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  • Writer's pictureColorado Coherence Collective

Suspend disbelief to access connection

Suspension of disbelief is the cognitive process we engage in when we willingly accept information as true, no matter what - even if we know it to be false.

For example, when we teach kids about cultural traditions (ex: the Tooth Fairy or Santa) or when we read a work of fantasy literature (ex: dragons are real), we willingly set aside our doubt and skepticism to share a sense of connection with someone or something else. We regularly suspend disbelief when we play with kids, read fiction, watch movies or tv shows, practice spirituality or faith, or daydream about the future. The suspension of disbelief is an important cognitive skill that helps us gain a sense of connection and belonging with other people and the world around us. 

The ability to suspend our disbelief, and wholeheartedly accept the experiences of another person as truth, is a foundational aspect of empathy and compassion. The ability to suspend disbelief:

  • Is a learned skill

  • Is a conscious choice

  • Requires purposeful thought

  • Improves with regular practice

  • Enhances compassion and empathy 

To suspend disbelief, we must temporarily set aside all of our: 

  • Doubt: apprehension, hesitation, distrust, skepticism, insecurity, uncertainty

  • Emotion: grief, fear, rage, sadness, anxiety, shame, defensiveness 

  • Truth: facts, opinions, reality, experience, expertise, certitude, superiority

  • Schema: values, beliefs, hopes, dreams, expectations, ego responses 

Deep down, many of us are not ready, able, or willing to give up that much control. 

Many of us are unable to wholeheartedly accept the lived experiences of others as true, especially when they differ from our own experiences, because our bodyminds are trying to shield us from harm.  Instead, our bodyminds will engage in a natural and adaptive stress response system pattern of overcontrol by inducing a state of resistance to the idea - to shield us from the truth: the world is a scary place full of scarcity, unpredictability, violence, oppression, and harm.

When another person discloses a lived experience to us that was painful, unjust, violent, terrifying, confusing, unfair, scary, or traumatizing, we may notice the following: 

  • Somatic: we may notice tension and resistance in our bodies. 

  • Emotional: we may feel an emotional response of grief, rage, sadness, anxiety, shame, defensiveness, fear, etc.

  • Cognitive: we may perceive thoughts of doubt, disbelief, skepticism, hesitation, and distrust, and compare the new info to past experiences, facts, statistics, and opinions of experts. 

  • Behavioral: we may experience an urge to physically recoil away from the other person and escape or leave the room.

  • Social: we may not be as present or mindful in-the-moment, and may not be able to effectively support our loved one in processing their experiences (which should be our main goal in the moment - we can process our own reactive grief in private after-the-fact.)

To wholeheartedly offer empathy and compassion for our loved ones who choose to disclose painful past experiences, we must develop our skills of embodied suspension of disbelief. Here are some tips: 

How to suspend disbelief in-the-moment: during the disclosure conversation, when you are with your loved one

  • Attune: focus on your breath, be mindful and present, use sensory tools or fidgets, use grounding techniques. 

  • Notice: notice reactions of resistance in your body, practice nonjudgemental self-compassion, breathe in non-reactivity and breathe out doubt, compartmentalize.

  • Imagine: imagine your body sensations, emotions, and thoughts passing by like clouds, let them float by without reacting to them. 

  • Grieve: practice touch & release with your emotions by acknowledging them and then excusing yourself from them, commit to return to process them later, schedule worry-time and find a partner. 


How to suspend disbelief in the long-term: after the disclosure conversation, when you are in private

  • Attune: take deep belly breaths, sigh, yawn, stretch, move, envision openness in your bodymind.

  • Notice: notice resistance in your body, practice nonjudmgental self-compassion, breathe.

  • Imagine: envision a hypothetical world where their reality is true, integrate their truth into your own.

  • Grieve: visualize your feelings washing over you like a tidal wave, express them in whatever way feels good to your body (cry, scream, run, hit, hide, sleep) that is safe, healthy, and effective.



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