Check Your Blind Spot

We all have hidden emotions and beliefs that drive our unconscious impulses. By harnessing our untapped insight, writes Kelly Boys, we can discern those habits that may be keeping us stuck.

Illustrations by Federica Bordoni

I was sitting in a session with a therapist named Paul on a well-used couch in the trendy Mission District of San Francisco, staring at the antique toy fire trucks placed along his windowsill and balancing a glass of water in my lap. A friend had suggested that…just maybe…therapy would be a helpful thing for me to do. I was out of work and ending a relationship, and although I trusted that things were going to turn out okay, I was a bit at sea.

Paul listened to a synopsis of my entire life, including a short foray into my Ohio childhood, my marriage at 18 and divorce at 21, and a quick trip through 20 years in Germany, Japan, Canada, and England culminating in the Sausalito, California, café where I thought I was going out for a coffee and ended up getting fired. Then Paul studied me through his tortoise shell-framed glasses and asked, “Do you want to look at your blind spot, or do you want to let these patterns repeat?”

Boom!

That was it—that was the question that changed everything for me. I spoke from the depths of my being, and with trepidation and an unsuppressed laugh, when I replied, “Yes. Hell, yes.” In that moment, I was ready to hear my therapist’s words.

When you’ve been on the receiving end of random, difficult, or sometimes horrible life events, you develop a bullshit detector for people who blame the victim. This was not that. This was an honest and genuine question pointing out my own participation in my life patterns. I was undefended and ready to learn something new, ready to grow. I trusted that shining a light on my blind spots would be good and productive, although probably painful.

Up until that moment I had taken a random and fateful approach to the happenings and events in my life—shit happens, good stuff happens, and it’s how you navigate it all that matters. I had never thought of my hidden traits in this way before: so pointedly, urgently, and globally. I’d done plenty of work on my emotional life, like setting free self-limiting beliefs and getting in touch with self-compassion and self-trust through mindfulness meditation, but none of this had revealed Paul’s insight that something I wasn’t seeing at all—a blind spot—was driving my behavior. He helped me recognize that what I was missing was just past the edge of my own perceptual horizon. Realizing that this stuff was obvious to someone I’d just met, stuff that had been entirely out of view to me, woke me up. What had I been missing?

What I discovered, with Paul’s gentle nudging, was that my biggest blind spot had to do with accommodating other people’s blind spots. I had “protected” certain important people in my life from the impact of their own unconscious behavior—that is, until I finally couldn’t take it anymore and blurted out their blind spots. That’s where the trouble happened; my unexpected and uncharacteristic speaking of the truth rarely went over well. In fact, it’s how I ended up in that coffee shop in Sausalito, shocked when I was let go from my job.

“Do you want to look at your blind spot, or do you want to let these patterns repeat?” That was it—that was the question that changed everything for me.

Survival of the biased

I know I’m not alone. Why is it that so