Lesson 1 of 7  - Free your true Self to guide you

Understand and Reduce
Reality Distortions

See the world more clearly

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council

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The Web address of this article is https://sfhelp.org/gwc/wounds/distort.htm

  Updated  01-22-2015

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      This brief YouTube clip previews what you'll read in this article. The video mentions eight self-improvement lessons. I've simplified that to seven.

      This is one of a series of articles in Lesson 1 in this Web site - free your true Self to guide you in calm and conflictual times, and reduce significant psychological wounds. This article...

  • offers perspective on the widespread psychological wound of reality distortion,

  • describes typical examples and wound symptoms, and...

  • common impacts of this wound, and...

  • suggests key recovery options.

      This article assumes you're familiar with...

  About Reality Distortions

      We usually believe our perception of the worlds within and around us is "true." People controlled by false selves often unconsciously distort inner and outer reality. Their ruling personality subselves see things that aren’t there, and/or they don't see or feel things that are there. Classic examples are denying or minimizing an addiction, a major illness, a toxic or dead relationship, and these psychological wounds (e.g. denying denials).

      Reality distortions combine with up to five other wounds to promote chronic health and relationship problems, including ineffective communication, incomplete grief, parental neglect, and divorce. True (vs. pseudo) recovery from false-self dominance can significantly reduce reality distortions over time.

      Common distortions include...

Misinterpreting (assuming) the motivations and actions of others ("Pat's not calling back obviously means she's angry and punishing me.");

Imagining behaviors, motives, events, and attitudes that don’t exist ("Don't lie to me, Manuel. I know you're having an affair!")

Reducing complex situations to only two options - black-white or "bipolar" thinking. This usually comes from subselves' fear of the unknown and the protective need to control by reducing uncertainties and ambivalences to manageable "yes-no" / "right-wrong" / "good-bad" / "your fault-my fault" terms. Chronic black-white thinking seriously hinders effective problem solving.

Inventing reasons to explain why things are, rather than accepting some painful truth ("I drink because you're always harping at me, Noriko");

Minimizing events and event-impacts on one's Self and/or on others ("I think Jackie's adjusting wonderfully to her Dad's leaving us. Her nightmares and school troubles will soon be over.")

Repressing painful thoughts and/or feelings ("No, I've completely recovered from Mom's death. I'm done grieving, thank the Lord."),

Selective amnesia. Typical people ruled by false selves describe a wide range of "blanks" about important childhood periods, events, and people. This often comes from an unconscious avoidance of the pain, rage, and sadness associated with childhood traumas like abandonments, humiliations, abuses, losses, and terrors. 

      These strategic amnesias may also come from an inbred horror of seeing our key early caregivers as flawed, cruel, selfish, weak, uncaring, and/or abusive (wounded) people who really couldn't nurture us well enough.

       Typical "amnesia" symptoms sound like "I can't remember my life before age nine  / what usually happened after I came home from school  / any birthday parties for me when I was a kid,". Excessive amnesias can promote vague or sharp feelings of personal anxiety, "incompleteness," or "wrongness." They're specially common and dramatic for survivors of chronic childhood neglect.

      More common reality distortions...

Projecting our shameful thoughts, fantasies, wounds, or desires on others - "You're the one with a toxic-anger problem here, kiddo, not me!"

Exaggerating and catastrophizing - "You are always late!" / "You never tell me the truth!" / "The way you spend, we're going to be bankrupt and live on the street for the rest of our lives!"

Idealizing ("wishful thinking") - "Well other couples may have major stepfamily problems, but our love, experience, and commitment will protect us from that!"

Denying these distortions, and fervently denying our denial and underlying psychological wounds. This is the master reality distortion.

      How can you tell if someone is ruled by subselves who need to protectively distort reality "too much"? Option - use this as a checklist for yourself or someone else.

Typical Symptoms of Excessive Distortions

1)  Vehemently insisting that events, feelings, conversations, and decisions that others witness didn’t happen, or happened at a different time, place, or circumstance (“I / you / they) never (said / did / thought / felt) that!”; I am not a workaholic!”)

2)  Fervently declaring that major disappointments, losses, or traumas “aren’t that important,” and/or “don’t effect (or bother) me.”

3)  Genuinely believing a key relationship is “fine” when others see major problems; or perceiving major problems when there are none ("I know you're thinking about leaving me!").

4)  Believing a partner is (not) having an affair when they aren’t (are).  (Also a dis/trust symptom.)

