There's a saying in English: When you assume you make an ass out of u and me. That's because assuming something can very often lead to you being wrong and making the other person suffer due to this.
For example, how many arguments have you had with your significant other, only to discover much too late that you were making different assumptions about the problem and the words each one of you used to explain your position? (Or, if you haven't realised that this is a thing, this might be the reason you're always arguing with your partner and never reaching a resolution...)
So, what I've been pondering a lot over the last month and which I'm adding to my manual of me is the harm it causes to relationships when you come from a place of assuming and how to improve relationships by doing the opposite (this would also have been increasingly on my radar as I'm putting the finishing touches on my new e-book about ways we increase drama in our relationships and how to reduce it. It's out 1st of April on Kindle for a mere 99p!).
It all really kicked off when I had to cancel plans with a friend because I was feeling poorly. She asked if I hadn't just been ill and I said I often felt poorly when spinning too many plates at once. Now, her questions stopped there and instead I received a message telling me that there was a lesson to be learned and that I had to prioritise my health over my work and over earning money. That my body was more important that my bank account.
She's not wrong about any of these things but the problem was that she was assuming the plates were work related. She presumed I was prioritising wrong. She was assuming I wanted or needed her opinion. She was trying to 'fix' the problem she assumed I had.
Now, the biggest problem for me at that moment were her assumptions, because the plates I were referring to were, among others, her. Friendships and socialising at a time where I didn't feel like it. The plates were other people's expectations outside of work. She presumed the stress was work related (perhaps, because she's on sick leave with work stress and for a long time didn't listen to her body's signals).
I felt annoyed because I hadn't asked for her opinion or advice on how to live my life, because I felt she wasn't listening, or wasn't interested in engaging with my point of view and because I felt judged by her well-intentioned comments. Even if I was stressed due to work, it doesn't feel nice when someone tells you that your priorities are wrong.
To me, that's not what a good friend should do.
I told her that I was on top of my own choices, thanked her for her consideration but to not try and 'save' or 'rescue' me (if you don't know what that means, you'll enjoy my upcoming e-book where I go into great details about this).
But it didn't stop there. She went on to tell me that I had worth outside of my job and I was loved. Again, well-meaning words but based on assumptions that I rely on external validation to feel worthy or loved, which I (luckly) don't (after over a decade of hardcore self-development work).
To me, it now felt like she wasn't respecting my boundaries so I started to explain my point of view in greater details and told her that this was not a conversation to be had over text but in person.
She then messaged to say that over-explaining is a trauma response and that I was perhaps co-dependt. Again, she's not wrong that over-explaining can be a trauma response but again, by assuming she understood me and my intentions better than me, she missed the mark. You can also end up over-explaining when you feel someone is refusing to listen and understand you and, furthermore, over-explaining is something linked to being neurodivergent like I am (though, we NDs seldom see it as over-explaining - that's a neurotypical judgement on our communication style). And then she pondered if I was co-dependent. At this point, the assumptions bruised my ego! I have over 12 years of education within the human mind and have been practicing for over 5 years, seeing thousands of clients. It felt like an added insult to my professional self that I could be co-dependent without realising it.
Now, it could be easy to assume negative things about this person. And I know through my narrative here that I haven't painted a great picture. And though, it will go in my manual just how disconnecting assumptions can be, that's not the learning outcome here. After all, it's not The Manual of My Friend, it's about my user manual.
It's about me learning just how triggering I find assumptions. How unsafe I feel when people make assumptions about me, and, if I feel it's necessary, to look at my past and wonder why I find assumptions so annoying, disconnecting and unsafe.
The interesting thing isn't to judge my friend at all, but to examine why my ego got bruised by her assuming more knowledge about my mind and indicating I struggle with a pretty serious mental state such as co-dependency.
There was a lesson in there for me about what I'm looking for in a friendship and what I find unacceptable.
The conversation highlighted important values for me: Feeling heard, seeen, understood, accepted and respected and to feel safe and supported.
I do a lot of value work with clients and we often talk about how feeling triggered can indicate that one of our values have been ignored or violated.
However, the values I've just highlighted here are not unique. Most of us - if not all of us - want to feel heard, seen, understood, accepted, respected, safe and supported, including my friend - so how come two people can come from the same place, values wise, and yet end up upsetting each other or falling out?
So, it's not enough to know your values, you also need to understand how you and how others communicate or show them. You have to not assume that how one person feels respected is the same for another because that's, in essence, true respect. To honour differences.
A couple of weeks later, having a little moan to another friend about my boyfriend not being excellent at emotional communication, she told me how TikTok had taught her that the number one way to know you have a successful and long-lasting relationship is the ability to always have something to talk about, even after decades of being together. She then went on to tell me how she'd also been a relationship where she'd only dated the guy to feel safe after a bad break-up.
