Living Vs. Reliving

living_vs_relivingI wouldn’t belong to a club that would have me.

My boyfriend must be an idiot because he thinks I’m great.

When faced with an opportunity to imagine what my partner is really meaning to convey, I always assume the intention is to put me down.

Each response we make to the action of another requires us to first calculate the others’ intentions.  This happens in a blink, a breath, the process occurring below the surface of our awareness. Our assessment is informed by the experiences we have had up to this point, most significantly, the atmosphere that permeated our lives while growing up.

The motivation we imbue upon another has a huge impact on the choice we make from the wide array of responses available to us.  If someone bumps into us and we assume malicious intent, we respond one way, if we assume it is accidental, another.  If we assume it resulted from someone being dazed or preoccupied, still another.  The situation is the same, we have still been jostled, the squished toe still throbs; but we respond to the affront in varying ways–with anger or frustrated understanding or annoyance.  And the difference between these makes a world of difference to our internal feeling state within a given day.

If we are not correctly gauging the motivations of others, we cannot have a genuine experience of them. This leads instead to a feedback loop – we respond emotionally, without questioning, to what we imagine the other’s intentionality to be, and we act toward the unwitting soul who engaged us as though our (perhaps skewed) perception were the truth. Accordingly, they then react to our reaction with denial, defensiveness, or responsive anger, thus closing the loop:  We have been wronged, and the jerk won’t even own up to it!!  Voila!  We have created the world we suspected all along….we are being mistreated, put down, overlooked, slighted.

So how, then, does one go about correctly gauging the intentionality of another? The answer has hardly anything to do with focusing on trying to understand another person’s intentions, and almost everything to do with focusing on ourselves, and on any recurring themes that seem to have cropped up over the course of our lives.  Do you chronically feel not good enough? Or, maybe, just a little superior? Not taken seriously? Easily taken advantage of? Underestimated? Disregarded? Do you have pieces of anecdotal evidence from your life that seem to prove that some theme like one of these is true about you?

Look closely, think about it.  Because I will make a bet that whatever the theme is for you all but parallels the response you would typically make in relation to someone who, say, bumped into you and stepped on your toe, hard.  Are you so inconsequential that you go that unnoticed? Are you so clumsy that you caused this embarrassment? Is that person an inconsiderate idiot? Or worse, have they done it on purpose?  Do they just not care that they’ve hurt you?

Consider your life, where you have come from, what feelings rankled in you as you grew from childhood to adolescence. If you can tap into these emotional elements of your earlier reality, you may come to see that your knee-jerk reactions to others today draw responses from them that keep you reliving these themes, rather than living the reality that would come from actually looking into another person’s eyes and sensing their actual motivations.

Personal exchanges free of the emotional baggage of our past can be disarmingly, surprisingly, delightfully, devoid of any knee-jerk reactions; cynicism, fear, distrust, self-doubt, diffidence, etc, etc. Even on the simplest levels, they can clear the way for straightforward, human experiences to occur; the kinds of personal exchanges between people that are true and real and meaningful, whether momentarily between strangers, or during the long run in enduring relationships.  This interjection of reality can cause us to reassess what we think we know about ourselves and our basic nature, and to reconsider what we think to be true about the basic nature of others as well.

In this day and age, people often seem to hold cynical, fast paced, surface-based caricatures of one another.  We seem to have agreed upon, as a society, what “the poor,” “the rich,” “the religious,” “the non-religious,” and various other categories of people are like, what “they” value, what “they” do not value.

Let’s take a moment to breathe and open our eyes and slow down and try to actually see those around us.  Our lives will be richer, more fertile, more abundant for it.  And as for the twits who may actually be disregarding, insensitive, perhaps attempting to degrade us?  Who cares? They are in a minority.

The atypical nature of this kind of incident will be offset by the new normal of eye contact, humor, and empathy in our encounters and exchanges with others; by the breadth and texture of our self-understanding; and by the authentic life with others we are now able to create based on these experiences.inner critic ecourse CIV

About the Author

Jo Barrington Born in Washington D.C., Jo Barrington now lives in Santa Barbara, California.  She has been interested in psychological ideas and theory from early in her life and for the last 26 years she has edited psychological books and videos, with a little creative writing on the side!

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Thank you for writing this and making it available for people like me who are trapped and clueless in this corner, wanting desperately to continue moving forward in life, fighting and resisting the open expanse behind me because I don’t want to, “go back there,” and because it seems counterintuitive to, “double back” the way I came from. Yes, I realize the irony and luckily can laugh at myself for trying to talk the corner into being a doorway so I can pass by, for getting angry at it for not seeming to care how badly I need a door (not a corner, cmon!) and feeling bewildered and betrayed when the corner, who isn’t even trying, says it loves me and if it was a door it would be happy to be what I need but it’s not, not now, before or ever.
Sliding down the wall, now facing the territory of my past, I realize I’m out of options but I still don’t want to go. All I know is I can’t go forward, I can only head back but there’s no promise that going back thy way will help me get around. How do I know I won’t get stuck back there again? What if I go back that way and I’m stuck there forever?
At this point tears sting the corners of my eyes as I picture myself going that way, trying to get around but ending back where I came from. “Failure,” I gasp, and see all the faces – faces of people who were counting on me to make it, who admired me and who will be disappointed – the faces of everyone who hoped I never would, because if I did that meant they could’ve too, and they refused to try. “What if this is it for me,” I said to the future, waiting for me. “I’m tired. My whole life has been so hard, and I’m exhausted. Right now I don’t care if I stay in this corner forever and ever because I have no home anywhere, not in the past, not right now. No one is waiting for me in the future or past. I think I’ll just rest here a while….”

Tamicka Carter

Hello. As I stumble upon this article and your post from 2015 I find myself in the same place you so eloquently described. I’m wondering what these past four years have given you. I do hope to somehow, someway create a new narrative but for now, Im finding comfort in reading everyone’s journey.

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