Benjamin Wood Mindset Coach & Motivational Speaker
We’ve all heard the expression “trapped in our own heads” – head of course referring to our own mind. How is it though, why is it and what exactly is it that causes a person to literally become their own jailer? I couldn’t possibly do those questions justice with one article but digging down into these 4 areas will certainly be a good start for anyone here reading this.
Blind optimism We all know and appreciate the value of positive thinking but as with everything, there is a line. Too much optimism is a form of self-deception as it disconnects you from reality. This potentially stops you taking any action that would mitigate negative outcomes.
We’re going to talk a lot more about self-deception later but for now let’s just briefly say that as people we are rather susceptible to self-deception in various ways because we have a tendency to try to hang on to certain beliefs we hold. We’ll look at how this impacts the effectiveness of “lies” shortly but again, for now let’s say lies that support our beliefs are often easy to fall victim to, especially when we also have a personal stake in the lie.
A clear example of blind optimism could be a person in a physically abusive relationship. They may operate out of a belief that the abuser (perhaps a husband for example) is a “good person deep down”. This belief will undoubtedly play a part in their thinking process and likely lead them to staying in a dangerous situation out of blind optimism that the husband will not be violent again because “deep down he is a good person” so he will change, even though this cycle has already taken place several times.
Most people consciously know that this is virtually never the case and it’s very possible that a repeat abuser like this has a personality disorder such as Narcissism, Machiavellianism or Psychopathy for example, perhaps even all of them. It’s generally accepted among leading psychologists that no amount of love, help or positive reinforcement towards a person like this will ever significantly change them. The victim here has disconnected themselves from reality through blind optimism and is therefore not seeking out any help or a way forward to change their circumstances.
When positivity keeps you trapped in a toxic relationship or any self-sabotaging pattern of behavior it is “too much” positivity.
Dwelling on the past “Don’t dwell on it, you can’t go back and change it” is good advice. Dwelling on the past is a psychological threat. You are actively engaging in a negative experience over and over again. Your mind can’t tell the difference between real and imagined situations and as a result of this certain chemicals keep getting released in your body over and over again such as cortisol (the stress hormone) for example. This means that what you imagine to be happening is what is actually happening as far as your brain is concerned and you are unleashing an avalanche of emotions time and time again.
In psychology this is called “ruminating” which simply explained is continually thinking of the same sad or dark thoughts and people who do this are indeed more likely to be depressed or living out of a disempowered mindset. Interestingly one of the vital steps to getting over depression is actually to revisit your past but in the right way with a professional coach, therapist or psychologist who has been trained accordingly in how to do this. One of the dangers of ruminating or dwelling on the past is that it makes a person much more vulnerable to being easily influenced and manipulated. A master manipulator will capitalize on this to strengthen the grip the past has on you, key into the fears you have and twist them in such a way that they can gain a level of control over you.
A simple example of this could be in a business with two partners. Partner A is considering leaving to set up and invest in a sole venture alone, yet their only real reservation is “that time in the past where they tried something similar and it didn’t work and they lost some money and felt humiliated”. They replay it over and over in their mind. Let’s say that partner B doesn’t believe they can run a business successfully alone and sees partner A leaving as a threat to their livelihood. It would be all the more easier to manipulate the first partner into keeping things as they are by emphasizing and putting focus on the past pain points instilling an even greater sense of uncertainty and fear in partner A, likely resulting in them giving up on their new venture. Had partner A not been dwelling on the past it’s likely they would have seen through this manipulation.
It wouldn’t be fair to look at dwelling on the past without also considering the other side – the good old days or the glory days! We’ve all heard it, most of us have said it but have you ever considered how this can also disconnect us from our present reality? While taking time to remember and reflect on happy memories and moments of success in the past is of course healthy and productive for our mindset generally speaking there is again, a line, as with optimism. Living life too much based on times gone by can slow you down or stop you moving forward in present time. There is potential there to activate the fear of uncertainty. This may show up in the sense of clinging onto a loveless relationship or holding onto a job which is playing a significant part in ruining your mental health but purely out of a fear for the future you stay where you are. The uncertainty of the future may not seem quite so daunting if it was not being compared to wonderful glory days of the past which actually, on further inspection were likely not perfect after all.
As humans we are very good at editing and reinforcing memories after the fact to suit the narrative of the version of events we’ve told ourselves and decided to believe. Overall, don’t respond to yesterday as if it still exists today. Period.
The lies other people tell us Lies and secrets have been described as the cancer of the soul. That said, you are responsible for your own soul. Nobody else. It’s your responsibility to know yourself so you’re not controlled by predators (those who wish to manipulate you). First of all, let’s consider just a few motives people have to lie to you.
Lies to make them look good and feed their own ego. In this sense lying gets them attention and having attention allows them to feel in control. A common character trait found in narcissism.
Lies that people tell you to try and change the perception you have about yourself. The intention here will likely be to gain some kind of influence and control over you.
Positive reinforcement rooted in lies. This can take the form of overly positive feedback with an ulterior motive at play. Perhaps a paying adult student is performing the skills taught very poorly yet led to believe they have a natural talent for it so that they will continue to pay and join the next course. Even though it is clear they are very unlikely to ever reach a professional level they are praised to the point they become blindly optimistic investing more and more of their precious time and money. Notice the “blind optimism” coming in there.
Lies by omission. What people don’t tell you in an effort to deceive and conceal from you. An example of this might be a person who while being unfaithful to their partner contracts an infection of some kind but continues to also sleep with their partner without telling them. For that person to get caught out and say “I never lied because you never asked me” is of course a ridiculous justification and they know that. It is a blatant act of deception which is an act of manipulation in itself.
