As we grow up, we absorb and create a worldview based upon the various cultural and environmental influences to which we are exposed. This worldview evolves as we develop, as we are exposed to new information and particularly as we have emotionally charged experiences. This worldview then becomes part of our perception of how the world is and how it should be. And, that is one of the main times when we start to experience stress.
Each day, we look at the world through the filter of our worldview, and when it does not conform to that worldview, a certain amount of discomfort arises in us. For example, if we expect that people will be polite to us when we buy something, and the person who serves us a coffee is curt and seems uninterested in us, we can think that there is something wrong with them. We may start to feel upset, disrespected, indignant, etc. All of these feelings arise as a response to the conflict between our expectations and what we encounter. It is the rare person who realizes that one’s expectations may be totally different from the “normal” behaviour of the other people we interact with.
This default response of feeling discomfort when we encounter a discontinuity between our expectations and the outside world is often due to the sense of insecurity which can be triggered – we come to a shocking conclusion: the world is not what we expect and feel safe with; it has become an uncertain place.
People can invest an enormous amount of time, energy and resources in creating a level of perceived security. We build houses with strong doors, security systems and live in gated communities. We establish routines for commuting and working to follow each day. We put on good luck charms, talismans and clothing which we associate with safe prior experiences. We eat the same fast food at home and when we travel to other countries. All of these actions and more are designed to help us feel safer, and that seems to be a fairly normal human desire. Stress is generated when this sense of security is disturbed by some element of the outside world. Our indignation about the “rudeness” of the coffee server is actually a maladaptive attempt to restore “order” to the world. We attribute the responsibility for our feelings to the outside world when we really are just reacting because of our internal emotional triggers. We think “if only the people around us lived up to our expectations, then we would feel safer, as all would be as we expect and in fact need it to be.” The reality of our daily experiences is that change is constant and the world does not live up to our expectations. And yet, we hang onto our expectations for dear life.
Why do we hang onto these unrealistic expectations?
Given the constant exposure we have to new experiences and information, it would be reasonable to expect that our worldview should evolve constantly, and as a result we would have little if any stress from unmet expectations. That does not seem to be the case. We form the various pieces of our worldview early on and seem to cling to it desperately, with an ever increasing amount of stress being generated as we struggle to reconcile what we expect and what we encounter. Even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, we keep expecting the world to work the way we want it to and resisting that it does not.
Brain research has shown that we actually will override what we are seeing with what we want to see. And, I’m sure you’ve had an experience of someone telling you (probably in other words) “Don’t confuse me with the facts – I’ve made up my mind!”
There are two main reasons why we hold onto our worldviews:
The first is our need for security mentioned above. Humans are designed to seek out homeostasis and therefore resist change. Our systems are always trying to return to a state of comfort. We can try very hard to overcome this, but basically we tend to evolve from one state of stability to another, and we want the transition to be as quick and painless as possible. People do experience major changes in perspective, particularly after very intense events and near death experiences. If we were to examine their systems, we would find that almost all have moved from state X to state Y, both of which seem safe to them. The transition process itself may have been very dramatic, but we humans usually end up in a new state of perceived safety and well-being which may be radically different from the prior state. We could be living as a fiercely free spirited individualist one day and be settled into a long term committed relationship the next week.
The second reason we cling to our worldview regardless of the evidence to the contrary is the emotional glue that holds our expectations in place. Much of our belief system and opinion collection is based upon a series of experiences during which we form beliefs and ideas/opinions. These experiences will have emotional content for us and this is what glues the memories and beliefs and worldview together.
Here’s a simple test – think of 5 important events in your life, any 5. You may want to write them down to make it easier to track. For each one, imagine yourself back in that event, as if you were having the experience now. Notice what you were seeing, what you were hearing and what you were feeling. Do this for each event in turn. It is extremely probable that for each important event you will have had at least one strong emotional response. Perhaps for one you felt really happy and for another very sad. The exact emotion is not that critical – for each one that you easily recalled and were able to imagine, there was a strong emotional component. This is what I call the emotional glue that holds those memories in place. You probably can recall a lot of details of each event and even feel the corresponding emotions as you revisit them.
You can test the opposite of this – take yourself back exactly 3 weeks to one of the meals you ate. If you can’t remember much about that meal, it was most likely that it had nothing very emotional happen during it. It was more than likely just like so many other benign events of your life – ones that came and left without any real impact on you.
This emotional glue is a double-edged sword. It holds in place all those memories of positive events from our past, but it also holds in place all those negative ones as well. All of these events, the feelings that arose in them, the thoughts that were formed and the resulting beliefs and opinions all helped to create and to shape your worldview. And, after a while, each new experience tends to reinforce your worldview. Every time that worldview and its component expectations are not in alignment with your current experiences, you will tend to become stressed as you go through the process of reconciling the two.
Sometimes, we can become aware of parts of our worldview which do not really serve us anymore. We may have a vague sensation about the futility of our constant negative reaction to people who do not do what we expect. We may want to be more tolerant. The challenge then is to move from where we are to where we want to be without triggering all of our self-preservation mechanisms, To make this move, we need to let go of the emotional glue which holds the old and unresourceful expectations in place.
Fortunately, it is fairly easy to release the emotional glue which no longer serves us. Humans are fully capable of releasing any emotional glue and the attached beliefs and opinions and reactions, even though it may seem like something a bit out of the ordinary to do the first time or two. The heightened speed of change in the modern world, as well as the bombardment of negative news stories has created a more intense than normal climate of fear, and in a fearful environment, we tend to hang onto everything, including that which no longer serves us. The process of releasing is greatly enhanced by a facilitation process such as AER.
The process of letting go of the emotional glue that holds in place an unresourceful expectation is actually quite straightforward. First, one notices any time when one is feeling frustrated, for example, with a low-intensity life event such as standing in a line-up at the grocery store. One pays attention to the feelings which come up with the frustration, and then when the time is convenient, one lets go of those feelings, one by one, using AER to facilitate the release process. There is neither censoring nor judgment of the feelings which arise – they are noticed, accepted and released. Any analysis of why one might feel anger and sadness mixed with the frustration, for example, is left until after the feelings are released and one can think clearly.
As one releases the accumulated emotional glue, an amazing thing happens – expectations become softer and more in tune with what is actually there. No effort is needed, as there is no resistance to the world nor any struggle to reconcile an expectation with what is happening. Are you ready to let go of some of your old emotional glue, unresourceful beliefs and ideas?
Copyright 2009 Robert S. Vibert, all rights reserved