Overcoming Mental Enslavement: A Practice in Decentering

You don’t have to believe everything you think. 

Many of our psychological schemas concerning the way the world works are often based on second and third-hand information. We then take these paradigms and apply them to most of the areas of life, without testing their effectiveness. 

Some of us take certain ideologies that we know to be false and force-fit them into our realities, causing undue and sometimes unwitting harm to ourselves and others. These behaviors become habits and then the habits — through repetition — become deeply ingrained, making it difficult to perceive any other method of accomplishing our goals. When solving a problem, it is important to remember to decenter.

Photo by Godfried VanMoorsel for Living Artist Project

What is decentering?

According to the American Psychology Association, decentering is:

n.

1. any of a variety of techniques aimed at changing one’s centered thinking (i.e., focus on only one salient feature at a time, to the total exclusion of other important characteristics) to openminded thinking. 

2. dissolution of unity between self and identity. 

3. see decentration. —decenter vb.

In other words, decentering yourself does not mean that you should neglect yourself, but consider other viewpoints as you work to solve a problem. In the case of healing our relationships with others, we want to “put ourselves into the other person’s shoes.”

However, changing behaviors can be threatening for some. It can mean a loss of comfort or some other benefit. Or it can mean gaining something, but we don’t know what it is to gain yet. These fears come from the human mind wanting circumstances, relationships, and resources to remain stable and measured. Still, decentering does not necessarily translate to destabilization. The idea that decentering the needs, wants, and agendas of a specific collection of individuals will destabilize their resources is flawed.

Perhaps the number one rebuttal to the expression Black Lives Matter is that All Lives Matter. This is an attempt at circumventing decentering. An extension of this is conflating the focus of other disadvantaged groups with the BLM movement. While there is some overlap between various groups, the problem with this response is the refusal to center the concerns of BLM when we discuss pertinent topics, as if this movement needs to be qualified by other groups with the same aims.

A peculiar assumption is if a person says that Black Lives Matter, they must mean that Only Black Lives Matter or Only American Black Lives Matter. This assumption illuminates the differences in schools of thought: when a white supremacist asserts All Lives Matter, they mean All White Lives Matter and That’s All That Should Matter. With this assertion, only caucasian individuals are people and have lives. Everyone else just exists. 

Centering does not have to be a bad thing. We center patients when they are in the hospital, and center our children when they are upset or scared. However, centering can be problematic when taken out of proportion, as in the case of white nationalists. White people have legitimate concerns and are the majority of the population in this country. That does not mean their lived experiences apply to everyone else’s life.

By white supremacists foisting psychological projection onto others, the aims of the Black Live Matter movement becomes problematic. Then it is called Black Nationalism. Many of our ancestors have been refashioned through revisionist history to be separatists, mercenaries, and boogeymen, because of the inability to decenter.

What are the benefits of decentering?

One of the main benefits of decentering is enriching your life with the stories, knowledge, and voices that may or may not be like you in some way. You do not have to walk in fear that someone is going to forcefully relieve you of something that can’t be taken. Fear can be a prison. In the next article, I discuss how to decenter.

Photo by Godfried VanMoorsel for Living Artist Project

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