Oh, those darn insecurities. Many emerge from childhood with psychological blind spots that filter essential realities, handicapping our ability to operate smoothly in this chaotic world. It’s not that we had terrible childhoods (too many do). Many struggling adults grew up in loving homes with caring, concerned parents, but for whatever reason, emerge into adulthood with a collection of life-narrowing insecurities. Perhaps insecurities naturally flow from the dependence of childhood—we all began as an organism incapable of survival without parental protection. During our most formable years, our health, survival and well-being was in the hands of others.
Here we are adults, making a living, starting families, and still reacting to silly fears of insufficiency, whacked by shame that is triggered by the simplest interactions. Childhood insecurities are not fixed in intensity, they vary over time. They grow and diminish; some fears may even be discarded. Yet, for the most part, we must constructively live with the little monsters.
In our society, confidence and strength signify power and health; admitting insecurity almost is repulsive, inviting scorn from others who likely hide their own stash of insecurities. Insecurities are the ultimate “elephant in the room.” If we believe insecurities signal weakness, we don’t easily accept them—we bury, deny and justify, rather than accept the reality of our frailties. We create psychological protective blind spots. We adapt by manipulating perception to something less harsh.
While we all have blind spots, they sometimes are costly. Mahzarin R. R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald wrote “for us, the ordinariness of the errors that emerge from blind spots is striking, because they require no malign intent and yet impose costs” (2016).
Buried Insecurities Continue to Impact our Lives
Many of our psychological blind spots come from burying uncomfortable data. We don’t want the emotional discomfort of dealing with it so we dismiss it. By and large, this is an unconscious practice, like all defense mechanisms. Our minds constantly process data, giving meaning to the flow of new information, the neat package of manipulated data is then presented to our conscious mind. We don’t notice the errors because of the ordinariness of the process. Mental heuristics do the work behind the screens of consciousness and we believe we are seeing things as they are.
Buried insecurities survive, orchestrating powerful yanks to emotional strings. We feel strong emotional pulls during interactions—embarrassment, fear, anger and shame. Lack of awareness (psychological blind spots) disjoints interpretations of these feelings, instead of seeing the self-imposed fears, we point blame, avoid openness, and seek escapes to avoid culpability. There’s no magic pill to courageously accept the self. The modern pseudo psychology over-simplifies the answers, often encouraging burying rather than working through emotional deficits. These denied aspects of self—insecurities—become psychological blind spots that drag us further from reality.
“Insecurity often causes negative thoughts about one’s ability to fit in with peers, reach goals, or find acceptance and support.”~Good Therapy
A Secure Base
John Bowlby introduced the concept of a secure base in a relation to a child’s willingness to explore new environments when his or her mother was nearby to provide an immediate safe zone for retreat. The same concept is true for adults. We are more likely to venture into the unknown when we have a place of safety for protection. Encounters that trigger pain—inciting fear—are graspable events when understood from a secure standing, that allows a less tainted perspective, compassionately identifying accompanying insecurities that magnify the feelings.
With vision, we effectively navigate and respond to experience. But when insecurities thrive unnoticed, they permeate our being, charging interactions with heavy doses of energy; but the power is misdirected with blinding and protecting biases. We adopt creative explanations, protecting our ego, and relieving the strain while overlooking the need to engage in personal work. We act on our psychological blind spots. We see wrongs that don’t exist.
In psychology, one of the main contributors to psychological blind spots is the fundamental attribution error. T. franklin Murphy explains, “we are overly lenient when explaining personal mistakes while holding others completely accountable for ethical or moral deviations. Basically, we behave bad because we are the victim of circumstances; they behave bad because they are ‘bad’” (2022).
Self-justification protects tender egos. When we widen our comprehension of emotions—a biological given of living—we are less inclined to demand others to appease our sensitivities. Knowing we experience emotional peaks and valleys helps mediate the emotion, creating space to work through vulnerabilities and accept support.
Our walls of protection disguise the tender vulnerabilities (they still exist and motivate action). We wince at self-revelations that give glimpses into our souls. We don’t want to see so we justify and deny the obvious, remaining psychologically blind to some self revelations.
Without self-justification, we stand emotionally naked, exposed to the cold storms of regret and loss. We pacify our egos, ignoring the evidence of broken relationships, wayward children, and lost employment by projecting the failures on others; we weep at our misfortunes, and boldly claim innocents. Self-righteousness is very lonely.
”Take inventory of everything you’re doing right. Chances are, your thoughts about yourself aren’t taking into account the hundreds of positive micro-decisions we make on a daily basis.”~Cindy Lamothe
Psychological Blind Spots Limit Growth
These ego protections stymie growth. By facing the reality—including responsibility for past hurts—we discover important truths. Insecurities don’t diminish value. We can accept personal responsibility with dignity. Clearer vision creates healthier responses. Current relationship struggles can be constructively addressed. The acceptance of failures teaches wisdom. Most failures are not serious character flaws, but common mistakes made by ordinary people living in a complex world. We are weak, but also, we are strong. We are blind but visionary.
The weakness and limitations of our dynamic existence in this magnificent life are part of the complex puzzle. We live with the incompleteness of knowledge but still survive. We feel, we love, we work. Some days are happy others are sad. Our failures impart wisdom, building the foundation for future success. We will always have psychological blind spots. However, through regular mindful check ins, we can see through the smoke, know ourselves a little better, and make healthy change.
Banaji, Mahzarin R. R.; Greenwald, Anthony G. (2016). Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People. Random House Publishing Group; Reprint edition.
Murphy, T. Franklin (2022). Fundamental Attribution Error. Psychology Fanatic. Published 4-29-2023. Accessed 4-29-2023.