Each of us filters and frames reality through our own perspective, our own “world view”; here are five of the world views that can set us up for problems when it comes to personality development and interpersonal functioning.
Any seasoned, astute politician will tell you that the real key to winning an argument on a highly charged issue lies in how you frame the debate. Perhaps some good examples of this are the debates currently raging on the subjects of marriage and wage “equality.” Our perspectives or frames — the unique “spectacles” through which we filter reality — impact far more than our opinions on political topics, they influence our attitudes and especially our behavior in just about every area of our lives.
In my years as a therapist, I’ve encountered many individuals whose difficulties had a lot to do with their overall world view. For those folks to develop a better sense of balance and improve their capacity to grow and mature, it was often necessary to help them “re-frame” not only their self-designated issues of concern but also how they generally tended to perceive and think about most things in their life. Some individuals, especially those with a personality or character disturbance, tend to harbor broad perspectives on the world that are inherently flawed and set them up for problems. These distorted perceptions often lead to the development of problematic “life scripts” (i.e., inner convictions about what the world is like and how we should deal with it to survive and prosper). Such scripts play a significant role in personality formation. Long before a person can even entertain the notion of making a significant change in their preferred way of coping, it’s usually necessary for them to become open to a shift in perspective.
In my work over the years with individuals with problematic personality characteristics, there are some world views I’ve encountered more frequently than others. These include:
- 1. The world is a hostile place, full of people you really can’t trust.
- Some people who see the world this way tend to believe that the best way for them to survive and prosper is to garner as much power as they can and constantly strive for a position of advantage in their dealings with others. Such folks also tend to believe the best defense is a strong offense, so they tend to bully and attack first, then think about things later, if they think about them at all.
Others, while sharing this same perspective on the world, are not naturally gifted with the tenacious temperament of the personalities described above and tend to be overly retreating and avoidant. They go out of their way to avoid direct engagement, conflict, and especially intimacy. Such folks are ever fearful they will be hurt, so they keep their distance and build walls of self-protection.
- 2. The world is a scary, unstable place, full of pitfalls and danger.
- Folks who see the world this way tend to find their security in exercising caution, imposing structure, and seeking assurance. They always try to do things a certain way and figure that if they do things rightly, all will work out well. They live under an illusion of control (a false perception reinforced by occasional successes with this strategy), thinking that all the precautions they take are inherent guarantors of their well-being. They can become easily despondent and self-condemning whenever the illusion is shattered. And they can become highly anxious and agitated when they feel they have lost control.
- 3. The world is a wonderful, caring place, full of people just like me (or more particularly, people who are just as kind or good-natured as I am, at least, “underneath” their exterior facade).
- People who see the world this way tend to have a Pollyanna-like naiveté and gullibility. They are generally too willing to trust, and sometimes too willing to turn over control and direction to others. As a result, they get taken advantage of far too easily. Their inability to accept that not everyone is the same and that some people have serious defects in their character that are deeply ingrained puts them chronically at risk in relationships.
- 4. The world is my personal candy store, full of wonderful treats ready for the taking.
- Folks who see the world this way tend to be sensation-seeking and hedonistic. They tend to have a hard time finding any reasons to bear discomfort, even for a minute, and even when to do so in the short run would benefit them and/or others greatly in the long run. Because they won’t deny themselves anything or impose discipline on themselves, they often come into conflict with society’s rules. They also tend to have great difficulty developing any depth in their relationships, tending to view even the people they’re drawn to in some manner as just another “trinket” in life’s supermarket of delights.
- 5. The world is a cold and uncaring place that doesn’t really have much use for me.
- People with this world view tend to have impaired self-concepts and difficulties in their interpersonal relationships. They often labor under a chronic low-level despondency and sometimes struggle with low energy levels as well. Sometimes, when desperate for love, such folks will sell themselves very cheaply, hooking up with someone who appears to care but really intends to merely use. And, unfortunately, after such an experience, their unhappiness-fostering world view is only reinforced.
These are just a few of the “world views” that can pose problems for healthy personality development and interpersonal functioning. Modifying these views most often takes a lot of work. That’s because our world views tend to become self-fulfilling prophecies which then become deeply ingrained in our core belief systems. Challenging such perspectives and getting a person to a point where they will at least “try on” a different set of “spectacles” with which to view the world — and then, hopefully, to experience a whole new reality as a consequence — is a very daunting task. That’s just exactly what therapy within the Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) framework seeks to accomplish. Such therapy also seeks to challenge the other common cognitive distortions or “thinking errors” that frequently accompany problematic world views. (A list of the most common thinking errors can be found in my books Character Disturbance and In Sheep’s Clothing; also see my article series on thinking errors.)
Changing attitudes always has to have a starting point. Sometimes, you have to address a lot of the little thinking errors in order to see the world a different way and sometimes you have to really challenge the world view in order to make headway on all the other cognitive distortions. That said, in my many years of practice, I’ve witnessed many a person change their life in significant ways just by coming to see their world, and themselves in relation to that world, in a new and different way.
All clinical material on this site is peer reviewed by one or more clinical psychologists or other qualified mental health professionals. This specific article was originally published by Dr Greg Mulhauser, Managing Editor on .on and was last reviewed or updated by