Selective perception: an obstacle to serenity

The reality you perceive may not be the truth. People have a tendency to interpret what they perceive through their senses, according to what they believe, according to their convictions. It is very useful to be aware of the “tricks” your mind and your thinking may play on you.

In the movie “A beautiful mind” a married mathematics professor suffers from schizophrenia. For a very long time his condition remains unnoticed by his spouse and friends. However, his delusions become so severe and undeniable, that he is admitted in a psychiatric hospital. After a long period of treatment he finally returns home. One evening he says to his wife that he saw the garbage man outside. His wife does not believe him because it is not the usual garbage day for their neighbourhood. She immediately panics and thinks he is imagining things again. Even I, as a movie spectator, could feel the tension and thought: “Oh dear, he is delusional again”. A few seconds later as she glances through the window she really sees a garbage man walking by…

I have had similar experiences with an alcoholic.  I would be convinced I heard the sound of bottles or of her drinking. Sometimes I would even accuse her,  when in fact I was wrong.

This kind of selective perception of reality poses two problems. First of all, it causes feelings of anxiety, panic, anger and frustration in yourself. Secondly it may cause you to wrongly accuse – or wrongly suspect – the addict, which can lead to very unpleasant situations, especially when an addict is in recovery.

So, before jumping to conclusions based on your beliefs, mentally take a step back. Try not to judge immediately (don’t stick labels…), take a few conscious deep breaths and then have another try in perceiving the true situation.

It would not surprise me if on many occasions you will notice that your perception was selective.


As you practice this technique on a regular basis you will gradually start changing your beliefs and you will find more peace and serenity and your relationship with the addict will improve.

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