In order to identify a problem, we must know that the problem exists. This involves the process of self-discovery, and self-discovery requires the willingness to be open and honest with ourselves and others. Our friends and family members can be sources of honest feedback during the process of self-discovery, and they can be there with us as we celebrate the freedoms we experience as a result of beneficial change.
So what is a brain-trap? The term is not in the dictionary, rather it is something I named a few years ago when I began my journey of self-discovery.There are certain things we learn as we develop as children, adolescents, and adults that we carry with us unaware. Some things become habits, some things are embedded in our character or personalities, and some things are thoughts and ideas that we hold to without ever questioning them. All of these things are potential brain-traps – things that influence our decisions and behaviors but that are hidden in the recesses of our minds. Until we become aware of these influences and/or beliefs, we cannot identify them nor can we understand why we make the choices we do.
I have a funny example of which I remind myself when I need to stop taking myself so seriously. Unbeknownst to me, I had a poor, poverty-stricken mentality that I had carried with me from my youth. The result was that I had a constant fear of not having enough. This mental deprivation caused me to hoard certain things and save others, denying myself the permission to use things for fear that I would run out or never be able to replace them. I used a dilapidated sponge for days until it was literally falling apart when I had a brand new one under the kitchen sink. Finally, I said to myself, “Go ahead and use the last sponge and I bet nothing bad will happen.” It took some coaxing but I got out the new sponge, the last sponge, and I used it. Guess what? Nothing bad happened!
I share that somewhat comical story because I know there are other people who struggle with the same issue, whether it pertains to money, food, clothing, or whatever. These brain-traps are also present in our belief systems, our worldviews, and our opinions – sometimes and sadly at the expense of others. How do we develop negative mindsets about other people, different beliefs, and individual “otherness?” Our culture, the media, and our families embed strong persuasions as we grow from children into adults. What are we telling our children about others? Are we justified in our assumptions? I have found that most of the time our negative perspectives about the uniqueness or diversity of people from different cultures, ethnicities, and backgrounds are rooted in outdated sources of information that have been passed down from generation to generation – without their validity being properly questioned.
We are concerned about teaching the truth but whose version of the truth is most valid? Is any one group entitled to claim the monopoly on truth without using their self-appointed claims to the truth? Is truth static or relative? These questions reveal the nature of brain-traps. They are elusive and well-hidden. One measure I have found useful is to ask, “What agenda does this belief meet?” Another question is, “Who profits and who loses?” Finally, “Is there a tangible benefit for my neighbor as well as for my family and me?” Brain-traps are developed over time, it takes courage to seek them out and bring them out into the open, and the willingness to replace them with more accurate and beneficial assessments.