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Theory: The power of perception

Published: Friday, March 7, 2014 3:47 p.m. CDT

The way we think shapes who we are, how healthy we are mentally and physically, and what our relationships with others are like.

Sounds simple in theory, but the reality of how the brain works is complicated.

The brain is like a computer. What it outputs is dependent on what we input. Our thoughts, words and deeds are recorded and stored there permanently.

Even if we can’t recall an event in our life, our brain has kept it somewhere for possible later use. Each time, for example, we allow ourselves to think, say or do something negative, we reinforce and add to the negative data already stored in our brain. Conversely, when we think positive thoughts, say positive things or act in a positive manner our brain stores that information for later use.

This data doesn’t merely sit in some remote corner collecting dust. Our brain uses this and other information continuously to make new connections that will affect our future behaviors.

When we are presented with a stimulus through one or more of our senses, our brain begins firing off impulses to determine how we have felt and responded in the past, and ultimately how we will respond to this new event in the present. This happens in a split second allowing us to react quickly, if needed.

Let’s use an example of how this process can affect our relationships with others.

Think about a time when you have been in the presence of someone that you don’t particularly like. Say that you have allowed yourself to think or say negative things about or directly to this person.

Your brain believes what it hears you say or think, and stores the information for later use.

With each subsequent thought, statement or action, you reinforce what your brain believes, and in turn, your negative reaction to this person intensifies.

The more negative information in, the less patient and respectful you are, and the relationship is ultimately damaged.

It’s no wonder that we find ourselves not able to tolerate something (i.e. our job) or someone (i.e. our spouse) after repeatedly allowing ourselves to think negatively.

Our brain goes one step further by making presumptions and further comparisons with the information we have inputted (i.e. “if he’s had a bad experience with this person … I’m going to assume that he probably won’t like or trust these other people”).

Now, not only is the one relationship ruined, but also future relationships are tainted by the negative thought patterns and connections made in our brain.

One way to ensure that our relationships stay healthy is to make sure that our thoughts, words and actions are positive. Our brain will have positive data in which to make its connections.

Positive connections = positive reactions. Perceiving life from this healthy place allows us to feel compassion for others. Word of caution – compassion does not mean complacency or compliance.

If you are in an abusive relationship, all the compassion in the world will not assure your happiness or safety. Caring for others starts with caring for ourselves.

• Jamie Palmer is a Batavia resident and a licensed clinical professional counselor and senior mediator with more than 35 years of experience in the field of psychology working with families, couples and individuals. She is available for public speaking engagements and can be reached at editorial@kcchronicle.com.

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