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|It's a Jungle in There - Page 8|
We're quick to think we know others because mind reading is instantaneous and obligatory. In essence, it's a reflex of the social brain to attend to the mote in our brother's eye, and not to the beam in our own. While Freud saw these projective processes as defensive, they may be a natural byproduct of how our brains have evolved to process information. Unfortunately, evolution hasn't seen fit to invest much neural circuitry into self-awareness. Projection is automatic and lessens anxiety, while self-awareness requires effort and generates anxiety. Which do you think is going to be the norm?
Based on our neural architecture and everyday human behavior, self-awareness and personal insight don't appear to have exerted a strong pressure on natural selection. In fact, possibly it was just the reverse: self-awareness may have been selected against, because it can lead to hesitation, self-doubt, and demoralization. In fact, it's commonly suggested that depression results from seeing reality too clearly. Repression, denial, and humor grease the social wheels and lead us to put a positive spin on the behavior of those around us. Defenses help us regulate our internal state by decreasing anxiety and shame. This may be why humans have so few networks dedicated to self-insight and so many ways of distorting reality in their favor. Freud's defense mechanisms and the attribution biases of social psychology document many of these distortions.
Self-deception increases the likelihood of successfully deceiving others. If we believe our own confabulations, we're less likely to give away our real thoughts and intentions via nonverbal signs and behaviors. The best "con-men," from grifters to televangelists, can be so persuasive that their victims often refuse to believe they've been cheated, even after being shown incontrovertible evidence that they have been. Because we have these built-in information-processing biases, the most naive observer can see things about us that we may be blind to ourselves. In psychotherapy, we provide our clients not only with interpretations, clarifications, and reflections, but also with an alternative perspective (our own), which they can utilize to help discover themselves.