The phrase was coined by members of Steve Jobs teams when he wanted to convince them that something they all knew to be false was indeed true. They would quietly whisper, "beware of the reality distortion field, don't get caught in it." Steve, with his powerful, over the top persuasive abilities was able to convince a lot of people a lot of things a lot of the time and it all fit his version of reality, his reality distortion field.

The truth is that we all have reality distortion fields which allow us to see reality on our terms. Healthy individuals keep those distortion fields to a minimum while unhealthy individuals allow them to grow and expand until they are literally living in an alternative reality - often quiet separated from reality. 

Some years ago, I was asked by a pastor and board to determine why he and the board were experiencing so much conflict. I interviewed board members, staff members and finally the pastor himself. He was amazed that people felt the way they did about him as he had been living with a picture of himself that was quite different than the picture others had. His distortion field (the level of distortion between his view and reality) would have caused him to likely lose his job if he had not rectified the problem quickly because it was at the root of the conflict between he and the board and staff. 

I have seen reality distortion fields become pathological when an individual becomes so disconnected from reality (yes in ministry) that they actually believe their unhealthy treatment of others is OK and that those they mistreat are actually OK with it as well. Of course, when you do your own inquiry one finds out that this is not the case at all but the defensive mechanisms of the one with a significant reality distortion field protects him or her from the guilt they ought to have for their behavior. Reality distortion fields always provide the perpetrator of poor behavior an alternative explanation which absolves them and places the blame on others. 

Usually, reality distortion fields are allowed to grow (often in leaders) because those around them do not have the courage to confront and tell the individual the truth. There is a reason for the lack of courage. These individuals are very hard to get through to. Their defensiveness is massive and they don't want to hear a version of truth that messes with their reality distortion field. However, the logical outcome of their progression into non reality is narcissism where they can justify anything and eventually implode but only after hurting a great many people. 

I asked one board whose pastor exhibited these tendencies why they had not done a job review in decades. The answer was that the senior pastor was too defensive and threatened by it so they held off, allowing the senior pastor's behavior to escalate and continue to hurt others. This particular pastor would use threats against those who tried to penetrate his defenses. The board actually thought that if they pushed their pastor he would quit since he had threatened on a number of occasions to do so. Ironically it would have been the best thing that could have happened to the church.

Those who live with reality distortion fields are crazy makers to those around them. They so distort reality that those who live in reality start to wonder if they are somehow going nuts and may even be to blame for the chaos that they see around them! It is like the inmates of an insane asylum convincing the staff that they ought to trade places because it is really the staff who are living with reality distortion fields and not the inmates. If you have ever lived or worked close to one with a reality distortion field you know exactly what I am talking about!

If you have a situation like this in your ministry please deal with it. The longer you wait the more distortion takes place and the more distortion takes place the more people get hurt. 
  • Dec 17, 2011
  • Category: News
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