Hello out there!
What you’ve got in front of you is a fairly lengthy, but I trust, extremely helpful and informative article on how your feelings of frustration, resentment and insecurity in your relationships with others are really stemming from unconscious assumptions that you have made about the other person or about relationships on the whole.
I then share with you some concrete suggestions for what to do when you realize you’ve made assumptions and how to get to a place of peace within yourself and within the relationship. And, when you feel more peaceful and secure in yourself and in your relationships you will feel less inclination to use food to cope, guaranteed.
I hope you enjoy it and benefit from the tools!
P.S. Dn’t forget to email me and share your thoughts / experiences with these tools. And if you want more tools and articles make sure you’re signed up for our free bi-weekly newsletter: Food is not the Problem: Find out what is!
Have a great read.
The problem with assumptions is not that we make them – although that does often cause resentment and confusion in our relationships with others – no, the real problem with assumptions is that most of the time we don’t even know we’ve made them – or that someone else has made some about us – until something happens in the relationship, contrary to our unconscious assumptions, and we feel the sting of perceived betrayal or the pain and grief of conflict where we thought we had unspoken agreement.
We typically just assume that others share our values and that their definition for, say, reliability, is the same as ours. We assume others think like us, feel like us, and will act like us in similar circumstances and when they don’t – and they won’t –we feel betrayed, misled, and start to question who this imposter is and what happened to the person we though we were in a relationship with!
This is a key step in the relationship process; seeing the person as they really are and not as we assume, and therefore expect, them to be. It’s the point at which we have the opportunity to step into true, adult love. Or, it could be the point at which we realize we really don’t like who this person really is now that the blinders are off. Either way it’s a very significant point in life. But this key moment of true seeing that comes to all relationships in time, is also limited by any other assumptions we’ve made about who this person is that we haven’t yet uncovered. In other words, often, at the same time as we’re seeing that we’ve made some erroneous assumptions (ie. reliability doesn’t mean the same thing to you as it does to me), we’re often still being unconsciously driven by other assumptions (ie. that you will surely see that my definition of reliability is the “right” one and you will change your behaviour to coincide with my definition) that have not yet been revealed to us. Sound like Greek?
Well, let’s see if I can translate by taking you on an exploration of the following concepts:
What leads us to make these unconscious assumptions in the first place?
What can we do to bring greater consciousness to the assumptions we have made about someone (and therefore know sooner who this person really is and how much energy to invest in the relationship, when to pull the plug and when to have courageous conversations about whether the other is open change or to meeting in the middle)?
And once we realize we’ve made assumptions that are inaccurate (and we all do), what do we do then? What action do we take, within ourselves and within the relationship to come to a place of peace and mutual understanding? Good questions! Let’s take a look at the answers.
If you could allow me to digress a wee bit into a brief exploration of human brain development I promise to come right back to the points that you actually have some power over. To that end, let’s go back to the gobbledygook above about unconsciously making assumptions at the same time that I’m realizing that I’ve been making unconscious assumptions. A simple example could look like this: As I come to realize that my friend, for whom I just bought an entire flat of fresh blueberries, doesn’t like blueberries (when I had previously assumed she would because, well….who doesn’t like blueberries??) I am still very likely operating under other unconscious assumptions such as that she certainly likes other fruit that I like or that at the very least of course she must be a fan of dill pickles! In other words, because I want to be friends with this person, as I realize that one assumption is invalid, other unconscious assumptions rush in to fill the space and allow me to continue to tell myself the story that this person is enough like me to make it worth my while to stay connected.
My brain is actually wired to do this because it wants to make me happy and I’ve told it, at some point in the past, that I believe being friends with this person will make me happy. Conversely, if I don’t like this person and want to disconnect, my brain will accentuate the negative, almost to the complete exclusion of any information to the contrary in it’s never ending quest for my happiness.
In other words, if I’d like to dislike someone, the fact that she doesn’t like blueberries is all the evidence I need to know that she’s not my kind of people, because I’ve already told my brain I want to disconnect and it’s making an airtight case to support that. But if I wanted to be friends; if for whatever reason I think that’s a benefit to me, my brain will do all sorts of mental gymnastics to tell me why it’s great that she doesn’t like blueberries: It’s great she doesn’t like them because it means more blueberries for me; It’s good to have some differences; It’s a good sign that she’s confident enough to be honest about what she likes and dislikes; etc.
