Things are not always as they seem. What first appears to us can deceive us. This can apply to things we see or hear, to people, behaviour and interactions. We have all experienced situations into which we read meaning, based not on current reality, but upon our earlier experience. This can be harmless, but it can also be problematic and can cause us to re-experience painful experiences.
Our brain doesn’t operate like a camera taking in the whole picture. Instead, it detects features such as colour, shape, movement or sound, and processes them. How we experience these stimuli depends on our personal history and circumstances.
When we experience something new, our brain searches for a match between the new incoming stimuli and the patterns stored in our memory. This enables us to recognise experiences and gives us a sense of familiarity.
Pattern matching can sometimes confuse events in the present with events from the past. We see what we have experienced before and predict it will happen again.
In order to see things more accurately we need to pay more conscious attention to detail. This helps us to create more categories of experience.
In psychotherapy we pay conscious attention to specific detail to develop greater clarity. This attention encourages us to separate past from present. When we build greater clarity of perception, we can build new ways of experiencing events.
For people who have experienced trauma, a trigger or stimulus can make them respond as if they are being re-exposed. They react as if to the original trauma. Similarly, we might confuse the behaviour, look or gesture of someone in our present life with someone from a past, painful experience. It is as if we rubber-band back to the earlier experience. We think, feel and behave as we did then and unconsciously re-live the earlier experience.
By focussing on the here and now, we encourage the client to assess the accuracy of their perception. Does it belong in the present, or does it come from the past? If it comes from the past, it may be useful for information. But it does not dictate the present. This reassessment can remove the pain of the original hurt in the here and now. It allows a shift to take place. This shift in perception frees us from painful ways of thinking and feeling. Correspondingly this affects our behaviour and change takes place.