5)  Steadily avoiding responsibility for one’s life, health, decisions, behaviors, and happiness: adopting a “martyr” or "victim" role and insisting “I can’t help it.” (wounds: excessive shame + Self-distrust + reality distortion)

6)  Mis-assuming and "mind-reading" - often reading incorrect meanings into others’ statements and/ or actions (“You are angry at me. Don’t you deny it!”), and denying or rationalizing that. A common example is mistaking informational feedback as criticism.

7)  Projecting one’s own shameful traits onto others (“You’re the liar here, not me!”) This is also a symptom of toxic (excessive) shame and guilt.

      More common symptoms of false-self reality distortions...

8)  Refusing to see “flaws,” “weaknesses,” and/or these psychological-wound symptoms in one’s self, or in a revered partner, parent, hero/ine, or child.

9)  Rationalizing that clearly abusive, criminal, self-harmful, and/or unethical acts are “really OK, because…”

10)  Minimizing one’s own needs, risks, feelings, consequences, responsibility, and/or those of others [“no big deal (to me)!” and “You’re making a big deal out of nothing!”] The flip side of this is a chronic tendency to exaggerate and/or catastrophize (imagining the worst, and acting as though it were certain.)

11)  Lying excessively or chronically, and denying, minimizing, joking, or justifying that. This is also a symptom of excessive fears, shame, and guilts.

12)  Seeing inner-wound symptoms like these as trivial and unremarkable: “So what’s the big deal?

13)  Having distorted or no clear ideas about what emotional, spiritual, and/or physical abuses and child or self neglect are.

14)  Tolerating any of these abuses without complaint.

15)  Believing and justifying distorted concepts of high-nurturance parenting and relationship goals, priorities, and techniques.

16)  InsistingMy childhood and early family were fine / wonderful / healthy / loving / functional /…" when they clearly weren’t.

17)  BelievingMy parent/s really loved me,” and being unable to describe how they demonstrated that; and/or amplifying, distorting, or inventing parental behaviors to “prove” their love.

18)  Consistently idealizing outcomes, and/or expecting unrealistic attitudes, behaviors, or outcomes from people and situations.

19)  Interpreting people, relationships, and events as manifesting "prophesies" in a sacred or occult text, rather than seeing real causes and effects.

20)  Believing that Satan, the Devil, "demons," "evil spirits," or malevolent ghosts are causing personal or global troubles, vs. psychological, social, genetic, and environmental realities. 

      There are many other symptoms - these are illustrative. In general, the more symptoms above that you or another person have, the higher the odds you or s/he is psychologically wounded (dominated by a well-meaning false self). Recall: this is one of several wound-assessment checklists in Lesson 1.

Impacts of Excessive Distortions

      People with this common psychological wound...

  • avoid stress by discounting, ignoring, or denying potentially harmful things; and/or they...

  • stress themselves and others by inventing or magnifying problems.

      Do you know someone who distorts a lot? How do you react to that trait? Typical responses can span resignation, irritation, arguing, anxiety, distrust, confusion, doubting, discounting, avoidance, not listening, criticism, concern, preaching, and/or lecturing, All of these stress relationships, lower family nurturance levels, and hinder effective communication. Do you agree? 

table of contents Options for Reducing Major Distortions

      Significant reality distortion is a symptom of the real problem: a personality ruled too often by false selves. So the best way to reduce major reality distortions in yourself is to intentionally harmonize your inner team of subselves and free your true Self to lead them. Self-improvement Lesson-1 and this guidebook offer an effective way to do this over time using inner-family therapy ("parts work"). See an example of how to do this after you finish reading here.

      Another vital step in this work is connecting your talented Nurturer subself with each Inner Child, and  demonstrating that s/he is a reliable caregiver and guide. Over time, this frees the attentive Guardian subselves to reduce their protective distortions.

      For options for relating well to someone else who distorts often (is wounded), see this and this after you finish this article.   


      This article is one of a series on reducing six common psychological wounds from childhood abandonment, neglect, and abuse (trauma). The article offers perspective on the widespread wound of reality distortion. It suggests that significant distortions (denying, projecting, minimizing, lying, exaggerating, idealizing, and catastrophizing) are caused by reactive personality subselves who don't trust the wise resident true Self yet.

      The article proposes a strategy for reducing excessive distortions via patient "parts work."

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or ''someone else''?

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