In other words, if I want to like someone my brain will make it happen and if I want to hate them it will do that too regardless of any factual information either way. All this is happening on an unconscious level, automatically. This is one reason why our conscious thoughts and our desires are so powerful. Our brain really does hear our thoughts as truths and as directives that it must follow in order to bring you the greatest amount of happiness possible. It then goes to work filling in the blanks or overriding any unsupportive information to ensure you see exactly what you’re looking for even if it’s all a big bunch of pahooey!
In his incredibly educational book (definitely one of my all time fave’s) “Stumbling on Happiness,” Daniel Gilbert describes in detail the mechanisms in the brain that drive it to fill in the gaps (assume) in ways that will bring us the greatest amount of happiness based on what we’ve told ourselves will make us happy. I won’t go into detail here because this article is not about neuropsychology but if you want to read a great book on the innate pursuit of happiness I highly recommend Daniel’s.
Moving on with our discussion about how and why we make the assumptions we do about the people in our lives we must briefly explore the realm of out and out liars. Some people intentionally mislead others. We refer to these people, depending on the driving forces behind their behaviour, as either con-men, narcissists or sociopaths. These humans seem to lack any significant consideration of the feelings and needs of others and act only from a place of self-interest. Fortunately there aren’t that many people who fall into these categories.
Then there are the light-weight manipulators and the abusers. Still harmful to be connected to, these are people who are typically driven by fear and who also have a confused value system, often borne of their own childhood abuse experience and/or the modeling of dishonest behaviour by key people in their lives. Because of their history of a lack of trust, safety and control as children, they will do whatever it takes to feel a sense of control of their surroundings and of the people in their lives. They will lie and behave dishonestly and feel justified in doing so because, in their minds, their fundamental sense of safety and security is dependent on getting so and so to do such and such. In other words, for these folks the end justifies the means.
The average citizen (that’s you and me) is not to be faulted for initially assuming that the con-man or the narcissist was actually a decent bloke, it’s their life’s purpose to mislead others. Likewise we are not to be faulted for being deceived at first by an abusive person. From their current world view, deceit is fundamental to their sense of safety and thus they are probably pretty darn good at it. No, we are not to be blamed for falling for lies and trickery the first time. We are however responsible for whether we fall for the same trick twice. Remember the old adage: Once bitten, twice shy?
Most people are not narcissists, sociopaths, con-men or abusers. Most people are just living their lives, just being themselves, completely unaware of the assumptions we’ve made and the brush with which we’ve painted our pretty little picture of who they are and what they think and feel and what they’ll do in any given circumstance. Even if we allow for the fact that often people (that’s us) will “put their best face forward” or act in ways that they hope will win the favor of certain people (usually that attractive individual we’d like to get to know better or a person in a position of power) most of us aren’t making things up about ourselves when we do this we’re just laying it on a bit thicker than is genuine or natural.
In other words, people who come across as really, really nice, probably are pretty nice people just perhaps not all the time in that full on way they may portray to the boss or the desired lover. Usually, to some degree, what you see really is what you get in any relationship. As we discussed earlier, if we want to like someone we’ll see all the good stuff and none of the bad, or, if we do see the bad we’ll interpret it as good or downplay it in order to continue with the relationship. If we are intent on finding a partner who wants kids we’ll ignore the ways our date (who otherwise seems like a potential match) sneered at all the babies we passed and how he shook off the toddler who happened to momentarily grasp his leg for balance and we’ll focus instead on the fact that he didn’t say he didn’t want kids (not that he ever even hinted that he did!). Thus we’ll make a fabulous case in our minds for this man wanting children and being ready to take the step into parenthood. And we’ll be crushed and feel betrayed when he makes a clear statement to the contrary.
This is the reason relationship experts suggest strongly that you take at least 6 months to get to know someone before making any commitments ie. marriage, living together, getting pregnant and some even suggest no sex before that time period has lapsed. It is expected that over the course of 6 months of regular interaction you will see all the faces of the individual you are relating to. During that time you will see clearly what the true “mix” of the individual really is and thus who they really are and will be able to make a much more sound decision at that time as to how closely you would like to be aligned with that person, if at all! My own relationship history has certainly borne this out. But that’s a story for another time! ?
