Illusory Truth & Family Systems

An unhappy fact about human psychology is probably at work here, which makes it hard to abolish lies once they have escaped into the world: We seem to be predisposed to remember statements as true even after they have been disconfirmed. For instance, if a rumor spreads that a famous politician once fainted during a campaign speech, and the story is later revealed to be false, some significant percentage of people will recall it as true--even if they were first exposed to it in the very context of its debunking. In psychology, this is known as the "illusory truth effect." Familiarity breeds credence. 
Sam Harris, Lying, p.38

Illusory Truth & Representation

Harris wrote about the culture of lying and how the truth seems to become hidden in a sea of permeated misinformation. The illusory truth effect demonstrates how we tend to believe what we are exposed to more often, even if counter evidence is available. As an individual who lives in such a culturally and economically diverse area, Harris' words sparked my inner dialogue about race in the States, and gender identity formation. Advertising and media exposure are powerful tools of socialization, and shifting representation equates to shifting the current dialogues of the aforementioned.

What does representation mean for one's development of identity? For me, it means environment is very powerful in shaping one's self-concept and beliefs of success. If one is exposed to certain images of power or success, while a representative of oneself is not available, perhaps the choice to try may not be that easy to grasp. Trailblazers and role models inspire possibility that "Maybe I can be successful, too." What underlies Family Systems Therapy is the understanding that many of our current world views are impacted by our environment, which includes early childhood experiences, first interpersonal relationships, traumas, poverty, accumulated generational griefs and anxieties, models of resilience, and so forth.

Family Systems & Representation

Our representation of self starts from our family system, and the first lies or limitations of our identities stem from this system as well. As adults we have the choice to keep views of our past selves as truth of our current selves. A benefit of being an adult, fortunately, is also the choice to recreate ourselves. As a human becoming, we can consciously surround ourselves with positivity and healing energy. Now, this is not an easy task. Taking the first steps to discard a lifetime of negative thoughts, energy, and relationships with others (or oneself) is an extraordinary act that I admire greatly.

One example many may understand (or not), is the notion of a beautiful woman who does not believe she is. Maybe she was not conventionally good-looking growing up. As an adult, she carries herself as an unattractive person (poor posture, old and dirty clothes, unwashed hair, etc.) which feeds into this loop of believing she is ugly. Her inner dialogue and choices in life may reflect this accumulation of ugly thoughts. Interpersonal relationships may be ones that reinforce the comfort of similarity. Attempts for seeking promotions at work may have been stymied due to her appraisals of success only being for beautiful people.

An alternative could be this woman is very attractive, yet childhood thoughts of ugliness cloud her vision and perceptions of herself. When she goes home for the holidays, her family may joke about her getting fat or having acne scars, simply because her role in the family is to be ugly. Although there is new evidence to discount the lie that she is unattractive, the illusory truth effect compels many people to believe the idea that has existed longer. (This is how intergenerationally passed racial stereotypes can become so powerful. They've been around longer than the truth.)

Another example that resonates with me from the children I work with is having a difficulty trusting others. Early experiences may be filled with themes of neglect, emotional frigidity, or fear. When the fight-or-flight responses are activated constantly in the lives of little ones, it is likely a world of mistrust and pain manifests as their worldview as adults. Interpersonal relationships continue to permeate with distance and mistrust. It is the compulsion to repeat what is familiar, and seclude oneself from a glimpse of change. It is very uncomfortable to leave one's past, which is so familiar, even if it has damaged a lifetime of possibility.

With this understanding, I am hopeful that we can find hope in novelty and exceptions. Many of us are prisoners of our past pain, and to let go sometimes is equated with denying that a part of oneself existed. I am here to say that the pain never really goes away, and it can become that fuel to choose healing over the comfort of stagnation.

Some final notes on the representation of race and gender identity: We can create a new normal that is filled with equal opportunity and tools for promoting compassion in our communities. It can start with an individual challenging ubiquitous notions of intelligence, normalcy, beauty, success, and happiness. New normals can catalyze dialogues, which can question thoughts and current ideology. Questions can promote new solutions and increase awareness of how interconnected and alike we really are.

Additional Reading:

photo credit: pinterest, quote: Led Zeppelin