Have you ever heard of mental filtering? Do you recall any experiences of it? How is the mind able to solely focus on one set of facts while at the same time pretending that the other set doesn’t exist? In essence, mental filtering is the cognitive distortion wherein we fixate on some aspect or aspects of a situation, person, or thing while ignoring all of the others. Individuals with depressive disorders tend to ruminative (think about over and over again) on why their lives are so terrible. People with anxiety disorders only conceive of all of the ways in which an event or endeavor can go wrong. But, for everyone with a tendency to engage in it, mental filtering ruins the object of our mind’s eye.
And its based on entitlement. While struggling with dating over the years, at some point, I realized that I felt entitled to what no one else had: the perfect partner. I’d focus on the lack of intelligence in the women obsessed with appearance and the lack of beauty in those more accomplished. Before the end of each new beginning, I believed that I simply needed to find someone better. But better in the aggregate didn’t exist. I often tell my clients that they can’t have it all, in themselves and in others. And, stubbornly, like a child touching a hot flame over and over while hoping to elicit a different response, many persist, just like I did. Deserving less than everything is a tough pill to swallow. But why the sense of entitlement and where does it stem from?
Many of the cognitive distortions are related to one another and, in this case, mental filtering is associated with black and white (or all or nothing) thinking and overgeneralized thinking. A hyper-focus on the negatives creates the belief that something is wholly bad and what’s wholly bad is placed in one of the only two existing categories (i.e. bad and good). When considered in the context of distorted thinking, naturally, you’d want the good thing, as opposed to the bad. But, to believe that you deserve it says more about how you think of yourself. Some of my clients believe that they’re going to someday be special (if they already aren’t) and, therefore, deserve to have friends and partners who are equally perfect. Others conceive of themselves as victims of an unfair and unjust universe and deserve to be compensated for all of their suffering. In their minds, perfection is not only warranted but also necessary.
When someone with depression searches for perfection, they believe that they’ll never be able to tolerate their own imperfections or those of their lives. When it relates to anxiety, the individual believes that she’ll never be able to cope with the expectation of having to resolve her problems. Ultimately, entitlement is bound up with fear. If I can convince myself that I deserve nothing less than perfection, then, when I attain it, I won’t have to worry. I won’t have to wonder if I’ll ever be able to accept my flaws. I won’t have to ruminate about potential catastrophes. And if my partner is perfect, that must mean that I am as well, therefore, I won’t have to fear rejection, either.
As the psychoanalytic concept of projection informs us: we reject the flaws in the other because, fundamentally, we can’t tolerate the exposure of our own imperfections. I know that people aren’t perfect and if I somehow cosmically deserve a partner who is, I’ll never find one. Just like the clients who believe they need to be in the perfect environments to feel safe, I think I need the perfect partner to preclude rejection. And all of this, existentially speaking, constitutes the dreams of a child. The alternative is to develop self-esteem and self-efficacy, the beliefs that you’re worthy and capable and can handle the struggles awaiting you.