We were talking about assumptions and how we make them unconsciously. Therefore, just as we’re confused and feel betrayed when this person doesn’t do what we expect they will (ie. He really doesn’t want kids after all!); the other person is equally as bewildered and hurt by our reactions to their authentic thoughts, feelings and behaviours. He thought you knew he didn’t want kids, certainly he never said that he did! Where did you get this idea that he did and why on earth are you mad at him? Fine question. Why are we mad at him? It’s not his fault that we assumed and filled in the blanks willy nilly. Ah, but now we are faced with a choice. It’s the same choice we face any time an unconscious assumption is made conscious:
Admit to ourselves and to the other person that they are not who we thought they were, around whatever issue has been revealed, and set about deciding if we like who they really are. This choice leads to a sense of trust in ourselves and the potential for deeper intimacy and safety with the other person. We feel more peaceful and secure in ourselves and in the world and less likely to want to, or to feel the need to, use food to cope.;
We persist in our denial and argue that they are who we thought they were they’ve just forgotten what they really want/who they really are. Ie. We know them better than they know themselves. This approach is doomed to fail. A healthy person wouldn’t let anyone tell them what they really think. Anyone who would let us tell them what to think and do is not someone we could really trust and feel safe with because clearly they’re wishy washy and if you can manipulate them so can someone else. In other words you can’t trust them to have your back when push comes to shove or that they’re being real with you and therefore you can never feel truly secure in this relationship. With this choice we feel inherently insecure in ourselves and in the relationship and thus increase our need to use food to cope and focus on our body image in our attempt to feel safe and secure.
We feel victimized and lied to and tell ourselves that this person misled us. Our story goes: They knew we had made that assumption and they allowed us to continue to believe it just so we’d stay connected to them. We are betrayed! This is usually not the case, “they” had no idea we’d made that assumption and so they couldn’t possibly dissuade us from it. This approach leads both parties to feel victimized and misunderstood and to seek the validation of friends and family who are inclined to support our perception of events thus driving the wedge between us even deeper. Here again, we feel inherently insecure in this relationship and will feel the need to focus on food and body image to cope with our anxiety and our sense of isolation and sadness.
It takes courage to pick #1. Courage and maturity and a genuine desire to be conscious and responsible for our own actions and to be in a relationship that is real and that allows the other person to be who they really are and not who we want them to be. It also takes enough self-esteem to believe that we are deserving of a relationship that feels secure and respectful and that we no longer deserve to harm ourselves with food or diminishing self-judgements.
Most people pick #2 or #3 and thus we have a 50% divorce rate. You can’t win with #2 or # 3. Again, unless your partner has deliberately misled you (remember the abusers, con-men and sociopaths), which is rare, they have done nothing but be themselves. They’re not going to apologize for being who they are and they’re not going to take responsibility for your assumptions.
What we suddenly realize when assumptions are made conscious, is that up until that point the two people in the relationship have been having a relationship with their assumptions of who that person is and not with the real individual at all. Thus we wake up to the reality that we don’t really know the other person at all.
Now is the moment of truth. Do you stick around and get to know who this person really is?
Do you open your heart to the possibility of loving them as completely as you loved your fabrication of who they were?
Or do you move on, hoping to find someone who matches your fantasy of who that person should be?
At this point the other person in your relationship is likely asking themselves the very same questions. So, it’s time for open discussion about whom each of you really are; what you really think, feel and need.
Are you willing to take responsibility for having made those assumptions in the first place and to be honest about what you really need and want in a relationship?
Are the things you are now seeing in your partner things you can accept for a lifetime? In other words, if not one thing about this person changed, could you accept them and love them as your partner?
If so there’s hope. If not, you best move on. It’s not a sign of failure to leave a relationship when you realize that you’ve made assumptions that are not borne out in reality and that you have key needs that will not be met in this partnership. It’s the most honoring choice you can make for you and for the other person as well.
As the saying goes, “You can’t know what you don’t know!”
But once you become aware of what you don’t know (ie. where you have made assumptions that may be inaccurate) you have a choice to take responsibility for having made an assumption and make it your priority to find out the truth or you can blame the other person for not being who you presumed/needed them to be.
Regardless of the nature of the relationship where these unconscious assumptions are now coming to light, the only responsible, mature step to take is to ask questions; seek to understand the other person. What is their perception of the situation? Are they even aware of how it impacted you? Are they even aware that they do that certain behaviour? Are they willing to look at it and change it? Is there something they can tell you about it that helps you understand it better and thus accept it?
