The Stories We Spin

Growthtrac Marriagec Medic

Q

My wife actually believes she can read my mind! “I know why you do what you do,” she constantly tells me. I ask her to please stay out of my head, but she won’t stop. How can I possibly convince her that she doesn’t have the right to tell me what I’m thinking or feeling?

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A

I never cease to be amazed at the stories we tell ourselves. We often believe we can read another’s feelings, beliefs, and intentions. We see a behavior in another, become invested in it, and then put our spin on it. Believing our stories, we actually create quite a drama based on little to no true information.

Not long ago I got my feelings hurt by my wife, Christie. I was sure she had said something purposely hurtful and became righteously indignant. I told myself she had no right to say or believe the things she said and believed. With my ever-so-slight sense of superiority, I judged not only her words but her intentions as well.

My difficulty didn’t stop there. Having spun a story — telling myself I knew why she said what she said and that she intended to hurt me — I went into a major emotional free-fall. Hours later, I finally discovered I had totally misinterpreted Christie’s actions.

Not only did I waste a lot of mental energy trying to make sense of her actions, but my false interpretation caused me mental distress and needless animosity toward her. I had to dig myself out of my emotional pit, eat crow in a thick slice of “humble pie,” and make amends. It was a good lesson in how to not take things personally and to remind myself firmly there is a lot I don’t know.

The truth of the matter is this: We cannot judge others’ motives or intentions. We cannot read minds and know why they do what they do. Jesus instructed us, “First take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5). In other words, we have a lot of stuff to clear out of our brains before we can presume to help others ideal with their issues.

There is some other helpful advice to consider:

Don’t take things personally. When others act in hurtful ways, don’t presume you know why they do it. You’ll waste energy and in all likelihood be wrong. People are complex, and their motivations are equally complex. Don’t spin stories about another’s intentions; give people the benefit of the doubt. Chill out!

Don’t offer unsolicited advice. Someone has said that unsolicited advice will be perceived as criticism. I believe this is true. Stay out of another’s business unless you are absolutely certain they want your opinion. Even then, enter into this sacred space with utmost care. Does this person really want your advice?

Don’t presume to know how others should live. While you may believe you know what others should do with their lives, this is rarely the case. You have one life to manage — your own. You can offer support to others, but be careful to practice healthy boundaries when it comes to offering advice.

Live within your boundaries. Healthy boundaries create healthy relationships. Step back and appreciate how others choose to live. They don’t make the choices you make, nor do you make the choices they make. These differences add texture and variety to life and can make life and relationships interesting. When you stay within your boundaries, life becomes simpler and healthier.

If necessary, do let others know when you’ve been hurt. If someone’s actions cause a rift between you, talk to them. Gently let them know what you perceived. Be clear, without making any assumptions, and let them know you want reconciliation — and what it may take to gain that.

In summary, you cannot read another’s mind. You cannot know what they think and why they do what they do unless they tell you. You have no right to be in their head. When you keep healthy boundaries in place, your life becomes more manageable, and your relationships more likely to flourish.

If you’d like more information on relationships, as well as living a stress-free life, I’d like to hear your thoughts and welcome reactions.  Contact me at drdavid@marriagerecoverycenter.com. I encourage you to read about our programs at www.marriagerecoverycenter.com.

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