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Lend Clarity to Your Bias

By Orlando J. Gonzalez, MSEd, LMHC, CEAP 
Director, UM Faculty and Staff Assistance Program

During times of stress, we are more likely to view new events, or emerging changes, with trepidation or fear. Our reflexive responses may be to view these challenges as potential threats before ever considering they may, in fact, be opportunities. We may find ourselves extending less empathy to those perceived as different, those we do not understand, or those we judge to be adversaries. How prone are we to shy away from new pursuits, or to avoid planning travel before ever offering each a fair appraisal? To what reactive biases, thoughts, or fears, do we commonly default when faced with new realities? And, how might our capacity for introspection around these biases improve every facet of our lives?

In choosing to greet new realities from a positive standpoint, we elect to put off immediate fear-based judgments and place curiosity into the equation. We ask, “What else is true?” to view the matter from an objective, spontaneous and balanced perspective. While we all possess this useful capacity, it is not typically our natural “go-to” response during times of stress and requires a fair degree of conditioning, patience, and practice to sharpen.

The first order of business is to develop conscious awareness of your unique default(s). Default responses are what we reflexively “go-to” (thoughts, biases, fears, feelings, judgments, etc.) when faced with triggering circumstance. These defaults may be thoughts tied to themes reinforced by past experiences. A bias may also be tied to our past, or to the stereotypes we have adopted over time. For example, by believing, “Other people aim to take advantage of me,” we may become defensive at the first hint of someone meaning to ask a favor and respond from a place of fear instead of compassion.

These schemas can be quite complex, but it’s important we develop honest insight into our own personal default(s). They are typically tethered to strong emotions. So, experiencing strong feelings can be a good indicator that you are being triggered in some way. The feelings may at times be so strong that they eclipse the root thought(s) or bias; making them difficult to identify or gain insight and control over. To think, “I don’t know why I get so upset about her asking me for help,” or “Why does he, so easily, get under my skin?” are good indicators you are defaulting to threat-based beliefs.

Recognizing the root thought or bias that surrounds any given excitable event is the first challenging part. Once you do, notice when the same thoughts or themes surface again. This way, you start developing your own capacity for spotting them and owning them as your default “go to” judgments. Schemas, or beliefs, can be deeply hidden and tough to spot on our own, which is why people seek the help of therapists who are trained to objectively offer new insights and fresh perspectives. Journaling can also be used to heighten our awareness of hidden themes.

Gaining insight into our default appraisals helps us taper their subconscious influence. When we are able to say, “Oh, there it is – self-doubt” or “There it is – fear of being hurt,” or “There is it – fear of the unknown,” we dramatically limit their influence and open ourselves to (what is the second challenging part) welcoming alternative appraisals of the same event by asking, “What else is true?”

The next time you notice yourself defaulting to how insecure you feel in taking on a new project, pause and respond with gratitude. Consider the resources you have at your disposal. When you notice yourself defaulting to a biased stereotype about another person, pause and employ the use of compassion. Consider the things you share in common. Or, when you notice yourself defaulting to fears, pause and respond with love. Consider higher order truths that generate understanding and bridge connection.

Approaching life from an optimistic standpoint permits positive perspective inform our choices and serves to broaden the variety of resourceful responses available to us. We consider all that may be gained from any given experience and choose to step outside of our comfort zone to reap its rewards. In so doing, we harness faith in our capacity to greet and weather new realities with courage and resolve.


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