10. Incorrect-Illogical Perception - RonaldMah

Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist,
Consultant/Trainer/Author
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Ghosts and Guests of Family Past in Relationships and Therapy
Chapter 10: INCORRECT AND/OR ILLOGICAL PERCEPTION
by Ronald Mah




Implicit rules alter the subjective perception of family members.  The family rules may include that any otherwise illogical underlying secret rules cannot be examined.  The individual experience of any family interaction or behavior must be interpreted to coordinate with the illogic.  Since a child is largely dependent on parents to interpret his or her sensory reality, the meaning parents give to the child's experiences define them.  In order to comply with their implicit rules and avoid upsetting realities, parents may also deny a child's perception.  It may be something as simple as "You're not hungry" when it is inconvenient to feed the child.  Or, "Don't cry!  That didn't hurt" when the child's despair is too distressing or demanding for the parent to handle.  Left to reconcile the discrepancy between ones physical or emotional experience with parental interpretation, at a young age the individual is normally not able to assert, "You're nuts!  I am hungry!  Don't deny me my reality because you're stressed!"  From the lack of perspective, knowledge, and wisdom in youth, the child has to come up with some explanation.  Some resultant explanations or schema are not just intrapsychically harmful but detrimental to interpersonal functioning.  "Although such children may never have been told by their parents not to commit to anyone outside the family or to reveal family secrets, they may pick up from their families the unconscious message that commitment (involving sincerity and honesty) and betrayal go hand in hand, and that all relationships inevitably end up in betrayal.  Moreover, they may learn to explain this situation to themselves as being caused by their openness and sincerity.  This is a perverse outcome, since openness and sincerity are the relationship conditions that offer the best hope for bringing perpetuating cycles of insecure attachment to an end" (Erzar and Erzar, 2008, page 33).

"My friendliness draws bad people and things to me" and "His or her friendliness is a trap to get close enough to hurt me" are perceptions and beliefs that define experiential reality.  Negative explanations or interpretations lead to altered perceptions in a family cycle of confirmation.  Once the individual perceives and anticipates a negative motivation or a negative outcome, he or she predicts and often promises the eventuality he or she fears.  Salome was at risk to do this with Pauly.  She was not only anticipating him duplicating her father's emotional dismissal of her, but also her emotional devastation if this were to happen.  Yet her antagonistic self-defense is the triggering negativity for Pauly who would otherwise think things are going great.  Such reactions or dynamics create confirmation of the premise and can turn what may otherwise be potentially positive experiences into disappointment.  Repeated confirmation of negative expectations lead to relationship scripts that an individual may replicate with new partners.  The therapist may see certain common scripts among couples in therapy that reflect typical dysfunctional family-of-origin experiences.


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Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, MFT32136
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