March 26

Mental and Emotional Autocorrection

March 26, 2014

Marriage, Stress Management

I have written more than 20 books and millions of words. Millions, and most of them have required proofreading before publication, which means finding the spelling, typographical, and formatting errors that are inevitable as flawed humans—especially this one—put their thoughts into writing.

In the “olden days,” proofreading was all done “manually,” but now we have the aid of word processing “Auto Correct” programs, which detect extra spaces, misspelled words, and even some grammatical errors, so that you can change what you’ve written to properly “fit” into the accepted body of spelling, grammar, punctuation, and more.

Without a computer, we have an internal Auto Correct that we use without thinking. When we encounter errors in writing, we tend to simply correct them in our minds automatically. 55 out of 100 people can read, for example—with relative ease—the following sentence: “I cdnuolt blveiee taht I cluod aulaclty uesdnatnrd waht I was rdanieg.” This is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. We tend to read for overall meaning, rather than examine every letter, or even every word.

We also have an internal autocorrect for how we see ourselves, our relationships, and the world around us. From childhood we were taught “how the world is,” and then we try to fit every event or interaction into that template or framework.

Suppose, for example, that you were unconditionally loved from birth, so you learned that the world is a kind, warm, safe, and inviting place. If someone then speaks unkindly to you, you don’t change your entire view of the world and believe that people are hurtful and that you need to protect yourself.

No, you mentally autocorrect and identify the behavior as a mistake in your world view, much like a misspelling. You recognize that the unkind words are simply an indication of the emptiness and pain of the speaker. You might even try to love the speaker, who obviously needs kindness from someone.

Regrettably, our autocorrect can work destructively if the original settings are incorrect. For months I helped Lisa and Jeremy to find the happiness that had eluded them, both personally and in their relationship. Lisa learned to find and trust unconditional love, while Jeremy just could not seem to move out of the isolation and protection of his head. He continued to be critical and defensive, toward her and their children.

Lisa was frustrated at what she believed to Jeremy’s refusal to learn and live the principles that were making such a profound difference for her and the kids. I explained that Jeremy COULD NOT see what I was telling him, nor feel the love I was offering.

“Sure,” she said, “I can understand that he wasn’t raised that way, and that explains his life to this point, but now he knows different. You taught him what is true, so now he should be able to make different choices."

I explained to Lisa that I’ve worked with a great number of people, and I’ve seen them progress in their understanding and their growth at very different rates. Some people, however, seem utterly incapable of learning. No matter how hard I try, or how much effort they put into it, nothing happens. Nothing.

Why? Oh, I’m not smart enough to really know the full answer to that, but I have observed at least a couple of general patterns. Most people who fail to learn are frozen in fear. They’ve experienced so much pain all their lives that even the remote possibility of more pain is more than they can bear.

Learning and change create uncertainty and the possibility of more pain, so these people remain rooted to the ground. But there’s another group of people who really cannot SEE the possibilities of truth and love and joy that are presented to them.

“Imagine,” I said to Lisa, “that Jeremy was taught all his childhood that the world was a certain way—in his case lonely, harsh, and painful—and he walked that path for so long that it became a deep, winding rut, fifty feet deep. Far from the light above, everything is black or shades of gray, so he understandably concludes that the entire world is black and gray. If he looks straight up—which people rarely do as they walk—he MIGHT see the blue of the sky, but he doesn’t, because his brain autocorrects the blue to become gray, so it will fit into his overall view of a black and gray world. He CAN’T SEE the blue. He can’t understand what I’m saying to him. He can’t feel the love I’m giving him. It’s NOT that he WON’T. He CAN’T.”

Tears streamed down Lisa’s face as she realized the truth of what I was saying. “Just the other day,” she said, “he was shaking his head and saying that he just couldn’t understand what we were all talking about. He looked completely lost.”

With that understanding, Lisa’s anger disappeared, and without resentment she was able to make decisions about what to do next in her marriage.

We need to be more compassionate with everyone. We need to realize that love is an entirely foreign language for some people. When they hear about it, or see it, they autocorrect and change it to fit the world they’ve been taught, a world distorted by pain and fear. When we understand this, we can feel love for them, not impatience and irritation.

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