Do you tend to see evidence of your inadequacies and flaws wherever you look? If you do, your brain is projecting those perceptions. It’s similar to how the Pokemon Go app makes virtual creatures appear on the sidewalk in front of you. When you learn to recognize your projected inner demons for what they are, you can begin to get rid of them.
The researcher William Swann has found evidence that people self-verify what they already believe about themselves by selectively processing information. More specifically, he explains that people use:
Selective attention: You do this when you pay more attention to, and spend more time considering, feedback that confirms that you are flawed and unlovable.
Selective memory: This is a tendency to remember feedback that confirms your negative self-perceptions and self-criticisms.
Selective interpretation: You do this when you believe critical feedback without questioning it, or interpret unclear feedback – or the absence of positive feedback- as evidence that you are unworthy of love and flawed in some essential way.
To better understand how you maintain your self-perception of being flawed, inadequate, or unworthy of love, question each of these three factors with an exercise that I call “Observe How You Self-Verify" (found in my book Insecure in Love).
Challenging Selective Attention
- What occurred during the day that showed you that you are worthy of love, or that at least brings into question your self-perception of being unlovable? Pick one or two situations (for instance, your partner wanted to watch TV together, or a friend phoned you).
- How did you feel in these situations? (For instance, happy, uncomfortable, confused, nothing.)
- How did you think about these situations? For instance, did you dismiss or minimize this feedback? Did you doubt the honesty or competence of the person giving it? (For example, did you assume your partner wanted to watch TV with you only out of habit?)
- Can you see how you are—or might be—self- verifying with selective attention?
Challenging Selective Memory
- What good or positive things did you do today? (Everything counts; nothing is too insignificant.)
- In what ways have family, friends, or even acquaintances shown that they appreciate you?
- In what ways did your partner show that he or she cares about you?
Challenging Selective Interpretation
- If you think someone has shown you in some way that you are unlovable, could you be misinterpreting the other person’s motivation or intentions? (For example, did you misperceive his tiredness as your being uninteresting or unlovable?)
- Could you be making the feedback worse than was intended? (For instance, thinking you are flawed and unlovable when your partner was just trying to talk about something that upset him.)
- Are you downplaying your strengths and focusing on ways that you don’t live up to your own unrealistic expectations, or to the achievements of your partner and others?
Try repeating this exercise daily until you have a natural awareness of these issues as you go through your days. Because the drive to self-verify can make this difficult to do, write out your answers as a way to stay focused and guide yourself. You might find it helpful to talk about this with a supportive partner or another person you trust.
By increasing your awareness of how you self-verify, you will find that you question negative self-perceptions… and that the critical thoughts of your inner demons are not as real as they seemed. As this clarity increases, you might even begin to see yourself as a capable, worthy, and lovable person.