Why we stay stuck: Part 1

The primary purpose of therapy is to relieve psychological distress. In therapy, we often
spend time figuring out how our belief systems and thoughts came into being. However,
such information may not explain why or how a person keep behaviors and feelings that
are painful. Knowing you ran over a nail does not necessarily explain why your tire stays
flat. Knowing why we originally felt a certian way, does not necessarily explain why we keep
feeling that way.So, what does the research on the subject tell us? Why is it so hard to change?We can look at relatively simple phenomenon like the perseverance effect. Ross, Lepper &
Hubbard (1975)1 demonstrated that people have a tendency to hold onto belief systems
even in the face of opposing information. It is a defense mechanism and can have positive
effects because it maintains the all-important consistent view of the world and ourselves.
Unfortunately, that causes a pretty big problem when we are trying to change.
Fortunately (or unfortunatley, depending on your disposition), the whole story is much,
much bigger than that. In an effort to break down the research in to digestible bits, the
next few posts will explore the human mind as an interconnected set of levels. The first
is the biological level, where problems are maintained because of brain changes. The
second level is the cognitive level, where problems arise because we see present events
through the lenses of past events. The third level is interpersonal where problems arise
because of negative behavior patterns are reinforced by others or we lack the interpersonal
skills to make the changes. The final level has many names across many diciplines but
here will be called the spiritual level. At this level, problems stay problems because we
are generally too stressed out, have not found a purpose in life, or have not yet become
fully part of something larger than ourselves.All of the levels interact and are reciprocal. What happens at the spiritual level affects the biological
level and vice versa. It’s complicated to say the least. The next few posts will explore each one more
fully and hopefully offer some understanding of the strange and beutiful nature of our own minds.
And maybe, just maybe such an exploration will offer ways to change ourselves, and our worlds
for the better. Maybe, understanding that we do not have a jack or a spare will start us down
the road of changing a flat tire.
1Ross, L., Lepper M.R., & Hubbard, M. (1975). Perseverance in self-perception and social
perception: Biased attributional processes in the debriefing paradigm. Journal of Personality
and Social Psychology, 32, 880-92.


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