We all believe we have a decent grasp on reality. We can read the emotions and motivations of others and accurately evaluate our self. But in point of fact, we operate mostly through assumptions and perceptions of others and our self. Some of us more closely approximate the truth, others less so. Those who have a better grasp of reality tend to be folks willing to test out their perceptions. Without becoming too dependent on the opinions of others, they ask what others are thinking and feeling without preemptive assumptions. When they hear these experiences, they spend more time trying to understand and less time defending their own opinion. They ask for feedback and consider what they hear without denial or acquiescence.
Why is it hard for some to avoid preemptive assumptions about self and the world? Why is it that some use repetitive relational scripts where they accept and play a role in most of their relationships? As children, our sense of self and other builds from our interactions with important figures in our lives. If we are exposed to relentless criticism (we are bad) or neglect (we don’t matter), we are likely to try to conjure up our own sense of self. Some personality theorists call this a lack of appropriate mirroring.
Most then fall into one of two response types: I must be right all the time or not responsible for my failings (though I fear I will be found out to be a failure), or I am never right and am only worthy of shame (so I fear and avoid people at all costs or allow others to use and destroy me since that is all I am good for). Of course some vacillate between the two.
Is there any hope for us who find ourselves trapped in these scripts? Some personality theorists would say no. But, they are wrong. There is hope for us, but it is not a hope in safety. What do I mean? There is some safety in playing out the script as we always have. We know we will be rejected, we know that we will be mistreated or misunderstood, and we know how we will respond. There is comfort in the known (even if we hate it at the same time). What is unsafe is to put down our repetitive thoughts about self, fears about what others think, and just begin to observe the other in our relationships. What is it that they think? Feel? Desire? Believe? I liken this to having conversations with another where we no longer talk to them with a mirror in the middle. When the mirror is present, we are relating to them but constantly assessing ourselves, noticing our feelings, etc. When we remove the mirror, we have the opportunity to only see them and have our self go to the background. This, of course, causes us to feel small and vulnerable. Hence why I said that it does not feel safe. And yet, the very act of connecting to another without the mirror positions us to potentially receive more accurate feedback about ourselves.
I’m reminded of the biblical text in James about the man who looks in the mirror and then promptly forgets what he has seen (1:23). We forget when we listen to things but “forget” because other things are speak more powerfully to us–seem to be more true. The text goes on to say that we remember what we have seen and heard when we are open to the the perfect truth. So, we will have God’s power to change from building our own mirror to that of a more truthful image when we keep ourselves close to God, his Word, AND when we connect to others who also reflect God’s true character. Misappropriating CS Lewis, its not a safe option, but it is good.