If we are committed to healthy, honoring, peaceful, fulfilling relationships we must be willing to always first seek to understand the other person before we seek to be understood. That means we must be willing to ask questions about the others perspectives rather than make statements as though we know the truth. It also means we must be willing to wait to be heard until we’ve heard them. This law of relationship, in and of itself, will save your relationships. It will make arguments a thing of the past, guaranteed.
Time and time again I have had the life experience of having anger and sadness and fear swept away simply by asking questions about the intention of the other person and in so doing, discovering either that I completely misunderstood their behaviour or words, or they were either completely unaware that what they were doing was hurtful to me but they were willing to do things differently in the future or work with me to find a mutually agreeable solution. It’s so exceptionally rare that, when we truly understand someone and they truly understand us, we can’t come to a solution that truly honors both parties.
There are two fabulous resources that will support you to hone your skills in the area of communication and understanding:
Stephen Covey’s book “The 7 habits of highly effective people.”
Non-violent communication www.nvc.org
If you would like to save your self much stress and strife, explore one or both of these options or come and do some work with me and learn how to notice when you’ve made an assumption and what to do to clear it up as quickly and respectfully as possible.
Your relationships with others are one of the key areas that will lead you to use food to cope. When you’ve made assumptions about someone that aren’t holding water you will naturally feel anxious, unsafe and resentful towards that person until you:
Take steps to identify what isn’t feeling good to you;
Take a good honest look within and identify the assumptions you made that contributed to the situation;
Seek to understand – have a conversation with that person in which you ask questions (from a place of being open to hear that your assumption is wrong) about their intention for behaving a certain way or saying a certain thing;
Often that clears it up right there and there is no need for you to share or to ask for anything in the way of a change of behaviour – truly! However, if there is a lingering concern (meaning if it wasn’t just a misunderstanding) this is when you would ask the person – did you get that?… Ask the person if they would be willing to hear your experience of the situation and help you to feel peaceful about it. If they say no, that tells you a lot about that person and the quality of connection that you can have with them. It also tells you that you’re better off saving your breath as they’re not interested in hearing you and getting to know you more intimately. If they say yes…
Then you share your perception, what needs you had that didn’t get met in the situation as it occurred, and you ask for a specific change in behaviour on the part of the other person. You spell it out for them. Don’t leave room for them to make any assumptions about what you want or for yourself to make any assumptions about what they have committed to doing. For example, if I really need you to show up on time, because you’re perpetually 15 minutes late and I’m a wee bit tired of it, I don’t just say “you’re late again, that really pisses me off!” and I don’t say “I really need you to be on time” and I don’t say “I feel disrespected when you are late” although each of those options has a piece of what we ultimately are shooting for. I want to tell you specifically what happened that didn’t work for me, how I felt about it, and what I need from you in order to feel peaceful. Then I want to get concrete affirmation from you that you hear me and that you’re willing to commit to what I’m asking.
So it would sound like this: “I notice you’re late. I feel frustrated and sad when you’re late because I have needs for respect and connection that aren’t met. Would you be willing to commit to being on time when meeting me?”
If you are willing to agree to meet my need you’ll tell me. And if you need to be able to have leeway and to be late, or you’re just not interested in committing to meeting my need you have the right and you have an easy opening (because I’ve asked and not told!) to tell me that and for the two of us to discuss how I can get my needs for connection and respect met and how you can get your needs for leeway met. There is always a way for both of us to get what we need if we’re willing to discuss it and if we are both committed to a win win.
What it all boils down to is this: If I really care about my relationship with you and if I really care about myself and want to diminish the amount of stress and anxiety I feel in my life I will take the time to acknowledge when I’m feeling at all irritated and resentful towards you. I will then identify the assumptions I’ve made about you or about us that are making me feel annoyed and I’ll take responsibility within myself for making those assumptions. Then I’ll ask you what your experience is or what your needs are in the situation. I’ll then ask if I can share mine. Then together we’ll come up with a solution that works for both of us.
If I really care about myself I’ll do this. It is the only responsible choice. It is the quickest, simplest most honoring way for me to find peace within. And when I’m feeling peaceful within and safe in my connection with you I do not feel the slightest inkling to use food to cope or to diminish myself with bad body thoughts.
Chances are this article brought up some questions for you ie. How do I do X? or What happens if Y? Ask me! Let me fill out this very important exploration on self-awareness, communication and the use of food to cope. email@example.com