Tag Archives: assumptions

You’re Bigger Than You Think

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There’s a psychological term I want to introduce you to. You may already know it; the word is “schema” and it means a deeply ingrained belief or impression about ourselves and the world around us.

Schemas take root at an early age as a result of what we experience in life. Certain key people are also tremendously influential in the formation of schemas. By what they say and do, we form conclusions which have lasting effects on our behavior, our pattern of thinking, our choices and our self-concept. In essence, schemas color how we view reality and how we respond to most situations.

Automatic assumptions spring from schemas. Let’s face it, they show up in every argument!

Some schemas are positive, some are not-so-positive. Lorena recently shared a story illustrating a not-so-positive schema. (I wrote about her in an earlier post: “Perfection is Highly Overrated!” Click here to read it.)

Not long ago, her dad pointed to a photograph of her on the refrigerator. “Do you remember that?” he asked. The photograph showed a 4-year-old Lorena dressed in a cute dancing outfit.

She remembered the photo and she also remembered the thought that ran through her mind when she saw it shortly after it was taken. “I was thinking that my thighs were too big!” she said while shaking her head in disbelief.  “I just cannot imagine that someone that young could even entertain such a thought! It’s just so outlandishly sad!”

By the age of four, Lorena had been thoroughly programmed to scrutinize her physical appearance. Yes, that is “outlandishly sad.” Her schema goes something like this: “My acceptance is based on how I look,” and “There is something fundamentally wrong with me.”

“As far back as I can remember,” she said, “I compared myself to other girls.”

Lorena was curious about the origins of her shaping. “Who’s opinion did I buy into?” she wondered. After mulling it over she came up with this: “I’m pretty sure it was my grandmother’s. As long as I can remember, she was constantly making derogatory remarks about how other people looked.”

The remedy for bothersome schemas? A heavy dose of clear minded self-appraisal.

We get free by questioning our conditioned assumptions about ourselves.

Lorena’s on a journey to do just that. She’s busy revamping her schema by disbelieving it. And in the process, she’s realizing she’s a whole lot bigger than some old schema hanging out in her brain.

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

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Avoid the Muck and Guck

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I found a perfect piece of advice for those of us who try to fix someone else’s distorted thinking. It’s an old Russian proverb that says:

“Don’t drive a car straight down a crooked road.”

Easier said than done, especially if we’re the target of someone’s erroneous accusations. At those times, it’s extremely difficult to resist springing into action—in defense of ourselves, armed with facts and mounds of explanations.

Trish, a client, is a good example. One morning she got up before Chad and went downstairs to start her day. She was relishing the silence and a nice cup of coffee when he suddenly appeared in the doorway. “Hey, what are you all ticked off about?” he asked with a scowl.

Chad had assumed wrongly. She wasn’t “ticked off”—her mood was in fine shape . . . uh, at least up to that point. His accusation instantly jolted her out of the tranquil spell that enveloped her, and she spent the next several minutes frantically attempting to get him to perceive her through a clear lens. (Click here to read more…)

Trish got snagged by his stuff. Soon, they were both swimming in their combined muck and guck. We all know that place . . . it serves no one.

That’s our little piece of insanity. We engage. We walk into a tangled web of distortion and accusations and try desperately to clean the other person’s lens. Or, another way to put it: we “try to drive the car straight down a crooked road.” It doesn’t work. The car lands in a ditch.

 

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

 

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Latest Wow: Face the Truth About Yourself

silhouette woman tree

“The bad thing about not liking myself is not being able to get away from myself. I can’t just go into the next room.”

Anna was being her usual witty self when she made that comment in my office but, sadly, she meant it. Also sad is the fact that a multitude of people feel the exact same way. How can that be? How does that happen?

It’s acquired. Self-loathing isn’t part of the package when we’re born. We don’t come out of the womb disliking ourselves.  We learn it—the result of how we were treated as children. I wrote about this in a column a few years back titled The Bent Twig. The column begins with a painful incident I witnessed between a mother and her little girl in a department store. It still haunts me. You can read it here.

As for Anna, her mother was a mother biologically, solely. Maternal she wasn’t. That is, she was minimally nurturing and minimally involved with her daughter. Understandably, Anna, saw herself as an inconvenience and therefore unworthy of being liked. To some extent, she carries that conclusion around yet today. She’s making progress, though, in turning it around completely.

This is what happens: we form an opinion about ourselves as a result of early life experiences—a self-image—that really isn’t accurate. So what we end up despising is who we think we are, not our innermost reality.  In short, our true self gets buried beneath layers of lies we have bought into about ourselves.

How to change this? A quote immediately comes to mind—a Wow!—by Brad, another client. Like Anna, he’s familiar with self-loathing—he’s been there. Here’s what he said:

“The brain is a fertile chunk of ground so anything we plant up there is going to grow.”

Brad’s statement suggests that we can take charge of our thoughts—the seeds that perpetuate a negative or positive self-image.

It’s good to know that the false notions we learned about ourselves can be unlearned. I say we start by disbelieving the debris of lies we’ve taken ownership of.

Names have been changed to honor client confidentiality

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Call It a Relationship Virus

Bacteria 1 under microscope

I’ve written about Beth and Sam before (on 2/7/13 and 3/21/13). After divorcing Sam, Beth decided she didn’t really want to leave him after all. Within a few months they were back together. When I asked her what changed her mind, she said, “I’ve discovered that anger fades a lot faster than love.”

Today, they’re still doing well. “It’s because we talk things through,” Sam said. They don’t let things fester or go unsaid. They use a technique I taught them called “Checking-In.” In a calm conversational tone—the kind that doesn’t invite defensiveness—one partner asks: “What are you thinking right now?”

