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Mary Ann Glynn, LCSW: Blame your brain — brain science about optimism

Mary Ann GlynnBy Mary Ann Glynn, LCSW, located in Bernardsville, New Jersey

I recently wrote about how partners of sociopaths tend to take responsibility when things go wrong in the relationship, figuring ways to make it better. We then blame ourselves for overlooking warning signs early on, and for not leaving immediately when we did see them. Sometimes we blame our childhoods for the vulnerabilities that made us caretakers who overlook and tolerate abusive or rejecting partners.

Neuroscientists tell us that our behaviors are about 90% driven by our subconscious minds. That means 90% of what we are taking in from a person on a conscious level is being received by our subconscious minds, not our conscious thoughts and experience. It takes a lot longer for our conscious minds to catch up and integrate what we are experiencing on an unconscious, visceral, or “gut” level. Hopefully, this information will help you to give yourself a break!

Optimism in the face of reality

But, there is even more compelling evidence that goes beyond naivete, beyond whatever childhood we may have had or type of personality we might have, that explains why we didn’t see the signs, overlooked them, and stayed. I watched a documentary on brain science, which described a recent study done at the University College, London. Dr. Tali Sharot wanted to find out, “Why do we remain optimistic in the face of reality?”

Subjects were put in a brain scanner and asked what they thought the probability of them encountering 80 different negative events in their lives, such as cancer, Alzheimers, car accident, burglary, bone fracture, sport related accident, heart failure, drug abuse, household accident, diabetes, alcoholism, and death before 60. Initially, the subjects responded well below the actual probabilities, for example guessing 18% chance of getting cancer vs. the actual probability, which is 30%.

After these questions, the subjects were shown the actual percentages of the negative events happening and the great gap of their beliefs and reality. Normally, when people are given new information on a subject, it will alter their view or beliefs. After being given the new correct information, the subjects were asked the same questions all over again while in a brain scanner. Instead of the new information altering their beliefs about them encountering the negative events in their lives like should happen, it had little effect!

Negative, positive and the brain

Here is what they found in the brain scans that explains this: The part of the brain that contains negative information malfunctions, while the part that contains positive information is much more active. The brain willfully ignores negative things, and sees the world through rose-colored glasses.

The reason our brains are formed this way and trick us is for survival reasons. 1) It reduces stress and anxiety, and 2) We are goal driven from an evolutionary standpoint, to ignore risks involved in exploring the world and universe and discovering something novel to better our world. It keeps us striving for a better future. Risk takers who less concerned with playing it safe are the ones who are not afraid to venture out, and who keep our species going.

When thought about from the brain science perspective, there is good reason that we ignored the negative, which does not in any way point to a personality or moral flaw. It’s just the way we are.



76 Comments on "Mary Ann Glynn, LCSW: Blame your brain — brain science about optimism"

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  1. blossom4th says:

    fightforwhatsright,
    Yes,it’s All ABOUT SPATH!I can remember him telling me a story about how he stole the money he’d paid a street girl, back,as he was leaving,and LAUGHING about it.He seemed to find delight in telling stories about his street life.I really think he found me extremely boring compared to all of that stuff,but he wouldn’t turn me loose because he needed someone to control so he could feel good about himself.



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  2. Stargazer says:

    Dear fight:

    Normal men are not usually attracted to women who are nice. They are attracted to women whom they find a challenge. In the case of a sociopath, this is multiplied by 1000 because once he’s got you hooked (and you are being nice to him, etc.), then he discards you, and the games begin because when you go away, he has to try to get you back. That’s how the game works. They are only concerned with the game, not about you or having any kind of actual relationship with you. The game, being able to manipulate your feelings, is what is exciting to them. Also, sexual attraction often has nothing to do with a person’s looks – there is that intangible quality of chemistry that is not reasonable or rational. There’s no accounting for taste sometimes.

    You won’t be able to figure out why a spath does what he does. But in time, when you are farther along in your healing, it won’t matter to you anymore.



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  3. blossom4th says:

    stargazer,
    Yep,sounds like spath….he always loved the challenge of catching me in his web again.



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  4. Stargazer says:

    I still scratch my head at some of the games the spath I dated played with me. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I hope I never will again.

    I wanted to add that regarding why a spath would sleep with an unattractive person……it’s because they can. That’s the simple reason. Sex, to them, is a pastime that keeps them from being bored. Most of the ones I’ve heard about here will sleep with anything – man, woman, or mountain lion. They are often obsessed with sex.

    In reading between the lines in your comment, fight, I’m hearing that you want to be more special than the other women. That means you are basing your self-worth on what he thought of you and how much or little he valued you. This causes a lot of pain. It’s not good to base your self-worth on what anyone thinks of you but far less what a spath thinks. Because the things they think have nothing to do with the price of rice in China – they are disordered. For me, this is the bottom line – that I have looked to a man for my self-worth and my value as a woman. It’s a set-up for suffering. I am learning to enjoy men, to enjoy their company and compliments, but not take it personally if they are more interested in someone else or if they reject me. Easier said than done, especially with someone you are close to.



