Our sense of self is constructed early in life, sometimes through traumatic events and at other times more subtly. An aspect of quantum physics called wave collapse can illuminate how this construction occurs and, more importantly, how we can empower ourselves to live a life that is unburdened by our past and open to infinite possibility.
Moving From Limited Reality to Infinite Possibilities
One day in my office, a client named Jill recalled the words her mother spoke to her when she was about eight years old: “When I learned I was pregnant with you, I told your father I didn’t want another baby.” Despite the fact that her mother was otherwise devoted and loving, Jill’s acutely personal takeaway was damning. She felt unwanted and therefore unlovable, then and ever since. She carried this core belief with her throughout her life, limiting her potential for infinite possibilities. Her own inner monologue was perpetually self-critical, confirming her belief that she wasn’t lovable. The snapshot Jill had taken of herself early in her life had become etched into her psyche as her embedded truth.
Jill’s belief affected her relations with her husband, children, and friends. Notwithstanding her husband Bob’s loving devotion to her, Jill questioned his loyalty and truthfulness in light of seeing herself as unlovable. Her belief about herself was becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy: she was forcing Bob to withdraw his love as his frustration mounted. What Jill experienced is not uncommon, for what we believe to be true about ourselves—and others—contributes to our reality-making process and whether we experience a reality of infinite possibility or not. Prior to her mother’s remark, Jill’s identity could have evolved in limitless ways, but that range of possibility became narrowed by that one short sentence.
The Quantum Worldview
For virtually all of us whose beliefs have been ingrained with the mechanistic worldview, the world as seen through quantum physics appears to be suffused with a kind of non-rational strangeness. One of the fundamental aspects of the quantum worldview, for instance, is that elementary particles exhibit a somewhat “schizophrenic” nature. I use that word not in its complex clinical sense but in the conventional meaning of having a “split personality”—and every quantum entity indeed has the dual capacity to exist as either a wave or a particle.
Physicists refer to this tendency as wave-particle duality—a notion that rubs against our commonsense logic. Ordinarily, we believe that things either are or are not, that they are distinct in their nature. This either-or thinking can also be referred to as binary thinking, which leaves only two distinct paths open to us. Binary thinking, the opposite of infinite possibilities, is a major aspect of how we observe and construct reality. Yet this either-or reality apparently doesn’t apply in the quantum realm and is questionable in our everyday lives as well.
The quantum reality exists in what is known as a series of probability waves, with an infinite possibility of potential outcomes. This means that when the particle is not being observed, it exists as a waveform, which in quantum language represents a state of pure potential, known as superposition. This term proposes that as long as we do not know what the state of any object is, it actually exists in all possible states simultaneously, as long as we don’t look to check. In that sense, the wave represents pure possibility. The very act of observation reduces the wave (potential) to a fixed thing—a particle. This reduction is referred to as wave collapse.
All that may sound far removed from our day-to-day world of personal relationships, fears and anxieties, love and hate. Yet a similar thing occurs in our lives. When we have particular experiences and make certain observations of ourselves, or have them made of us—typically in childhood—we experience the psychological equivalent of a quantum wave collapse.
Our Roots in Pure Potential
As newborns or infants, if not at conception and in utero, we resemble the infinite possibilities of the wave; our personality, not yet defined, is in a state of potential. Notwithstanding matters of genetics, environmental influences, or considerations of archetypal, astrological, or karmic influences (however we may feel about those concepts), our identity is not yet determined and fixed. But before long, we move from the potential of the wave to the “thingness” of the particle. The personal evolution of our personality gets stunted, and our growth becomes fitful. How does this happen?
Ordinarily, even a single yet significant experience is sufficient to collapse our personal wave of potential. Jill experienced a powerful wave collapse after her mother spoke one particular sentence to her. Sometimes all it takes is a hurtful statement or an embarrassing experience in our early years to reduce the potential of our personality to a narrow, restricted self-image. These events need not be traumatic; they may, in fact, be subtle. Yet in those moments, our potential fades. It’s as if we have taken a snapshot of ourselves, and we become frozen in time. I refer to these as confining wave collapses, in contrast to the defining wave collapses that usher in defining moments of infinite possibility. We are no longer the potential of the wave but the finiteness of the particle. And we carry this picture of ourselves with us through our lives, allowing it to burden and limit us. We lose the authorship of our life story.