There are of course many more kinds of lies we could look at but for now in my capacity as a potential and mindset coach I’d like to focus on the second from the above list. This is one of the clearest ways to show the benefit of investing in the kind of coaching and therapy someone like myself offers. When you are unaware of your blind spots as a person you are evermore open to being manipulated by other people. Knowing yourself, truly knowing your identity is the best possible way to ensure you can’t be blindsided. Nobody is born with a self-identity. Let’s say that self-identity is the image a person has of themselves in their own mind. It isn’t something a person automatically knows and can consciously explain for a great many people so how stable and strong it is will vary from person to person. A high self-esteem and identity protect you from predators and those who may seek to manipulate you. Imagine you’re a sea vessel and think of your identity and confidence like an anchor to the seashore when it’s time to dock and rest. The stronger the anchor is the more difficult it is for anyone to come and take control over the vessel. Without that anchor the vessel would simply end up drifting at sea waiting for someone to come and commandeer it. Those with a high level of confidence and strong self-identity can’t be manipulated or brainwashed (systematically stripping a person of their identity for the purpose of manipulation and control) easily at all. A person who is constantly seeking validation from others is placing a high emphasis on what others think of them. This means lies they are told with the intention of changing how they see themselves will very often be effective for the manipulator. They are like the proverbial sheep walking in the lion’s den. It is our desires and emotional needs that make us vulnerable to those who seek to manipulate us and as a result those people who go through life “feeling” more and “thinking” less are highly vulnerable to being under the control of other people in one way or another. Self-awareness, a strong sense of identity and a high level of self-esteem and confidence is imperative to a person’s well-being and success in life. They are also (if I had to narrow it down) “the” 3 main areas where having a mindset coach is invaluable for anyone.
The lies we tell ourselves
Welcome to the most harmful and destructive of all the four walls which keep us imprisoned in a web of deceit. The lies we tell ourselves are more dangerous than the lies others tell us.
Let’s start with “Denial”. Denial is a form of rationalization or explaining away a situation in such a way to ignore or manipulate the evidence in order to avoid uncomfortable truths, bury one’s head in the sand and accept the situation for what it really is. It is self-deception and we are manipulating ourselves. The example we considered in part 1 with the victim of domestic abuse is again an example here potentially. Another example may be the person who remains in a job under terrible conditions where they are clearly being exploited.
At the extreme end there are those (perhaps you have heard this said or maybe said it yourself) who will go as far as to say “I’m repaying the sins of a past life” or “I deserve what I am getting because…”. As I mentioned earlier on in this article, people are susceptible to self-deception because we hang on to certain beliefs. We then tell ourselves lies (through denial for example) that conveniently match these beliefs and the story we are telling ourselves. Our stories are utterly convincing in our own heads but they are simply just fiction. “My job’s not that bad and it’s not every day I feel deflated and unfulfilled so I should just carry on and not make any changes”, the person saying this will likely have a belief in their “story” along the lines of “I could never do what I truly want to do” or “people from where I’m from have no chance in life”. The person is laying their own trap, the beliefs create the prison and the lies they are telling themselves become the bars on the wall.
It’s also worth noting that when a person has a personal stake in their lie it becomes even more convincing and easy to believe. This is especially prevalent in relationships whereby there is a feeling of having “invested” years of one’s life and time into another person. It can be a sobering moment of realization when it becomes clear their future isn’t with that other person and so (understandably) they prefer to find comfort and solace in denial, keeping them trapped in the relationship and their own web of deceit.
On a side note, the most common place manipulation of others and “dark psychology” is found tends to be in relationships.
Sometimes in life we need to “take our own medicine”. The advice we may give another person in a situation can seem reasonable and well thought out to us but in our own life we choose not to accept it. Why is this? For one it can be very hard to accept we have made a mistake and our initial impressions of a person or situation were way off the mark. We then end up drawing on past experiences of the person or situation to validate our denial, rationalizing to suit what we “want” to be true instead of accepting facts.
A simple example would be for a person to track back in their mind and pull out a happy memory while ignoring anything that contradicted the narrative they were “choosing” to believe. Nobody is perfect and everybody has faults, when we put others on a pedestal with a proverbial halo around their head we are simply choosing to deny these faults, which initially may be reasonable as after all we don’t want to be going through life looking for the bad in every person and every situation. However, the self-deception starts when warning signs begin to surface and are ignored, our instincts are kicking in but we don’t want to accept our initial determinations were wrong or the situation has changed and is not what it was.
People have a tendency to make excuses for others whom they have originally decided to be a certain kind of person. These excuses serve to perpetuate the lies they are telling themselves and can turn into blind optimism which stops them progressing in life or keeps them trapped in a toxic situation or in toxic relationships.
What can you actually do about this?
Listen to and act on your intuition to investigate through asking yourself questions and be thorough and honest with your answers. Disassociate yourself from the person or situation by imagining this is someone else’s life, not your own. What would the answers be then?
Do not live out a painful lie just to deny it. Recognize the lies you tell yourself for what they are and you will begin to change the narrative to your story. Bear in mind that although you may ask the best questions in the world, they won’t mean a damn thing if you don’t listen to the answers.
Closing This information will resonate with different people in different ways and overall I genuinely hope this article is of value to you in your life, perhaps you have learned something, perhaps it has helped clarify something you already suspected and maybe it’s given you that little push you needed to be that bit more honest with yourself.
Be sure to take this final note with you; the best possible way you can become impervious to lies and manipulation at the hands of others and your own mind is to increase your own self- awareness, self-esteem and sense of identity.
Coming next Predators – The Dark Triad test and entering the world of the narcissist, the Machiavellian – “High Machs” and the psychopath.