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    • fightforwhatsright says:

      I have worried about being “better” before. Right now, honestly, that is about 1% of it. He is old and sick and I am old and sick. I am at the point right now of deciding if the money he pays to live in my garage apt is worth letting him come back here from the hospital. I think it is. Over the last few months as I have read more and more about narcissism and sociopaths, I don’t want to spend time with him. I just want my money. I guess you could say the “game” has become about my getting my house paid off and having a pretty easy room mate. When I was looking for a new room mate and asked him if he wanted to come back to the old place here that I rented to him before, I was finding spaths I didn’t know. One guy who answered by ad had on his FB page he was the “best” Nazi tatoo artist! I realize we are all wonderful. He hur all of us. He is too old and sick to do any of those things any more. And I am too poor to care what he looks at on line any more.



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  5. Stargazer says:

    Fight, are you sure he’s a spath? Spaths cannot be trusted for anything, especially not to pay rent and keep the peace. ****shudders at the thought of doing business with a spath****

    A few years ago I had a very interesting friend who is extremely narcissistic. I often felt manipulated around her, and when I wouldn’t allow her to manipulate me, she would get upset and ignore me. The last time was about a year ago, and I finally just let her go, even though she is an extremely interesting person in many ways. Recently, I acquired some jewelry from my mother’s estate. My friend is a jewelry expert – she knows every kind of stone, every type of precious metal, etc. I picked up the phone to call her to see if she would come over to look at my jewelry. I kind of missed her, too. We used to go out to dinners together a lot. Then I remembered how manipulative and narcissistic she is, and I thought to myself, “Naw, I’m good” and walked away from the phone. I know personally, I cannot invite disordered people in my life, even if it means saving money. The toll on my physical and psychological health is too great. But this is a personal choice everyone must make for themselves. If they just avoid the disordered person because someone else thinks they should, they will probably just attracted new ones.



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  6. fightforwhatsright says:

    Tea Light: They probably do! He seemed mighty proud on FB. I have had some sociopaths live here and had to kick them out or tell them I was moving and all kinds of stuff to get rid of them.

    Stargazer: I feel confident he is a sociopath. He does tend to go back and forth between love bombing, cruel statements out of nowhere and then his favorite is withdrawing and rejecting. When I review the list, he has a majority of the attributes. I would say a more narrowed down diagnosis would be Anti-Social Personality Disorder. He is so old and sick though. He’s lost that socio swag for me. When I was talking to one of the Social Workers at the VA, I said, “He’s a sociopath,” and she said, “Oh yeah. He’s very important isn’t he?” I told her he was becoming more and more transparent and pretty harmless. I said, “He’s lost his swag. What would you call that? He now has to use a walker, so would you say he’s got swalker?” We had a good laugh. I’ve known him off and on since 96. He has always been, a sociopath, and I even found out something new recently that he was doing years ago when we were together in my mind and my house! He is one. He is just old and sick. They really do run out of “lines” and people towards the end. It’s my job to just keep distancing myself from him emotionally and enjoy the time he’s watching drag queen porn in his little cave and I get to talk to my ex-husband on the phone or watch a movie or garden. It is so helpful here to just remember I am not the only one. I am lucky compared to so many people. He was so old and has no friends or family that he ended up giving ME a bunch of money to move in here. I consider that one of the greatest coups ever! I was shocked when he did it. But, he was running out of victims because he is just too old to play games with the younger chickadees any more. We do have some laughs when he is Mr. Funny. They have to be charming sometimes to feel they are a person. But, for the most part, I’d rather spend time in my garden or watching a movie or visiting with my ex-husband. The thrill is gone. And the rent gets paid. They do get what they deserve at the end.



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  7. Stargazer says:

    Dear fight,

    You need to do what feels right to you, and if you are okay with having him live there, then do it. I once was a stripper for a short time so I could save enough money for my financial independence. It was a shit job, and it brought me into contact with the dregs of society – probably a lot of sociopaths (though I didn’t know what that was back then.) At the time it seemed like the right choice for me, and I made it work out okay. I would not make the same choices now, but we all do what feels right for us at the time. Sometimes money is the first priority. If you find yourself stressing over him, though, on here blogging about him, or dealing with his crap, then it’s probably time to give him the boot. There comes a time when you take the risk to throw out the old and the familiar, even if it is comfortable to you and the “devil that you know” so to speak. There truly are decent people out there who will bring light into your life and not darkness. But you will never find out if you have your time and energy being taken up with losers.



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  8. Stargazer says:

    And BTW, I had decided to just drop out of the salsa scene rather than dealing with J and all the drama. But I really didn’t want to. Then my teacher emailed me and asked me if I wanted to be his partner in a dance performance – a showcase for students and their teachers! Free private lessons. I couldn’t turn it down. The next day, J called me and started asking me out dancing again. It was very confusing to me. I thought he’d just pulled away. I was honest. I told him I have to limit the time dancing with him because it stirs my feelings up too much. He said “I understand,” and I felt like an idiot. But then we talked again that day and somehow ended up buying tickets together to see one of our favorite bands in concert in June. It will be somewhat of a date, but probably one of our ambiguous dates. Sigh. I like him so much, I have a hard time just cutting him out of my life. But we are on such a different page with dating – I need SO much more from a man. I will just think of him as a gay friend, and hope that if he ever starts dating a woman who’s not me, I’ll be completely over him by then.

    It’s really challenging to be in a social situation where you have to look your demons in the face, and you can’t escape from it without throwing out your favorite hobby. Interesting mess I created for myself.



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