Transitional Independent Living


How Our Perceptions Hold Us Back

Recently in one of our art groups, we experimented with inkblots. Students were asked to decide what they saw in each of the abstract images.

If what they saw in the inkblot was pleasant, they personalized it, adding as many details as possible. For example, a student who saw two people dancing might add clothing.

For students who saw something in the inkblot that wasn’t so pleasant, say, people fighting or demons, they were asked to alter each image until it was something they didn’t see as frightening or sad anymore. In the example below, an inkblot that was perceived as a scary clown was changed into a guy with a bearded who’s making funny faces with his hands.

What This Exercise Shows Students

Why is an exercise like this important for young adults who are having difficulties moving on to an independent life? It seems childish, doesn’t it?

The answer is that our perceptions often hold us back. In this group session, as we changed our inkblots to either fit or alter our perceptions, we talked about how changing our perception can change a situation’s effect on us.

A great deal of research has shown perception has a huge affect on how we look at situations. We often go into a situation expecting a certain outcome. We also know past experiences, whether positive or negative, affect perception.

When we expect a certain outcome, it’s very likely we’ll get that outcome. This is because we often influence the environment to produce the outcome in ways we don’t even realize.

For many of our students, they can hold the perception they are incapable of living on their own, so now they no longer try to attempt it. Their failures in the past and the frustrations they have seen from their parents and maybe even other family members have led to this perception. In order for the students to be successfully independent, they need to perceive they can be successful.

The Effects of Perception

A shift in perception can be a powerful motivator to get your young adult to try to reach their goals, whether they are trying to finish school, looking for a job, or both.

Perception is shaped by context, according to neuroscientist Beau Lotto. You are looking at the situation in the context of an older adult who has successfully navigated the situation. Your young adult hasn’t been successful, and probably has been very unsuccessful.

When you ask your young adult to try a situation again, you may see it as a way to fix past mistakes. They likely see yet another experience where they’re going to disappoint you and themselves.

Help Change Their Perceptions

Just like with our art group students, changing perceptions is vital for your student to see past the scary situation that is meeting new people or finding a long-term job. Help your young adult change how they see what is going on around them, and that path to independence will be much simpler.

You may need to change your own perception of your young adult, too. After all, the above art group exercise doesn’t seem so childish anymore, does it?

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