A scotoma is a mental activity in which one locks on to one idea and excludes all others – known as a “lock on – lock out” program. It’s my mind’s way of avoiding overwhelm, when faced with too many choices, by protecting what I wish to maintain as my truth. However, a scotoma can get me into trouble, without me knowing about it.
A great example is in a Spongebob Squarepants cartoon. Spongebob wakes one morning and thinks he’ll create a fantastic dessert for himself. Unfortunately, his choice of ingredients cause him to have horrific halitosis (bad breath). He goes outside after breakfast, where he meets several people, all of whom scream and run away from him as soon as he opens his mouth and says, “Hello.”
His conclusion – “I must be terribly ugly!” Stuck (scotoma) in this erroneous conclusion, he weighs all future evidence only in light of it – discounting evidence to the contrary (called mental filtering).
Every experience he encounters later tends to strengthen his belief that he is ugly – a belief he locks in as truth while locking out any other possibilities – a scotoma.
His scotoma causes him to feel less and less self-confident until he at last introverts and avoids others. Spongebob’s close friend, Patrick, who as a starfish, has no nose, can’t smell the bad breath and so assumes his friend is correct in his assessment. Together, Spongebob and Patrick attempt to overcome Spongebob’s “ugliness” through a series of humorous, yet reasonable, methods. They try positive affirmations, “I’m ugly and I’m proud!” etc. Again, all their efforts are aimed at correcting what they believe to be the fundamental problem – that Spongebob is ugly.
At long last Patrick tries some of Spongebob’s “dessert” and finds that he, too, has become “ugly.” Everyone runs away from them whenever they open their mouths. When Patrick then speaks to Spongebob and Spongebob gets a whiff of the odorous mouth, he finally gets it that he’s not ugly – his breath stinks – and together Spongebob and Patrick celebrate the fact that “we stink!”
The Scotoma Problem
This is a fine example of what happens when I make an erroneous conclusion from data I observe, then lock that conclusion in as THE truth. I’ve locked in on ONE truth and locked out any and all others. Scotoma!
I’ve made many of my life-determining decisions based on data I evaluated and made conclusions about when I was VERY YOUNG or in infancy – a time in my life when I was physically and psychologically ill-equipped to make such life-long conclusions. Now, I find myself living my life locked-in to beliefs derived from erroneous conclusions of ambiguous data made long ago when I was incapable of making an informed interpretation.
Today, these fundamental errors come forward when I lock in on one way – THE ONLY WAY and exclude even the consideration of any other. A scotoma blinders my views and narrows my vision. A scotoma is at the core of all-or-nothing thinking, in which I think in terms of absolutes (black or white).
My Scotoma Solution
How do I become aware of that to which my scotoma blinds me – and to which I may be completely unaware? I’m even so unaware that I’m unaware that I’m unaware. Egad!
I’ve developed a healthy skepticism about my choices and decision making processes. I question myself often – “Am I sure about this?” and, “Could I be wrong about this/that/them/you/me/us?” etc.
I work at LISTENING to those closest to me. I consider criticism golden nuggets of awareness. Spouses are special goldmines for such info. When I feel threatened – the surest sign that gold is afoot – I want to listen closely with intent to HEAR. Defending myself against my loved ones shuts the doors and windows of awareness as well as communication.
When I LISTEN to my “enemies” they will tell me what I don’t want to hear about me. As such, they can be my best friends – at least when it comes to information about me. I might ask, “In what ways are the things they are saying about me true – to some extent – in some context?”
I like to speak the words, “Thank you” to those I feel are attacking me. I dig deep to be as genuine as I possibly can in the moment – no sarcasm or brushing off. They are doing me a favor – it’s just good manners to show appreciation. Besides, it shifts my thinking mode from emotion to reason – a good thing during communication.