Bryn and I had an interesting talk recently about how it’s quite possible to experience negative feelings and unmet needs simply because our thinking includes assumptions, stereotypes, or expectations. Here’s my example. I recently learned that a well-known musician (whose songs I love) divorced his wife after 37 years of marriage, seemingly to date another woman. I was surprised and sad to hear this, and because I care about both of them, I wanted them to have the continued closeness that comes from being in a lifelong relationship. And, I was also angry.
Why? From the moment I heard about the divorce, I made assumptions—none of them based on facts—that had me feeling really annoyed and irritated with the musician and the woman he's now with. It’s a little embarrassing to say how easily I fell into believing the stereotype about older men and younger women. In my head, I was thinking, “What a jerk for throwing away a perfectly good marriage!” How do I know it was perfectly good?
It didn’t take long for me to suss this out. I was sad and disappointed that a lifelong relationship had ended and I was pissed off over the story I wrote in my head about it.
So, what’s my takeaway? When I’m riled up about something, I want to take notice—are my negative feelings based on facts? Or, have I added fuel to the fire with my own interpretations, assumptions, and judgments? If so, I’m learning that it helps a great deal to sort this out. This can mean simply letting go of my stories, or in this case it could have included translating my judgments about how the musician was supposed to act. Either way, by noticing what’s up I’m able to look for what’s true for me in that moment: How am I feeling? What do I need?