If you have ever been in love you know what a powerful drug love can be. It may be the most powerful drug in the world. No one can talk you out of being in love and it is usually a waste of time even attempting to do so. The person in love is under a spell and will only view the object of their affections the way they choose to view them based upon their own preconceived beliefs. “Sure my boyfriend might drink a little too much, but it isn’t a problem. You don’t really know him; he’s a wonderful man.” “She is the woman of my dreams. There is no way she would be interested in my money and I would know if she were a gold digger.”
Confirmation bias is the tendency to seek, interpret and record information that confirms our preconceptions. It happens when people give more weight to evidence that confirms their hypothesis and undervalues evidence that can disprove it. It may be difficult to believe this happens to all of us but it does. Facts rarely have a chance to be recognized when up against the power of our beliefs.
So it makes reasonable sense that the opposite may also be true. When we have a strong negative belief about someone, we are likely to mentally record only those facts that will confirm our belief. (Humans really love to feel right!) For example, you are anxious that your child’s adolescent sloppiness indicates they will grow up to be a “slob.” In believing this, you will only notice when they are lazy, careless, sloppy etc… The times when your child is careful and responsible may be missed if your negative beliefs and expectations are strong enough.
Now consider the adult you have strong negative feelings about. It may be a sibling, a neighbour or even your co-parent. Your negative beliefs will lead you to notice only the moments that will confirm your beliefs. If you believe your co-parent is unstable then that is what you will take notice of rather than the other times that they behave in a rational manner. If you believe they are insensitive you will likely not even notice when they are indeed empathic. If you believe they are out to ruin you then you will mentally record anything that looks like aggression and completely ignore when their behaviour is not in line with your belief.
In a conflicted divorce, adults feel anxious to protect themselves. As a result, they become very protective of their negative beliefs about their co-parent much like the person in-love. They will dig in and resist anyone who tries to point out any discrepancies. This someone may even be your child. When we lock into our negative beliefs we tend to use terms such as “always and never. “He is a complete control freak!” “She is never flexible with the schedule.” As a result they will not notice when the other parent is reasonable (albeit- rarely but none the less it will be missed).
For your sake and your child’s, consider you may be caught up in your own confirmation bias about the other parent. This will not help you reduce stress for you child nor help you to be appreciative nor reasonable with your co-parent.
There are four things you can do to bypass your own faulty brain:
- Determine and acknowledge exactly what your negative beliefs are. (Not to your child of course, even though they unfortunately have already figured you out.)
- Commit to remove the terms Always and Never when making reference to your co-parent.
- Make a serious effort to watch for the exception to your bias.
- Then show you noticed by saying “Thank you!” This may even increase the likelihood of their duplicating the good behaviour in the future.
These four steps will help you make a conscious effort to put on new glasses that may allow new information to be processed in your brain. Furthermore, your child will not have the stress of having to play devil’s advocate to point out the positives of their other parent. Your child will not have to convince you of a truth you cannot see. In other words learn to seek the exceptions to your belief and enjoy the occasions when they occur.
Widely known for her expertise in the area of divorce and the family, she provides training to educators, family law and mental health professionals, as well as “High-conflict divorce” and “Parenting Coordination”.She has trained parenting coordinators since 1997, and as a result, co-authored the first and only comprehensive model of parenting coordination. Respected in their field, Susan has conducted numerous seminars on the international, national, state and local levels on topics such as parental alienation and visitation refusal, interviewing children, therapeutic and supervised visitation and developmentally appropriate time-sharing plans.
She has been awarded clinical membership in the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and is a member of multiple organizations including the Academy of Professional Family Mediators, American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy.Mrs. Boyan maintains a private practice in Georgia.
Latest posts by Susan Boyan (see all)
- Seek and You Shall Find;Confirmation Bias with Divorce - July 1, 2015
- King Solomon’s Advice on Co-Parenting - June 3, 2015
- Part II. Different Paths to Seek a Divorce - May 21, 2015