When What You Assume Is Really Off

Assumptions that we make about each other can be really insidious, unconscious things. They can eat into our experience of life, our relationships, our self-esteem and how we treat those around us. In the psychotherapy world they are called “projections.” And, they can persist for years and years masked as facts.

“Well, isn’t that just like him to forget me?” I might say as I feel my heart fall or start to feel angry. Behind that semi-innocent statement is an assumption that is crippling to our relationship and perhaps my sense of self esteem. For instance, if I assume that his inability to be a good listener means that he does not care about me, or that I am not that important to him, it changes the very fabric of our relationship. I may even have lots of experiences to back up my view that his not listening means that he doesn’t care about me. All the times that important things were overlooked or forgotten. “Remember the time you weren’t listening and you forgot to show up for …?”

I am continually amazed at how quickly we all can jump to conclusions and make assumptions about the behavior of others. I think it must be something basic to how the human brain operates that we assume that someone else’s actions are for the reason we would do that same thing.

Well, as you may have guessed by now, I had just such an experience this past weekend. The assumption about “not being a good listener” that I had been making about my close friend suddenly came out of the shadow and I could see how I had projected on to him – for a very long time – that he did not care about me. It was mind-blowing. I have been operating from that assumption for so long.

I know where my reasoning comes from and it makes a world of sense to me. In my household growing up, listening and being a good listener was right up there next to God. If you loved someone you listened to them and you listened well. You didn’t just hear what they were actually saying, you heard the subtext behind what they were saying. To love someone was to listen carefully and be able to hear them clearly on multiple levels.

I am being gentle with myself about this error in perception. It may be a huge one, but it is an honest one. However, I am owning it, with him, and with all of you. I am sharing this to point out that no matter who you are, no matter what level of commitment to living consciously you may have, we all have our blind spots – those aspects of who we are that are in the shadow, outside of our conscious awareness. Until they are not any longer. I do not know why I was suddenly able to see this so clearly after all these years. All I know is that one moment I was blaming him for being such a rotten listener, and the next moment it became crystal clear that this was my problem.

Don’t get me wrong. He is still a terrible listener. I know his history. I understand how he got to this stage in his life with such difficulty in listening well to others. But that is not the point. His listening skills have nothing to do with how much he cares about me. That is what I just unhooked. It is really wonderful – I feel so much lighter!

As you read my story, you may want to stop for a moment and look into the dark, unconscious corners of your relationships and ask yourself, “What assumptions am I making about those I am in relationship with that are creating a sense of separation, judgment and pain?” (for you or for them) It is definitely worth asking. Give it a try.


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