Wednesday, August 10, 2005

SABER: More on it

The SABER system was created by me to illustrate that while our responses often feel automatic, they are often the result of the following factors:

  1. Assessment accuracy--often we think we see clearly the situation. A perfect example are witness reports at crime scenes. Four people on four corners have four perspectives. That does NOT mean that there is no absolutely true way to see the situation, it just means that it is very rare to have the full picture.
  2. Bogus Beliefs--We hold many beliefs. Some help us, some hinder us and all of them shape how we filter the world. Maybe we believe travelling in cars is safer than flying in planes. Statistical evidence contradicts this, but our belief will be fertile ground for a phobia to form especially when plane crashes receive heightened media coverage. We gather evidence to support our belief more often than evidence creates the belief. The belief often comes first--from parents, from trusted advisors like teachers, preachers, aunts, uncles and friends.
  3. Emotional control--We are all born with genetic tendancies, ever hear of Irish ire or a hot-headed Italian? These generalizations are not for nothin'. Some of us have tendencies to depression or anger-management problems. Some of us burn fast and hot, some slow and some never burn but seem preternaturally given to sunshine. Then we observe our parents deal with the similar genetics. We see some who exhibit supreme emotional maturity: in touch with them, expressive or not, but in control. Others exhibit flashes of immaturity: perfectly normal emotional-control for example except when you're dad watches a Raiders game. Other parents exhibit almost no control whatsoever. In all situations, the most extreme, intense feeling that could be tagged to a situation is felt: all loss brings unremitting grief even tiny ones, any slight provokes instant, intense wrath, etc.

These three factors contribute to our world view, shape it, inform it, and provide the foundation for all experience. This context is vital to survival.

For example, at two years old your reaction to a bull running straight at you nostrils flaring may not be the same as your reaction at 20. In the intervening time, you have formed a belief--you were raised on a farm and dad said the bull was dangerous, you saw the Discovery Channel do a show on the Running of the Bulls and thought "THAT IS INSANE!", you saw rushing cars past your house and your mom said those could crush you and you transferred that knowledge to a 2000 pound steer. Whatever, you now own the belief that a big bull can mean trouble. So you're cautious. You don't get near. You survive.

Now, imagine you are on one side of break-proof plate glass but didn't know it was there. A bull bears down on you. What do you do? You run or you freeze. Now, if you run, screaming "I'm gonna die! I'm gonna die!" and turn around 1/2 mile down the road and realize that there was no threat, did your heart not pound? Did your body react as though it were real? Yes. Your assessment was wrong because you had incomplete information. You made a decision based on the information you had. Once you realized that a huge (shatterproof) and strong barrier was between you and the bull you could relax and laugh, cry, get angry or exhibit the emotional response you're inclined to. A healthy person will get back to a centered okay feeling a whole lot faster than an emotionally unstable, easily rocked person.

This system plays out day after day in many ways. Sometimes our reaction to life-threatening (we perceive) stimuli does save our life. (The people who intellectuallized the planes into the Twin Towers stayed behind while the people following their gut instincts ran and lived.) Sometimes our reaction to what we perceive as a threatening situation causes us to expend unneeded energy and stresses us out or causes us to make complete asses of ourself. (We run away from a rustling leaf thinking its a spider, we call our boss a name because he reminds us of our big brother who picked on us.)

The SABER system is useful in slowing us down and disecting the time between the stimulus and the response kinda like super slo-mo. If a belief was formed once, it can be formed again and be more helpful.

So the kid who killed his neighbor, with a more accurate way of seeing the world, more sound beliefs and better controlled or modulated emotions could have handled his situation this way instead of taking the "I'm threatened" position:

  • Stimulus: She's laughing
  • Assessment: I think she's laughing at me, but I'm not sure
  • Belief: Sometimes I do silly things
  • Emotion: Unsure, nervous (at this point one could ask: Why are you nervous? Because she might think I'm stupid. So what if she thinks you're stupid? Well I am stupid, see. I dropped out of school. [hidden belief])
  • Response: Ask her what is so funny.

We often fill in the blanks of our mis-perceptions with our own beliefs. That is called in psychological parlance: projecting. We project our insecurity, bias, beliefs and desires onto others when the other people we interact with are doing what they do for THEIR reasons which rarely are YOUR reasons.

Next time a situation feels threatening and you can't name it (your body never lies--are you sweating, heart beating faster, feel the urge to go to the bathroom, twitchy, head ache or does your stomach hurt?) slow down and SABER it.

The SABER System is a registered trademark of Dr. Melissa. No reproduction in whole or in part may be made without written permission from the author. This information is copyrighted 2005.

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