Confirmation Bias

Do you struggle with this? Does someone you love struggle with this? Do you both struggle with this?

Confirmation bias is when you have an opinion or belief about someone and as information comes in, you select in every piece of information that validates or confirms your opinion or belief and you filter out every piece of information that does not line up with your opinion or belief. You may use the words “always” and “never” in arguments. You may come across as self-righteous, close minded, harsh, entitled… You are probably pretty good at rendering the other person speechless, as they have learned that nothing they say will be heard or validated.

It will be hard to engage in a dialog with this person because they already have their mind made up and are unwilling to consider any of the factors that they have already filtered out. When you point out one of those exceptions, it is immediately rejected because the person has already decided that your one exception is so insignificant that it doesn’t count, which leads to you having to go back in your memory and try to find more examples, something that many people aren’t that good at, especially people who don’t keep a mental or written record of such things.

You can’t solve it by trying to be better or perfect so they have fewer examples of complaints against you. Like I said, they’ve already made their mind up and anything that goes against what they have decided, they will find a way to filter out or invalidate as so insignificant that it doesn’t matter.

You can’t solve it by trying to defend yourself. Their mind is made up.

You can’t solve it by pointing out their faults or what they are doing to perpetuate the problem. You’ll probably be accused of “not owning your stuff” or “deflecting.”

You may be able to improve it, depending on how tightly your loved one holds on to grievances against you and how long this has been going on for, by pulling them close in a big hug, saying “I love you” and apologizing (even if you don’t think you are at fault), but done too many times and this will wear on your relationship and resentments may form.

So what should you do?

1. Make space and time in your relationship for expressing appreciations and frustrations.

When you make this a regular practice, it helps to keep things positive and productive and helps you stay connected in a way that feels like you are on the journey together.

2. When you have a grievance, address just that grievance.

Start by telling your loved one there is something on your mind and asking when would be a good time for you to be able to talk to him/her about it. (When you’ve been practicing #1 regularly, asking this question shouldn’t cause a lot of drama or anxiety.) When the time comes, address JUST that grievance. Ask your loved one, “What do you hear me saying?” If it doesn’t seem to be going smoothly, slow it down. They may not be understanding, you may not be being clear,

3. Slow it down.

We are often too focused on our defense than on hearing what what the other person is saying. Slow down. Take a breath. Listen. Don’t personalize it, even if it feels like a personal attack. Say what you think you heard rather than arguing back.

4. Understand how the past plays in.

The person with confirmation bias may have developed this as defense mechanism (unhealthy defense mechanism) in response to relationships and dynamics from the past, either as a child or an adult, before you met them. There may be in interplay between what you are doing and how it is being perceived because of earlier experiences and relationships. It is ok to say, “I’m open to changing, but I just want to ask you, is something that I am doing activating/triggering something from the past?”

5. Seek support.

You might feel totally helpless if you have tried to have these conversations and they do not solve the problem. Seek support via self-help methods, like books, blog posts on the topic by professionals like me, or pursue one or more consultation sessions with a marriage therapist.

6. Commit to working it out.

Sure, you can scrap the relationship because of this, but you miss an opportunity that way, and, whether you are on the receiving end or are the one using confirmation bias, you will bring these same dynamics with you to the next relationship.