The idea of a glass being half empty or half full is more than a cliched adage. It refers to a person’s perception- their interpretation, understanding and “reality” of a given situation.
Our perceptual system helps us understand the world and can really help us process, sometimes, incomplete or ambiguous situations. Consider how the middle figure in the image below can either be seen as a “13” or a “B” depending on the context (reading down or left to right). The figure doesn’t change, but our perception of the figure does and it is pretty seamless without much need for conscious effort.
A problem can emerge when our perception becomes skewed or faulty. This can sometimes happen through faulty learning or through feedback that we’ve been given that is incorrect. Because of how we are wired, we often cannot detect the distortion as the process is automatic. In this way, situations may be seen as unsolvable. Personal flaws may be exaggerated, other people’s behavior may be misinterpreted. We can become prisoners to this faulty thinking and we become blind to what might be holding us back (have you ever noticed that sometimes you can see things about other people that they cannot seem to see themselves?). The concept of how the mind can fool us can be seen in so-called “impossible figures” from the world of perception research.
The analogy isn’t a perfect one, but in an impossible figure we perceive something that is not there- because of how we are wired and how our brain filters information. The mind will naturally fill in gaps to try to make sense of a situation, or what we are seeing, and we are fooled by our eyes (and mind).
Among other things, therapy can help assess our perceptions- if they are helping us or if they are somehow unduly hurting us.
If they are hurting us, new ways to look at things can be investigated and explored.
One common approach that we take is to help integrate current perceptions into more accurate or objectively verifiable ideas. The goal in this endeavor is to do everything possible to make sure perceptions are helping a person get to where they want to be in life, and not unduly hold them back.