Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Commitment and Consistency

Commitment works hand-in-hand with the need for a consistent mental image of ourselves. We unconsciously react in ways that are consistent to our beliefs and initial decisions. If you think about it, you can probably spot that knee-jerk reaction in yourself. It's another mental shortcut that saves us from the work of having to rethink about small (and big) commitments. Like other heuristics, although usually helpful, it can cause us problems.

Inconsistency is seen as a negative personality trait, whereas consistency and "keeping one's word" are seen as signs of trustworthiness, stability, and honesty. We don't even realize we are doing it, but once we make a commitment, we're hooked.

Herein lies one of the traps for TFI members. Taking the stand to join the group, with its resultant requirements of burning bridges and giving away all one's goods, is not only commitment, but costly commitment. This puts psychological as well as in-group societal pressure on a member to be consistent. I've already written how doubts and questioning were considered sinful. Along with this, and perhaps more importantly, we had already made up our minds on the issue of "serving the Lord" with its unquestionable merit, and once that was done there was absolutely no need to waste mental effort by thinking about that decision anymore.

The more effort that is required of a commitment, (and in my case, like other TFI members, it was complete commitment - no looking back) the stronger the influence the decision has on the attitude of the person who made it. Then, as the years went by there was the growing sunk cost (which I mentioned previously), as well as the very strong need to be "a woman of my word."

"Because it is a preprogrammed and mindless method of responding, automatic consistency can supply a safe hiding place from those troubling realizations [that the cursedly clear and unwelcome set of answers provided by straight thinking would reveal]. Sealed within the fortress walls of rigid consistency, we can be impervious to the sieges of reason."*

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." Ralph Waldo Emerson

* Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion, by Robert B. Cialdini, PhD

Monday, June 29, 2015

Making Memories

When I was a child, I remember my mother telling me that when people are old, all they have is their memories. She explained that the elderly may lose their short-term memories, but recollections of their younger days remain. As with most advice I heard from my mother, I brushed this off. After all, old age was so far in the future I could not imagine it. As I now know, like most people, I was completely disconnected from my future self.

At one of my kids' graduation ceremonies in Japan, the speaker advised the students on how to make important choices in life. He said, "Choose the thing that you will least regret." I had never really looked at decisions in the light of how I would feel about them afterwards looking back.

The importance of memories is a common theme of Japanese speeches, with declarations at the start of events like "Let's make good memories today!" being customary. (Could this emphasis on making memories be one reason why Japanese are world-famous for their penchant for photo-taking?)

My mother died in middle-age and thus her life was too short for her to experience being elderly and the fulfillment of her words of advice, but now that I am old, I can see their wisdom. It is all-too-easy for me to relive with deep remorse the horrors of those wasted years and especially the harsh corporal punishment that was meted out on my children which I did not scream against, all because I wanted to believe my own fairy-dust dreams of a happy family life. We cannot undo the past.

Now, I feel obliged to echo my mother's words to young people - be careful of the memories you are making each day. People move on, places change, but your memories (and their confabulations) remain with you.

Friday, June 12, 2015

More on Optimism

In once again going over the sordid story of my life in the cult, I am baffled as to why "past me" remained in a group that "present me" deems so absurd. Obviously, the purpose of this blog is to address such questions, but today I found it helpful to readdress the topic of optimism.

A healthy dose of optimism has many benefits, as we all know. It encourages persistence in the face of obstacles, provides a sense of well-being, and is an antidote to worry. Optimism played a fundamental role in the formation of my personal narrative. It was the rosy glasses that I was seeing the world through in those days, filtering out the bad and only allowing in what conformed to being a happy, dedicated missionary for Jesus.

It seemed to be particularly pertinent to my relationship, as well. I hung onto that initial view of my husband as a wonderful, sacrificial, and dedicated disciple and husband. To my surprise, I came upon some research that fit my behavior to a T. Therapist Melissa Schneider summarized it as follows,

"Positive illusions are those useful cognitive biases that let you think your boyfriend or girlfriend is the greatest person in the world. Positive illusions refer to the way you see your partner and how you understand his or her actions. Since our perception of reality is never objective, we always have to fill in part of the story. When we love someone, we fill in a nicer story than when we don’t."*

Without the interference of dangerous, delusional dogmas, an optimistic outlook on a relationship can be a wonderful boon. Within the cult, and I might add, in any abusive relationships, maintaining a "positive illusion" can be very unhealthy to all parties concerned, children included.

Just as people have a disconnect from their future selves, I now have a disconnect from my past self. It has become very difficult for me to understand my irrational persistence and loyalty to a group that was clearly horrible on every level.

* http://www.scienceofrelationships.com/home/2013/5/17/top-three-predictors-of-successful-relationships-picl.html