Beliefs: Gates to Infinity or Walls of a Jail Cell
The initial wave collapse sets up a recurring incidence of similar experiences as our beliefs about ourselves and others become self-reinforcing. What we think of ourselves shapes our interactions with both others and ourselves. This habit obstructs our ability to change or evolve as we cling to our perceived “truth” of who we are.
The themes of subsequent collapses may vary, but they are often self-limiting if not denigrating. We generate thoughts such as “I’m not good enough” or “I’m not smart enough,” or even more simply, “I’m not loveable.” The actors who perhaps unwittingly participate in scripting our personal beliefs are often our parents, but they may also be teachers, friends, relatives, or even strangers. We cling to these habituated beliefs about ourselves in accordance with our primary wave collapses. In spite of new events that should cause us to reconsider or reevaluate our beliefs—for example, Bob’s devotion to and love for Jill—we remain rooted in the way we see ourselves. We become embedded in the groove of our self-referencing beliefs and block the opportunity for growth, change and infinite possibility.
Less dramatically than the hurtful comments or abusive actions of others, the patterns of family dynamics may cause us to acquire certain personality traits. These influences tend to be more chronic and may fly beneath our radar screen. If you grew up in a highly conflicted or alcoholic family, for instance, you may have coped by developing a people-pleaser or peacemaker persona. We can think of this chronic condition as an extended wave collapse rather than the result of the acute single event.
I had referred another client, Helen, to meet a colleague of mine so that they might explore matters of mutual professional interest. Helen made an appointment to meet with Jim at a conference he would be attending. When Helen arrived, Jim was engaged in conversation with others and didn’t notice her waiting to introduce herself. Shortly thereafter, Jim left the conference without acknowledging Helen.
“I guess I just wasn’t important enough for him to wait to meet me,” Helen said to me later. She reported this as though it were an established fact instead of an interpretive opinion of her own constructing. I asked her how she knew this to be true and whether other explanations might apply. For example, I knew Jim to be notoriously absentminded; he might simply have forgotten he was supposed to meet her at the conference, or he may not have noticed her waiting to introduce herself. In fact, he had overlooked appointments with me in the past, and I certainly didn’t conclude that he viewed me as unimportant.
I suggested that Helen saw herself as not valuable, and she was projecting that insult onto Jim, thinking he saw her as she saw herself. At first she resisted this possibility. She related some compelling stories, which revealed that as a child she had felt like her mother’s servant and that her entire childhood was about her dutiful obedience to her mother. Helen waited on her mother hand and foot, as their parent-child roles were reversed. She was deprived of the value that every child deserves, and so she basically felt unimportant. This wave collapse had disastrous effects on her self-esteem. Throughout her life, her thoughts almost automatically continued to affirm this affliction, shutting down her potential for infinite possibilities.
Our primary beliefs about ourselves that have been generated by our wave collapses orchestrate the quality and nature of our thoughts, which make specific the general theme of the wave collapse. If, like Helen, our core belief is that we are not of value, we can predict the kinds of thoughts we might then experience, such as “I’m not important” or “Why should he pay attention to me? I don’t matter.” These thoughts measure ourselves against others, and the predictable result is that we see ourselves as subordinate to others. These thoughts and their resulting feelings can leave us trapped inside a self-induced container of low self-esteem.
Returning to Pure Potential
To free yourself from repeating harmful and confining wave collapses, consider this Possibility Principle: In the nanosecond before your next thought, you are in a state of pure potential.
In the space between our thoughts, we are similar to the wave—full of infinite possibilities. Once we attach to our next thought, the ensuing wave collapses, and we create our reality in that moment. If we continue to have self-limiting or injurious thoughts, we remain adhered to the damaging effects of the primary wave collapse. In therapy, a client often experiences a breakthrough, a significant moment during which a highly anticipated insight becomes illuminated. This event presents a new state of potential and, with it, the possibility of a defining moment, in which the client can break into new terrain. The person will then select which reality to summon by thinking either “What a relief! I’ve broken through” or “What’s wrong with me? Why has this taken so long?” One thought is self-affirming and offers relief and the possibility of vaulting forward, while the other is self-critical and resists progress. The thought you select will chart your path.