Our Two WorldsNov 26, 2023
We all inhabit two worlds simultaneously. One is our shared world, the External World. The other is private to each of us, our Internal World.
Most of the time, our worlds blend, somewhat seamlessly to us. That's both a good thing and a not so good thing.
Things can get messy when our worlds collide, especially when it's unanticipated or, worse, happening without our awareness.
But let's back up a minute.
Our External World
When you think of the world you live in, this is likely what you're considering. When you open your eyes and look around at trees and buildings that everyone else can see, you're experiencing the External World.
When you hear children laughing or birds chirping or horns honking, again, External World. When hurricanes destroy homes, when laws are enforced, when the sun rises and sets. All External World.
We know this world through our sensory experiences, the things we can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. And while there may be differences in our perceptions, these are experiences we can share.
Our Internal World
Truly knowable only to us, our Internal World consists of the things we experience within the confines of our skin. Everything we think. Everything we feel. Our memories, assumptions, expectations, interpretations. The meaning we ascribe to events. Our identity. Our beliefs.
Our Internal Worlds exist to help us understand and function in the External World. Our remembered histories and our imagined futures inform us, providing valuable insights we can use to navigate our shared World. Our thoughts and our feelings shape the way we operate, the choices we make, the things we do and don't do.
But sometimes our intel, our Internal World, is skewed or distorted or maladaptive or otherwise unhelpful.
Worlds Shaping Worlds
We learn about how the External World works based on what we observe. Events that happen to us and experiences that we go through stamp our memories, cultivate our beliefs, and craft our identities and world views. Thus, the External World helps to mold our Internal World.
In turn, beliefs - Internal World inhabitants - act as filters, skewing our vision of the External World. That skewed perception drives certain actions, which garner more experiences that confirm that very perception.
For example, the Internal World mandate that the world is a terrible place full of selfish people may lead us to engage in defensive actions, self-protective and self-serving behaviors, or low tolerance or patience for others. The result may be negative reactions from others, which we interpret as proof of that "fact."
Meanwhile, someone who views the world as a great place full of caring awesome humans, again a perception, the purview of our Internal Worlds, may enact an opposite self-fulfilling prophecy. Assuming generous motives from others and responding in kind, they create a different kind of External World experience.
When Worlds Collide
Our Internal and External Worlds are intricately intertwined, informing and reacting to each other in a delicate, reciprocal dance. Sometimes, the wrong twist or turn results in a stutter step, which, over time, may have dire consequences.
Our thoughts and feelings are real, but they may not accurately reflect reality, another word for our shared experiences in the External World. They belong in our private, internal worlds. Yet, we project them outside all the time and treat them as capital T Truth.
And that's when problems arise.
Sometimes instead of providing helpful guidance on how to navigate or make sense of the External World, our Internal Worlds - our thoughts and feelings - dominate our field of vision, and we react to them IN THE EXTERNAL WORLD as though they are inevitable, unalterable, objective facets of reality.
Stay with me.
Conflict with your partner happens. But is it in the shared External World or are you fighting separate fights in your own Internal Worlds?
You expected (your Internal World) him to do the dishes. He did not (External World). You sarcastically comment about not being a maid (External). He rolls his eyes (External) because you always act like a martyr (his Internal World). You're hurt because he takes you for granted (your Internal). You feel unloved and unappreciated (your Internal). He feels dejected because no matter what he does, it's not enough (his Internal).
So many hurt feelings, so many thoughts - martyr, not enough, unappreciated. So many private experiences projected onto a sink full of dishes.
Other Internal World manifesting in the External World scenarios:
- Self-sabotaging a relationship (External) because you "know" it's not going to work (prediction = Internal World).
- Having an imaginary conversation with someone who has wronged you (Internal World) rather than directly confronting the situation and having a hard conversation (External World). Conversely, thinking about how much someone means to you but not saying it out loud, expecting that they'll just know.
- Accepting poor treatment from others (External World) because you're not worthy (belief = Internal World).
- Honking at the driver speeding past you (External) because they're a selfish jerk (interpretation = Internal).
- Feeling disappointed or angry and acting accordingly (External) because your expectations weren't met (Internal).
- Missing out on what your child or boss told you (External) because you were daydreaming (Internal).
And any other number of times when we've taken our Internal World experiences, our thoughts, feelings, assumptions, meanings, memories, and expectations, as facts of the External World or assumed that others would just know, completely agree with, or intuit our private, inside experiences.
Our Internal Worlds are powerful and useful and completely natural, and we're not going to escape them for any significant length of time. The goal is really to just be aware that it exists and that it is separate from the External World. We must also hold on to the knowledge that as real as it is to us, it may not be real to others, and it certainly can't be known to them unless we do a heck of a good job communicating it to them.
Take charge of your Internal World. If it's a scary place, change it. Create an enriching Internal World, one in which you can thrive. Do some self-reflection. Pay attention to how it works, how it influences your actions in the External World, and whether your worlds are in harmony or not. If not, build your psychological strength and work to align the two.
Keeping You in the Loop
I enjoy writing these weekly blog posts, sharing my thoughts with our fantastic community, and I hope you enjoy reading them. As I did last year, though, I'm taking December off from writing to create space in my schedule to reflect on this year's goals and prepare for next year's. Expect to hear from me again in January with exciting changes and new things from Peak Mind.
Until then, take care of you!
"Your mind is an entire world..." - Matshona Dhliwayo
Written by Dr. Ashley Smith
Peak Mind Co-founder
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