Self-Perception: The illusion of separateness.

May 15, 2024

A man with a big beard sits alone on a small island

Sometimes we conjure up an illusion of separateness; the idea that we can exist on our own, apart from the complexity of living with others. Alas, it’s not so simple.

Facing uncomfortable situations like conflict can be awkward at best and distressing at worst. So, it follows that it can be tempting to not face them.

At some point, we’ve all felt this instinct – the desire to remove ourselves from difficult people or tense exchanges. It offers a temporary escape from unpleasant emotions like anger, shame, and hurt feelings. But although taking a step back to allow cooler heads to prevail can be wise as a time-out strategy, dodging it altogether is just a short-term solution.

In the long run, a tendency to isolate fails to address real issues and makes situations worse. It communicates an unwillingness to cooperate or find compromise. Others then feel cut out and distrustful in response. Conflicts that could have been resolved through open communication instead simmer and divide.

We tend to think of ourselves as individuals – a single person’s body / mind / soul separate from the rest of the world. But consider a glass of water on the table in front of you. It’s a warm afternoon, you’ve been fixated on doing the day’s tasks, and it’s admittedly long past the time you had a drink. And so you do – in the span of a gulp, the water passes your parched lips and becomes a part of your body. It flows through you, enabling your cells to enable your existence in the world.

A question: at what point did the water go from becoming separate from you to a part of you? When we look closely, the edge that separates the two is not as clear as we initially thought.

There is a duality that exists in the human mindset: we are simultaneously both individual and one with the rest of the world at any given moment. And just like our existence is linked with the things we put into it, so too we are with everything we touch.

Two puzzle pieces being brought together by hands

In the modern world, we tend to lift up individuality which, on its own, creates an idea of separateness that isn’t the full picture. If we’re not careful, then everything becomes a competition in the game of life – a stance that gets in the way of harmony and conflict resolution.

Seeing ourselves as separate also ignores how interdependent we truly are within communities. Although it looks different for each of us, no one can exist wholly apart from relationships with family, friends, coworkers, neighbours, and fellow citizens. Our words and actions inevitably affect others, just as their words and actions have an effect on us. Even if we want nothing to do with certain people during a disagreement, we still share spaces, resources, and responsibilities. Any attempt to cut off all contact does not change this interconnected reality and fosters a divisive distance between parties that still need to find ways to coexist.

Ask yourself: when conflict arises in your life, how might your approach towards it shift if you viewed it from the perspective that we are all on the same team?

A shift in perspective can open up possibilities we couldn’t see before, bridging divides and tending the whole in which we each play a part. Water, relationships, and the ecosystem we share…these things can be included when we realize we aren’t separate from them.

Still, it’s easy to see how avoidance can lead to perceived isolation. In the short term, dodging conflict fulfills our desire to not feel the discomfort that comes with it. And unchecked, this reinforcement primes the habit loop and can cause the tactic to become a bad habit where we push others away and cause complications down the road.

If ever you find yourself stuck in a bad relationship with conflict, turning to carefully established frameworks can help you change course. And that’s what the tried-and-true offerings from Mediation Services empower you to do.

A good place to start is with our FREE online webinar Conflict 101: Demystifying Conflict Through a Psychological Approach. Try out the techniques in your own life, and from there, take your education to the next level with one of our in-person or online training programs.

Looking for a third-party mediator to bring two parties toward resolution? Fill out a mediation self-referral form and connect with us today.

When we look closely, the line between each of us is not so clear. Dissolving this illusion of separateness allows us to find compromise and healthy paths forward, together.

If you have questions,
please don’t hesitate to call.


Subscribe To Our Newsletter

For The Latest News & Updates