Mental Tapes & The Challenge of Personal Change

As an INTJ, I’ve spent a significant portion of my life trying to improve. Personally, academically, professionally…it’s a hardwired imperative for me. But even though I strive to do better, I’m not always equipped to make the changes I want or need.

A recent experience reminded me, I can’t always identify the error with my approach because it’s so ingrained. I’m blind to the flaws in how I think, and how/what I perceive.

In psychology, ‘mental tapes’ refers to all the lessons we learned as children, good and bad. Based on experiences in our youth, we tell our adult selves (sub-conscious) stories in anticipation of similar outcomes. Because of this predisposition to view events in a particular light, the tapes become self-reinforcing. We fail to see how our perspective is flawed because we’ve not yet learned how to see the same thing a different way.

Even when the flaw in our thinking becomes obvious, we are hindered in our efforts because we have tapes about change, too. Tapes that make change feel scary and overwhelming, tapes that cause us to feel isolated and doubtful, tapes that make us want to go back to our old way of doing things.

Of course, mistakes are the best teachers. So, despite my desire to be a kind, compassionate, and authentic person, I find I’m still frequently in the business of apologizing. And that’s okay, so long as I’m not apologizing for the same mistake over and over, and I don’t believe I am. What I think I see now are layers of defense mechanisms tied to a life-long need for approval and ego-soothing; artifacts of my old life that don’t serve me well anymore.

And, well…ouch. It hurts to admit I’m not through all that yet. But that’s the reality. If I don’t acknowledge it, I can’t change it.

So, I think now’s a good time to remind myself of a few things:

  • Assume Positive Intent – If something a person says or does strikes us as challenging or hurtful, try to assume the hurt is unintentional, and the other person is not even aware they’ve offended. Try to determine what feels injured, and why.
  • It’s Not About You – Accept there will be people who do and say hurtful things to hurt. Be willing to believe their actions have nothing to do with us. Perhaps they were acting out of confusion, fear, or their own pain.
  • Be Curious – If a person behaves hurtfully, be curious about what is going on with them. What might they be dealing with right now? What battle might they be fighting?
  • Above all, recognize that perception is not realitywhat impressions or judgments am I forming that I may not be aware of?


For more detail on Mental Tapes, here’s a related article on the Psych Central blog: Psych Central – Mental Tapes

For more on the Challenge of Personal Change, here’s an article on the Psych Central blog: Psych Central – Emotional Growth

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s