Are You a Boiling Frog?

Understanding the ‘real self’, the person that others see and with whom they interact, can be tricky.

The human psyche protects itself from the automatic intake and conscious realisation of all information about ourself.  These defence mechanisms serve to protect us.  They also serve to delude us into an image of who we are, that feeds on itself becomes self-perpetuating, and sometimes harmful.

The “boiling frog syndrome” may be at work here.

If you drop a frog into a pot of boiling water, it will attempt to jump out with an instinctive defence mechanism.  But if you place a frog in a pot of cool water and gradually increase the temperature, the frog will sit in the water until boiled to death.  Slow adjustments are accepted, in fact they may not even be noticed.

The boiling frog syndrome is the greatest challenge to an accurate self-image (i.e., seeing yourself as others see you). Several factors contribute to it.

First, people around you may not help you see changes in your personality or how you behave.  They may not give you feedback or information about how they see you and your emerging behaviours.  Also, they may be victims of the boiling frog syndrome themselves, as they adjust their perception of you on a daily basis.  For example, when you see a friend’s child after some years, you may comment on how fast they have grown.  However the parent is only aware of the child’s growth when they have to buy them new clothes.

Second, those who forgive the change, are frightened of it, or who do not care about it, may allow it to pass unnoticed and un-commented upon.

Some cultures encourage a preoccupation with “weaknesses.” Some individuals have philosophies, or value orientations, that push them to focus on areas for improvement.  Some people have such a low level of self-confidence or self-esteem that they assume they are unworthy and distrust positive feedback and focus on negative issues.  This can lead to an overly negative self image further fuelling the lack of confidence and low self-esteem in a spiral of decline.

To truly consider changing a part of yourself, you must have a sense of what you value and want to keep.  To consider what you want to preserve about yourself involves admitting aspects of yourself that you wish to change or adapt in some way.  Often, people explore growth or development by focusing on the “weaknesses”.

Organisational training programs and managers conducting annual reviews often make the same mistake.  There is an assumption that we can “leave well enough alone” and get to the areas that need work.  It is no wonder that many of these programs intended to help development result in people feeling battered, beleaguered and bruised, not helped, encouraged, motivated, or guided.

It is important to maintain a balance between focussing on what it is about ourselves that we value, and what is that we want to change if we are to successfully pursue a learning agenda.

This awareness of self, and an open mind to the possibility of positive change may help us to avoid becoming boiling frogs.


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