprise weekend, among other examples that then came out. But, had she been lying to me? In the end, the husband had the exact behaviours she stated he did not have (before her inner emotional change), as through she had erased them from the records of her memory, from the final result of the account of her marriage. Nevertheless, she had not been lying. She had, indeed, rejected these moments in order to nourish her past hurts, her beliefs, her limiting emotions. When my client had refused to see that her husband loved her, she had been living in great suffering.

This is what is scary in our subjective process. This self-deception, which leads us to select what we hear, how we interpret it, what we imagine, the memories, according to a prior emotional choice and the reality we believe we want to have. In the case of my client it had been “my husband does not love me any more”. And she, like all of us, eliminated decisive memories and events to decide to feel happy or miserable.

At the end of this process, lies the importance of the role of the coach, the therapist, or someone else, another mind, another analysis, another perception of the reality, even if biological, also selective. When my client opened herself up to new perspectives, she was able to do a meta analysis and saw, felt and perceived a “new” reality, which indeed had always been there.

© MORE Institut Ltd.
Author: Karina Milheiros Kimmig
Humanistic Master Trainer Coach, Master Trainer PNL,
President of IHCOS, IN, ICI, Vice-President of ECA.