Sometimes, instead of seeing a situation for what it really is, we interpret it based on our inner hopes and fears, which may not be grounded in reality. For example, if a friend hasn’t replied to your messages yet, that’s probably because they’re just busy and they didn’t see the message. However, if you fear that your friend is angry with you or something bad happened to them, you might have trouble differentiating between the outside world and your inner world.
Reality testing can help you separate the two, so that you can correct the errors in thinking, overcome anxiety, and react to events in a healthy way.
The concept of reality testing was introduced by Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, who used it to determine whether patients could separate the external world from their own thoughts and feelings. Although some of Freud’s theories are no longer accepted by contemporary psychologists, the practice of reality testing has remained an important tool in helping people avoid anxiety and negative thoughts.
Reality testing can also help you overcome cognitive biases that might be holding you back. For example, a person who fails a job interview can imagine that they’ll fail all other job interviews because they’re underqualified and not good enough. Through reality testing, that person can discover that this negative assumption isn’t grounded in reality and that one failure doesn’t mean that they’ll never get a job or that things won’t get better.
If you are often overwhelmed by negative thoughts and have heightened emotional reactions to everyday situations, your therapist can use reality testing to help you differentiate between the internal and external world and understand that things aren’t always as bad as you imagine them to be.
You can also apply the practice of reality testing in day-to-day life, to gain a deeper understanding of your thought patterns and how you react to different situations.
The practice of reality testing can be applied by anyone in everyday life. Here are a few things to keep in mind when doing this:
Reality testing is a useful tool that can boost your mental wellness in many ways:
In a professional setting, your therapist can suggest thought exercises that replace your initial negative thoughts with realistic alternatives.
If your initial reaction to failing an exam was to assume that you will fail all the other exams, discounting all the progress you’ve made, your therapist can use reality testing to help you understand that one failed exam doesn’t have to cause a string of failures.
Analysing our own thoughts isn’t always easy, but it’s necessary if we want to distinguish between what is and isn’t real. Neglecting to fact check your thoughts can, in time, lead to other problems:
Because it can be hard to stay objective on personal matters, reality testing uses concrete strategies to help you separate your feelings from what’s really going on, and gain clarity. More often than not, reality isn’t as bleak as you imagine it.