Shared Reality

I sometimes wonder whether the need for shared reality could be the cause of most psychological illness, misunderstandings, racism and even wars and oppression. Even though “shared reality” is not a term we all might use in our regular life, it does seem to be a need ever present from the time we were very young,  and in the human experience, since we lived in caves.

As kids most of us were aware that we were naturally attracted to  others who “were like us” or who had the same interests (mutuality.) Many books have been written, especially recently about how children of different races in the American school systems, despite great efforts to integrate them racially prefer to “sit together in the cafeteria.” Why is this? I believe it is a deep core need for shared reality.

From the perspective of survival, it makes total sense that humans would naturally need to be with others who shared their understanding of how to survive. Survival depended on accomplishing certain things that required group or tribal effort. If there were too many opinions as to what would work, nothing may have gotten done, and people would perish.

Like many needs, the need for a shared reality evolved to include emotional and psychological development. Children whose mother reflect back their feelings through empathetic facial expressions feel a sense of inner alignment that is at the basis of shared reality. When mothers aren’t able to reflect back their baby’s feelings, the baby feels confusion that at an early age can be very damaging to healthy emotional development.

As children get older and have words for their feelings, their need for shared reality can be met through empathy or not met if their caretakers dispute how they think they feel. This was a common experience for me growing up. I remember feeling scared, sad or angry but being told I wasn’t sad or there was no reason to be scared or angry. This was not how I was experiencing things at the time but I also believed my caretakers. The result was confusion and a lack of shared reality. I think it is the primary reason I started to rebel from my parents as early as 9 years old.

Like all critical needs when we’re young, if they are not met sufficiently to achieve a sense of order and safety in the world, we continue trying to meet them as adults.  One of the most common expression of lack of shared reality is the “need to be right.” People who will endlessly argue their point of view are often trying to meet a deep longing for shared reality. They want very much for others to see the world as they do. Needs for understanding, to be seen and to express could also be at play, but most often it’s shared reality.