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Emotional Illusions

Updated: Jun 15, 2020

Ever heard of "optical illusions", where you are sure what you see is there, but find that your brain tricked you into believing something that isn't true? Perhaps a row of images that are in a straight line, but appear to be waving, or a flat surface that appears to have a dip...a sort of black hole, or like the ships in the magical realism image above that morph into columns, upon second glance? I know there was a hole there. I know for sure that these lines are not parallel! After all, I saw it with my own eyes! I know what I saw!

What if our emotions do the same things to us? What if our memories, experiences, traumas and internalized messages inform the 'image' we see, and trick us into those flawed messages becoming our reality? "I know what I heard" is a common phrase for defending oneself in conflict, in an attempt to prove that what someone else said is absolutely true. But what if that was an illusion? What if the thing you felt about an incident/a comment/an email/a text were all just a complicated story that your mind has told you? I can guarantee you that this is a human trait, and if you don't know how to ask the right questions, be patient, listen more carefully, you may be contributing more than you know to creating conflict, big or small! Just this morning, I was looking for my car keys. Both of my sons are home, we all drive, and since we are sheltering in place indefinitely here in San Francisco, I have all of our cars in the driveway. I took the boys' and my wife's cars out of operation and suspended our auto insurance on those, since they simply are not needed. When needed, as sheltering began to relax a bit, my would boys ask if they can use my car, I retrieve my slightly-hidden keys and hand them off, as I give the spiel about wearing a mask, using hand sanitizer, not picking up friends (you know, because everyone is a potential CARRIER!!) - all the mom stuff. It's my way of being certain of they people come and go, since we are in the midst of COVID-19 and I absolutely MUST give my speech each time I hand anyone my keys. Well, the other day, my son was out protesting against police brutality against Black Americans for Black Lives Matter for the third time this week. I had picked him up from The Mission, drove him home, made him do the old "Silkwood Shower" (look it up!) after being in a crowd, and he was going back over to his friend's house to hang out. That was 2 nights ago. As of this morning, I was certain his outing was last night. So this morning, I needed to run an errand between Zoom calls and couldn't find my keys and I had 2 hours, and I knew that any store I was going to would likely have a line of 30 minutes outside, then shopping, then another 15-20 minutes in line at the register. I was doing the math on what this unexpected event was going to cost me. After all, we were OUT OF EGGS. I was beside myself. I immediately went to a really compelling and probably SUPER true story that the boys had gone out, gotten silly, drove home, dropped my keys somewhere unknown, not caring about me or my needs, making me late - in my very own mind - as this was something that was neither scheduled nor timed. I went to wake my son up, asked him where the keys were. He groggily rolled out of bed, looked around, apologized, said "Maybe I dropped them in the Man Cave..." at which time I launched like a rocket back downstairs, and downstairs again to the cave. No keys. Just a messy room and game controllers. I came back upstairs - you know the drill - rummaging through everything. The more I rummaged and asked "what about...", "did you check...", the story I was running through my head turned into an emotional illusion (or was it??): he MUST have been drinking last night or he wouldn't have lost my keys, and the story devolved into he and his friends were not social distancing and not wearing masks, and not washing hands, and now I'm not going to be able to get eggs, and what about the half n half....??? It continued to devolve: I'm just not going to let him use my car this weekend. He blew it. Should I just not let him use it this weekend, or just tonight, or ?? What is something important comes up? He can't take a rideshare because social distancing is not possible, and he definitely can't ride in the petri dish of infection that is public transit... BUT, I never yelled, I didn't get 'mad' at him, I was just frustrated. I avoided getting myself worked into a lather, by using the sanity tools that I know work to keep me [outwardly] calm and patient. Then my son came downstairs, saying, only mildly triumphantly: "I found them!" I, of course, asked "Where were they?" He said, "On your dresser, under a book." And then I remembered: I had put them there AFTER he came home last night, around 9:30pm. I DID THAT. ALL BY MYSELF. Remember, I had a control mechanism in place "in case" they wanted to go somewhere, so they would have to ask where my keys were before leaving, and I would fetch the keys, allowing me to give my lecture during the key hand-off. I was the one who put the keys there. I had mixed up last night with the night before. It was all my fault, and boy did I make a SERIOUSLY BELIEVABLE EMOTIONAL ILLUSION. But none of the story I had told myself was true. I made a mistake. I apologized to him, hugged him, embarrassed and mortified, and wondered if I was losing it. None of the story I had told myself was true. Not one piece of it. I had led myself down an emotional rabbit hole, my own little Alice In Wonderland emotional illusion.

Much ado about nothing, as Shakespeare would tell it.

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