1/4/09: Many of my clients struggle with experiences and decision-making when different levels of living or perceiving are blurred. The results of acting without clarity can be dramatic on our mental and physical health.

The three most common blurring issues are mixing fantasy & reality, internal & external, and symbolic & literal. I find that the best thing I can do in these situations is help people clarify the levels, so that they can make a more full-informed decision. Read below for more concrete examples and techniques to employ to help.

1. Fantasy & Reality
These levels often become blurred in the "grass is greener" phenomenon and other choices that speak to hidden desires. It can be really dangerous to our lives if we make decisions for fantasy over reality. A common example is fantasizing about someone who might be a better partner and actually considering ending a long term relationship for the person, when the fantasy is never actually considered through a realistic lens.

The key here is reality testing, where the actual life with the person or experience with him/her would be exposed to rationality and practical considerations. This often results in a more grounded and complex picture.

2. Internal & External
People that are strongly influenced by the moods of others often have trouble determining what the "internal psychological weather" is compared to "external psychological weather" (e.g. is it raining inside or outside?). An example would be when someone becomes angry about a political event after a leader expressed strong anger about it.

Many times our views and feelings are much different than others, so the keys here are tuning into self and clarifying boundaries, to really examine how you feel about it, not just having the feelings be contagious.

3. Symbolic & Literal
These levels seem to blur in the world of dreams and other happenings, particularly if we have a bias toward seeing one or the other. For example, small events can be interpreted as being symbolic of something else, or sometimes they are "just a cigar". Another example is when we have strong reactions to something that seems very minor, which can indicate a powerful, personal symbolic event.

A way to clarify this is to examine both perspectives and what meaning is made if the event is symbolic or if it is not, before deciding on an action.