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Transforming the Mind ~ by Peter Shepherd



Misconceptions about the self may drastically and unrealistically limit the kinds of behavior an individual is willing to engage in, or they may relentlessly force him into unwise behavior that leads him to perpetual defeat.

The misconceptions of most people are corrected by experience, whereas those of neurotic people are impervious to correction by training, experience, or reasoning by others. This is because when misconceptions have been avoided, repressed or denied, they are often kept inaccessible to correction by still other misconceptions, which can be termed "defensive".

The defensive misconceptions prevent the individual from recognizing the more threatening and uncomfortable misconceptions. Thus, misconceptions tend to be grouped in clusters.

Misconceptions in depressive neurosis include:

  • I am, have been, and always will be hopeless (or helpless, or worthless).
  • I never will recover.
  • Nothing is worthwhile
  • No one cares about me
  • I am unable to engage in normal activities.
  • I am so guilty and hopeless that suicide is the only solution.

Obsessives show many of the following misconceptions:

  • I always must be punctual, orderly, conscientious and reliable.
  • I cannot tolerate dirt and germs.
  • I must control everything and everyone, including myself.
  • Details are vitally important.
  • I cannot really trust anyone.
  • Being right is more important than anything else.

Hysterical personalities manifest such misconceptions as the following, along with acute anxiety and depression:

  • I am effective when I am flirtatious, seductive, vivacious, dramatic.
  • I cannot tolerate frustration and disappointment.
  • By acting helpless and dependent, I can achieve my goals.
  • I am a victim and not responsible for my problems.
  • I deserve more attention and help from others.

Individuals with phobic reactions show three clustered misconceptions:

  • The feared object is dangerous.
  • I probably will collapse when the feared object is present.
  • I cannot eliminate my fear reaction to the object.

Phrenophobia is the false belief, and associated fear, that there is something wrong with one's mind that may result in "insanity". This belief, although widespread, is often denied or concealed by misleading euphemisms such as "nervous breakdown". A cluster of five misconceptions is usually present. All are misinterpretation of anxiety symptoms resulting from sustained tension and stress.

  • My feelings of anxiety point to approaching insanity.
  • My memory failures or distortions are signs of mental breakdown.
  • My difficulties in concentration indicate mental disorder.
  • My irritability signals mental disturbance.
  • If these symptoms do not lead to psychosis, my insomnia will.

Exaggerated self-importance has various names - superiority complex, arrogance, vanity, conceit, egotism, and many others - and is based on "special person" misconceptions. The individual is constantly engaged in attempts to have others acknowledge his or her superiority, which if threatened, is defended vigorously. If the defense is unsuccessful, anxiety and depression result. The following six false beliefs are manifested by most:

  • I must control others.
  • I am superior to others.
  • I should not compromise.
  • I suffer from more frustrations than do others.
  • I must strive to be perfect.
  • Others cannot be trusted.

The special person's constant efforts to control, his attitudes of superiority, his refusal to compromise, his masked hostilities, and his empty perfectionism betray the highly competitive person who must have his own way and must be right at all costs. The failure to trust others is manifested by suspiciousness that may verge on the paranoid. Other characteristics of the "special person" are a highly critical attitude towards others, little empathy with others, lack of insight about the self, and self-righteousness.

Over-indulgence in childhood may be the cause, although other sources may include early identification with an illustrious or dominating parent or with fantasised heroes. Such people often become flawed leaders, who have problems with their families and intimates. Misconceptions about the self may drastically and unrealistically limit the kinds of behavior an individual is willing to engage in, or they may relentlessly force him into unwise behavior that leads him to perpetual defeat.

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