What Is Meant By ‘Reality Testing’?
Reality testing, a concept originally introduced by Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), can be described as the capacity of an individual perceive the external events going on around him/her objectively, accurately and based on conventional interpretation rather than in a way distorted by internal mental factors. The Medical Dictionary defines it as : ‘The objective evaluation of the external world and differentiation between it and the ego or self.’
Impaired Reality Testing :
Reality testing is most obviously impaired in individuals, such as some schizophrenics, who are in the grip of florid psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations (e.g. ‘hearing voices’ or ‘seeing things that aren’t there’) and delusions (e.g. believing one’s thoughts are being broadcast / audible to others).
Borderline Personality Disorder, Brief Psychotic Episodes And Reality Testing :
Individuals with borderline personality disorder (BPD) generally do not have such dramatically impaired reality testing (although they can suffer from brief psychotic episodes when experiencing extreme stress). However, their reality testing can fluctuate to a significantly greater degree than is found in relatively ‘psychologically healthy’ individuals.
For example, particularly when experiencing significant levels of stress, individuals suffering from BPD may lapse into a paranoid style of thinking or experience an impaired ability to self-reflect in a realistic fashion.
Problems That May Arise As A Result Of Impaired Reality Testing :
An impaired ability to reality test can lead to various problems, including :
- inappropriate judgment of important situations
- failure to challenge irrational negative thoughts
- blaming of oneself for / feel shame about things that were not one’s fault
- loss of awareness of one’s authentic self, thoughts and feelings (due to defense mechanisms such as denial, repression and suppression)
- a restricted and blinkered view of the world
Improving Impaired Reality Testing :
Studies suggest that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be an effective means of improving a person’s ability to reality test.
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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)