Why are we intolerant? The 2 obstacles to tolerance

Tolerance is essential in life, not only towards others, but also with ourselves. If we are inflexible people, intolerance will manifest itself in the form of rigidity towards the attitudes and behaviors of others, but it could also become an extremely severe attitude with which we punish ourselves for our mistakes and weaknesses.

A study published in the Asian Journal of Psychiatry revealed that there is a correlation between intolerance to uncertainty and increased anxiety. Other research conducted at Laval University has shown that the lower the intolerance to uncertainty, the more worries and recurring negative thoughts we experience.

Intolerance blocks us in the vicious circle of our thoughts and in our way of seeing life, a circle that can become extremely insane. Being tolerant, on the other hand, can help us adapt better to world conditions, accept the different and be more kind and understanding with others and with ourselves. Therefore, tolerance is not a quality that we “owe” to others, but to ourselves.

Intolerance "turns off" our thinking

A study conducted at the University of California confirmed that people who are most intolerant of different beliefs tend to have a lower intellectual and educational level, as well as a narrow view of everything that goes against their beliefs and ideals. These people also experience greater restlessness and discomfort in social situations and are more likely to see themselves as victims and exploited, as well as complain of dissatisfaction, hardship and inconvenience.

The problem is that intolerance is an attitude that feeds itself, degenerating more and more, to the point of preventing us from thinking rationally. Pichon-Rivière thought that the origin of intolerance lay in a conflict situation - of any kind and at all levels.

Tolerance would therefore be required by the conflictual situation that threatens to break the internal harmony of the system. But to resolve this conflict we must face two main obstacles, the basic anxieties or fears of the human being that prevent us from accepting differences. These two great basal resistances are, according to Pichon-Rivière:

1. Fear of loss

When winds of change blow or we face ideas radically different from our own, we are forced to abandon - even temporarily - the known. Getting away from what we know and assume we are safe generates tremendous anxiety that immediately activates the fear of loss.

We are terrified of breaking moorings and leaving behind what we consider our own and even distinctive. This feeling is even stronger and the change will be perceived as more threatening when we feel exploited or believe we do not have the necessary tools to deal with it. In these cases, fear settles in our inner world, generating profound resistance. And that resistance is what keeps us clinging to our beliefs, radicalizing us even more, making us more intolerant.

2. Fear of attack

When we experience fear of attack, we believe we need to flee or protect ourselves from something, so a polarized and aggressive response is usually activated. In that case, the enemy is anyone who thinks otherwise or carries the seed of the dreaded change. Anger and fear are prevailing feelings when we fall into this state and determine our thinking.

That fear causes an emotional tsunami that disrupts our intellectual processes. Then a full-fledged emotional abduction occurs that prevents us from thinking clearly. As a consequence, we practice a less sophisticated, reductionist, binary and intolerant thought process. That dichotomous thinking prevents us from stepping outside the narrow limits of good and evil.

If we fail to overcome both fears, we will be victims of persecutory fantasies and a gradual loss of contact with reality. In fact, the resistance to change that is generated can lead to paralysis, so we get stuck in certain stereotyped attitudes, behaviors and social roles.

This means that we cling even more to our ideas, beliefs and ways of doing things, more firmly denying everything that strays from them. The problem is that the more we feel helpless in managing our role, the more our tolerance threshold for the different will decrease and the more our ideas and behaviors will be polarized and extremist. It is a vicious circle.

How to develop a more tolerant thinking?

“The subject will be healthy to the extent that he understands reality, in an integrative perspective and which shows his ability to transform it and transform himself,” wrote Pichon-Rivière. We must keep in mind that both the fear of loss and the fear of attack are an invitation to maintain the same level of functioning and perpetuate the state of affairs. It would be a perpetuation of the retrograde drive, as Freud would say, which condemns us to immobility and, in the long term, even leads us to manifest maladaptive behaviors that end up causing damage - to others and / or to ourselves.

Tolerance is, therefore, the possibility of overcoming the primary levels of fear of loss and attack to establish a more harmonious and balanced functioning. It means going through that "zone of helplessness and fear" into which we have fallen to begin to see the situation from a perspective of cooperation, not competition; productive and non-destructive, developing our self-analysis processes. And this is a useful change, not only to live in a more tolerant society, but also to live ourselves in peace.

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