Our Psychological Filters

June 28, 2023



The world floods our senses with more information than we can possibly process, so in order to manage that overflow, our brains are constantly "filtering" it through something called Psychological Filters. These filters are informed by the core beliefs, emotional experiences, and behavioral habits born of our biology, psychology, and life circumstances (that potent nature-nature combo). They color our experiences, then drop them promptly into categories to help us make sense of the world (usually outside of our conscious awareness).

Depending upon how entrenched these filters are in in our psyches, they get expressed to a greater or lesser degree through our thoughts, behaviors and emotions.  

Negative Filters: Damage, Disconnection, Disempowerment

Any combination of life stressors, mental health challenges, and our innate negativity bias, can nudge those psychological filters into the negative camp. You can think of the resulting negative filters as the emotional version of fun house mirrors. When we are seeing something through a negative filter, certain situational elements are thrown out of proportion in relation to others. Negative things look bigger, scarier and more powerful, while the positive elements seem small, insignificant and out of reach (or perhaps invisible altogether). 

When our filters cause negative things to get blown out of proportion or create the perception of negativity where none exists, we increase the likelihood of dysregulation. If for instance, our filter tells us that we are unlikeable, a mildly uncomfortable exchange with a friend might result in a panic attack; if our filter has us convinced of our inadequacy as a professional, a job rejection may lead us down the rabbit hole of self-loathing. 

Negative filters can come in a wide variety of unpleasant flavors. For instance, if someone struggles with low self-esteem, they may see the world through the lens of what I call Damage–meaning they see reflected back to them proof that something is inherently wrong with them. If we consistently feel cut off from needed support we may experience the filter of Disconnection, and a filter of Disempowerment may emerge when we experience a lack of control over our life circumstances.

Of course, these are just a few of the many possible varieties of filters–everyone has their own unique filter profile–and of course there are positive filters too! The good news is, we have the ability to build positive filters, which, in addition to coloring our world a rosier shade, also mitigate the deleterious effect of those negative filters.

Proof of Your Positive Filters


While I believe that our true nature is inclusive of what we experience as negative (an acceptance of which is essential to our well-being), the question is, how can we recognize and elevate those aspects of ourselves that promote a better quality of mental and emotional health? How do we engage with and build Positive Psychological Filters? First, we need proof that they exist and are able to be accessed, which is what the following exercise will help you do. Fill in the blank with the first thing that comes to mind.

I feel most grounded when I__________________________.

___________________ is the healthiest way I've gotten myself through hard times.

________________________is proof of my inner strength.

Even when things aren't going well, _________________can usually make me smile.

 ______________ reminds me of what I'm capable of.

Some of the ways I've taken care of myself are:

Some of the ways I've taken care of other people are:

Thinking about __________________ reminds me that there is good in the world.

____________________ has given me a sense of hope when I've most needed it.

_________________ is one thing/person I will always be grateful for.

I’ll never forget what _____________ did for me.

One of the best days/times I can remember was _______________ .


(You can write about the place, activities, and anything else that contributed to the good-feeling of that day)


Positive Filters: Okayness, Connection, Empowerment                    

Chances are you've had some (hopefully many!) moments in your life when you felt truly happy, at peace, totally well. Perhaps you’d just fallen in love; gotten a great job; were looking out over a beautiful view after hiking to the top of a mountain. Or maybe it was something more subtle, like a great conversation with a friend or a relaxing massage. Whatever it was, those moments—even if they were fleeting—are proof that the positive feelings, and all the internal conditions that gave rise to them, exist within you. 

Over the years, I’ve tended to dismiss my own good-feeling states as just a fortunate coalescence of unrelated elements. It eventually occurred to me though, that I might gain some insights by taking a closer look at what actually went into creating this sense of well-being. Because as random as the good feelings seem, they are in fact rooted in something real—something we can potentially recreate the conditions for with our thoughts and actions. 

I’ve been able to identify some “ingredients” common to my own ‘good days’: time spent with people I enjoy, a sense of accomplishment, and an element of self-care–exercise and baths topping the list. Now of course everyone’s ‘good-day/moment’ ingredients will be unique to them, but in my years of research–both the formal and informal variety–I’ve found that there are three feeling-states consistently present during the good times: a sense of Okayness, a sense of Connectedness (to someone or something), and/or a sense of Empowerment. 

These are not only as defining states for the good days and moments, but the psychological filters of mental wellness.  Positive Psychological Filters being the lens through which we see the positive more readily, clearly, and convincingly than the negative. Just as with the negative, each of these filters is informed by common core beliefs and experiences that shape our view of reality. And just like the negative filters, they are reinforced by our thoughts and actions. 

Building Positive Filters

While some people have a natural bent toward Positive Psychological Filters, many don’t, and just as many started off with a positive self-perception and outlook, only to have them altered as a result of unfortunate nature and/or nurture influences. The good news is that Positive Filters are buildable. By consistently replacing our habituated negative thoughts and actions with conscious positive ones, we can ‘re-nurture’ ourselves into a more positively-filtered state of mind and being.                                        

You literally can “fake it til you make it”

Of course, you can’t simply swap out your negative filters for positive ones and call it a day. Those negative filters are deeply embedded and take some time and conscious effort to alter. It is an ongoing process, and they may rear up again during stressful or difficult times. But know that you are not stuck. It’s a process, and if you stick with it, you will (I can pretty much guarantee!) start thinking and acting in new and healthier ways. 

While for some, the core beliefs and behaviors of Positive Filters may be more familiar and readily accessed; for others of us, some ‘fake it til you make it’ is required.

Scientists say that acting a certain way for a prolonged period of time even fools your own brain (through rehearsal) into a fresh way of thinking — kind of like what you’re pretending to be is actually who you really are.”

This is similar to the “placebo effect” which researchers have repeatedly found to be just as effective as traditional treatments under the right circumstances. That’s because a neurobiological reaction tells your body that you are, or will soon be OK, through the release of neurotransmitters like endorphins and dopamine. “Fake it till you make it” is a way of doing the same thing, but for your mental wellness. You can, in effect, trick your mind and body into being healthier.

And that is mighty good news!