“We use it when we want to know if everything’s okay,” Amy said. She readily admits that she needs this more than Sam. “I’m guilty of making assumptions,” she said, “and then I react poorly.”

A book that keeps her on track—one she swears by—is called The Four Agreements by Don Ruiz. In a delightful, simple and oftentimes humorous way, he illuminates how we sabotage our relationships and inner peace. Making assumptions is one of the pot holes.

As I pointed out in my post, “It All Took Place in a Sunny Cafe,”  studies show that 90% of the assumptions we make are untrue.

In terms of well running relationships, instead of making assumptions or jumping to conclusions, we need to stay open-minded and seek clarification—get the other person’s story.

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

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It all took place in a sunny cafe . . .

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My partner, Don, and I had just sat down to enjoy lunch when a stranger approached our table.  I thought he must be a manager and was about to ask how we felt about the food.  Instead, with a concerned tone he asked me, “Are you feeling better?”

That was so out of the blue!  Did I miss something?  Who was this man?  He acted like he knew me, but I didn’t know him.  Perhaps he was a cook and he thought I had gotten sick.  So I asked him, “Are you the cook?”

“Cook? No way!”  He threw his head back with a loud guffaw.  “I don’t cook!”

My state of confusion was quickly escalating. Meanwhile, Don, who was only getting part of the conversation, was forming his own opinion about what was going on, which I learned about later.

As the man continued to talk, I began to realize this was a case of mistaken identity.  He thought I was an opponent he had just defeated in a tennis match!  Ah, the light dawns.  This man was consoling me!  That’s why he asked if I felt better! I must have been a poor loser in a game I never played!

Not wanting to embarrass him, I didn’t correct his misperception, and why would I?  This warm-hearted attention felt good.

I thought the conversation was about over at this point, but again, I was mistaken.  He continued to console me by reassuring me that I had played very well.  He complimented me on my skills (I have none) and my competitive spirit.  But evidently I had a lousy partner because he blamed the entire loss on her, describing her as “clueless.”

Eventually, while thanking me for a good match, he walked away.

As Don and I shared our thoughts on what had just happened, I realized he had heard just enough of the conversation to be as “clueless” as my “tennis partner.”

He was of the opinion that the man was complaining about a woman who was a member of his cooking staff.  “Why was he telling us all that?” Don said.  “That guy was nuts!”

“No,” I said, “he was talking about my supposed tennis partner.  Didn’t you catch that?”

“No. I just wanted the man to go away and let me eat.”

I spent the next few minutes enlightening Don, and it wasn’t long before we were both struck with the sheer hilarity of it all.  It was a clear case of perceptions running amuck for three people.  We laughed until our sides ached.

Eventually, we came back down to earth and talked about it as one of life’s many lessons— a course on making assumptions.  I recently discovered some research showing that 90% of the assumptions we make are untrue.  This tells me we walk around with all sorts of unexamined assumptions. Hmm—that’s humbling.

I like what Pema Chodron had to say about assumptions in her book, “The Places That Scare You.” 

“We have two alternatives:  either we question our beliefs—or we don’t.  Either we accept our fixed versions of reality—or we begin to challenge them.  In Buddha’s opinion, to train in staying open and curious—to train in dissolving our assumption and beliefs—is the best use of our human lives.”

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True to Ourselves

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“Why doesn’t he leave her! I’m tired of this! I’m tired of waiting … for what … more disappointment?!”

That was Jill, Trent’s girlfriend, who’s at the end of her rope. Although he claims she’s #1, he has chosen to hang on to a relationship with Laura, a woman he no longer loves. What stops him from leaving? He can’t bear the thought of hurting her.

(To read about my session with Trent, see my previous post, Make YOU Happy.)

Jill’s frustration is so understandable. She’s waited years for things to change. Ironically, Trent’s efforts to protect one person from experiencing pain is creating pain in another. Jill suffers, but she rarely expresses it—not wanting to be a bitch or a nag.

Jill’s suffering is amplified because she makes assumptions about Trent’s stuckness. When her frustration reaches a fever pitch like it is now, she’s convinced he’s an insincere ogre who’s hell-bent on leading her on and using her.

I know that’s not true—he’s a tortured man. I explained that his guilt and needless sense of responsibility for Laura’s happiness is paralyzing him.

Unfortunately, we live in a world that doesn’t look at psychological barriers in the same way it looks at physical barriers.

Trent’s psychological barrier is as big and crippling as any physical barrier.

“I see,” Jill said, now in a calmer space. “He’s like a man in a wheelchair who wants to be in a foot race, but can’t.” “That’s true in part,” I replied, “but unlike the man in the wheelchair, Trent is capable.” It’s just not as simple as making the decision and, voilà! he’s off and running. He has internal barriers to overcome—barriers that have to do with him, not Laura.

At this point on Trent’s life journey, he’s being challenged to contemplate all the unconscious ways he’s being hurtful. He’s also challenged to either stay the course of self-compromise or opt to be true to himself while pursuing his own happiness.

“You’re being challenged in the same way,” I said. “You have to decide what to do with the circumstances as they are.”

Even though she has a better understanding of Trent, she still has a decision to make.

“Jill, realize you’re not expected to endure the unendurable,” I said. “In fact, you shouldn’t.  If you can’t endure the status quo, you have to honor that.”

I loved her next insightful comment: “I haven’t been true to myself, either.”

She’s so right, and like all of us, she’s ultimately responsible for her own happiness.

Names are changed to honor client confidentiality.

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