I was left flabbergasted.
She'd assumed that because my boyfriend wasn't acing in EQ (Emotional Intelligence), that we had nothing to say to each other at all and that I was with him for the wrong reasons, as well as telling me that some random person on TikTok knew more about relationships than me, as a trained psychologist and psychotherapist (can you tell, my professional ego was bruised again?)
Once more, I felt instantly disconnected, misunderstood, lonely and unsafe in sharing with this friend.
But just like with my previous friend, I believe her intentions were good. I believe she thought she'd made me feel heard, seen, understood, accepted, respected, safe and supported by being able to 'read' my unconscious processes, had been able to see through my denial, and offered a meaningful and helpful opinion to guide me.
Except, in both cases, the assumptions were not only wrong but hurtful and confusing.
I'm currently listening to a book about the dangers of advice giving as part of the research I'm doing for my own book. And in it, the author says that the irony hasn't escaped him, of giving advice about the dangers of giving advice!
I feel the same writing about assumptions, making assumptions about my friends at the same time.
Making assumptions are a natural and normal part of being human. We all do it, all the time. It may even an evolutionary hang-over of having to make quick, snap decisions all the time about our environment for survival. However, we all have the mental capacity to change, if we choose, and so assumptions don't have to override other behaviours like staying open and curious towards other people's opinions, perspectives, experiences, realities and truths.
I assume a lot, but I also tend to assume that I'm wrong about my assumptions. That makes me stay flexible in my opinions and more open to other people's realities (and boy, do I fail at this too! I'm just a flawsome human after all). But that's why The Manual of You is so important. It's about pausing and reflecting and making informed choices about who you want to be and how you want to feel. It's not about perfecting anything. For me, perfection is the opposite of progress. Thinking there is one right way, based on a very high, usually unattainable standard, is the opposite of open, flexible and curious.
But, not all assumptions are bad.
We can also make, what Brene Brown calls, the most generous presumption.
Did you boyfriend yell at you - will you take it personal, presume it's about you, presume he's a bad person, or could you presume he's struggling, he's hurting, he hasn't learned how to communicate in a safe and helpful manner?
Did you get cut off in traffic? Did you presume the other driver is a reckless a-hole? Or, perhaps they were in a hurry towards an emergency at home?
Did you colleague laugh at you at work? Did you presume she's a ruthless bully? That you deserved to be laughed at because you're stupid? Or that she's trying to feel superior because she feels so insignificant and that she learned how to be a bully by her bullying parents? That's she's desperate to feel respected but doesn't know how to achieve it in a healthy way?
One assumption isn't more accurate than the other. And being the more generous presumption doesn't mean someone gets off the hook for poor behaviour but what does it do for you? How do you feel when you make the negative assumption over the positive one? How does it impact your state of mind and your ability to engage with the other person, if you come from a place of judgement compared to a place of compassion for their pain?
I know my friends operate from a place of love and that they have my best intentions at heart. That helps me to not get unnecessarily angry or upset. However, the way they go about it, isn't OK with me - that's my responsibility. Just like, feeling triggered is my responsibility to own and examine and change, if I choose, not their fault.
So, what I'm adding to my manual this month is to be careful of making assumptions and stay open-minded and curious about someone else's story and perspective, to ask questions instead of giving unsolicited advice and when I do assume anyway, I'll try and make it the most generous presumption possible.
What about you? What do you take away from my stories and lessons learned?
And remember, it's not about agreeing or disagreeing with my opinions or conclusions. It's your life, so live it like you choose. Ignore what you find unhelpful and note that which you find interesting and supportive of your own journey.
Until next time - take care, stay safe - and sane - and make kind choice (or not. Still your choice).
My whole life, I've felt self-conscious about my dyslexia and spelling mistakes, so much so that it's held me back from doing what I love the very most - writing - or, at least, in sharing my writings. Just like photo filters have made me self-conscious about taking and sharing pictures of myself as I can't be bothered doing my make-up and hair, nor play around with filters to try and look as pretty as other people online, so I don't. But then there was a healthy movement towards sharing 'make-up free' selfies and to stop using filters all together. People who showed up real were celebrated for it. And I feel with all the chat of ChatGPT being able to write amazing articles, blog posts, essays and even whole books, I, at first, felt even more intimidated about my writings. Now, I had to compete with AI as well!! But, I've chosen to flip the narrative. All my glorious spelling and grammar mistakes and too long sentences and rambling points, will hopefully show you that I'm a real human and I've written this myself. That's, at least, the story I'm going to tell myself because it helps me, rather than hinders me. And that's the whole point of what I do - it's not about lying to yourself but how you can tell yourself better stories that help you in life rather than hinder you?
On the 1st of each month, I'll write a meandering journal entry about my biggest take-away from the previous month and what I'll add to my own manual of how to human.