By Guest Contributor – Christina Henderson
Welcome to part 3 of my 4 part series breaking down The Four Agreements for middle school girls. The third agreement tells us not to make assumptions. In reflecting, I think it is actually the most complex of all 4.
I am going to start this one off by ensuring we have the same understanding of what assumptions are, how and why they get made, and how dangerous they are. If you’re unclear you might find it really challenging to address this concept with your girls.
I want you to consider someone in your life with whom you may be in conflict with. This might be a colleague, your mother-in-law, your partner etc. Someone whose actions just really push your buttons.
When someone else’s behavior bewilders or confuses us or when we just can’t make sense of it, what we tend to do is imagine an explanation. We write a story. This story does not require proof; our imaginations are excellent at filling in the gaps. To add fuel to the fire, when we don’t like someone we also tend to assume the worst of them. So when someone offends us, it tends to sound like this:
You: “They are doing [insert action] intentionally to mess with me/exclude me/be mean etc.” Sometimes we even add something like: “They are crazy/bad/mean [insert judgment on character].”
This is us making an assumption about motivation, intention and character. Out of this, a predictable pattern unfolds:
- We create story
- We take that story personally
- We believe that story is TRUTH
- We get angry, self-righteous, upset
- We vent that story to people we like
- Then the drama is on.
Can you see the danger? Without any evidence we can create quite a cruel story about people and present it as truth. You can also see how this agreement overlaps with the previous two when we talk about others behind their backs and make things needlessly about us.
A few other key points about assumptions: First, expectations and assumptions go hand-in-hand. We assume our partner knows we want roses for Valentine’s Day, we expect them, and then become disappointed, hurt, and angry when we are given carnations. You get the point. Second, we assume everyone else should see and interpret life the way we do. The reality is, although culturally we have a general set of shared values and beliefs, there is certainly much discrepancy. We therefore have different expectations, ideas, and ways of understanding and responding to situations and relationships.
BUT I have digressed far from middle school girls, so let me bring it back for you:
Agreement 3: Don’t make assumptions
Translation: Not everything you think you know is true
A discussion to have with your girls at any time is to let them know sometimes our thoughts lie to us. Sometimes we can be very sure of things, jump to conclusions, and believe whole heartedly in our “rightness.” Sometimes our thoughts lie to us about all sorts of things. Kids need to learn how to check in with themselves and others about the truth of their assumptions.
How to work through this with your girls: When your girl is in the middle of painful drama and you sense she made some assumptions about the nature of the motivation, intention and character of the other person, there is one miracle question to help tease this out:
“How do you know for sure?”
How do you know for sure she doesn’t like you? How do you know for sure she thinks she’s a better dancer? How do you know for sure she started the rumor? How do you know for sure your teacher hates you? What proof do you have to back this up?
If your girl has evidence to back it up, perhaps she overheard a conversation, was told directly or has some other hard and fast proof, you do what you do as a loved one: provide comfort and safety, distract her by finding a fun activity, help her decide what she wants to do and what role she wants you to play, and remind her “hurt people hurt people” to perhaps help her find some compassion.
If, on the other hand, she stumbles, fumbles, and stutters to back up her story (she might resort to name calling, or simply shut down in her conversation with you) there are some other ways you might respond:
- The first thing you absolutely have to do is validate your girl’s feelings. You do not have to validate her behavior, but you need to let her know you care about her. Only when she feels emotionally safe and supported can you move forward with any problem solving or consideration of other perspectives.
- Ask her if there are other parts of the story she might not have considered. For example: Is there something going on for the other person? Might she have done something unintentionally to offend them? Is there any possibility of over-sensitivity or misinterpretation of the situation? Is there some information she does not have?
- Try to support your girls to presume good intentions first rather than jump to negative conclusions. This is a bad habit we all need to break, I’m sure.
- AND, the most difficult, but most important thing you can do is to help her find the courage to ask or clarify her assumptions with the other person involved. At the end of the day, we want to teach our kids to approach conflict in a non-confrontational way, rather than avoid it. In the first blog post, I gave a few suggestions on conflict-approaches. Try using those.
- Another key point for those difficult conversations goes back to expectations. Remind your kids they can’t expect others to know what they are thinking, feeling and needing. They are responsible for communicating those emotions and needs.
- And finally, remember we need to model this behavior for our kids. If they see you jumping to conclusions and venting about others, they learn an unhealthy and painful way of navigating life.
Best of wishes to you and your girls as you learn to check your assumptions, find the courage to ask the right questions, and choose compassion.
Until next week,
About Christina Henderson:
Christina is a skilled, compassionate and ethical therapist who grounds her practice in narrative and person-centred approaches. Christina can be contacted at Christina@expressioncounselling.ca.
For Christina’s full bio and for more information about her practice, please visit http://www.expressioncounselling.ca/about.
We hope you enjoyed part 3 of the The Four Agreements for Middle School Girls. Get ready for part 4 next week, which tells us to always do your best! 🙂