The Very Slippery Assumption

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By: Jana Greene

I once sat in on a Dialectical Behavioral Therapy class under a Super Zen Therapist,  and let me just say out of the gate, it was FASCINATING. I cannot even begin to touch on all the things I learned (and have on occasion, even practiced) but seriously, folks. If you ever have the opportunity to explore this therapy,  I highly recommend it.

The term “dialectical” means a synthesis or integration of opposites. The primary dialectic within DBT is between the seemingly opposite strategies of acceptance and change.

I love the premise, and the belief that OK, I feel this way, but I don’t have to. I can feel THAT way. Life is nothing if not a big, fat paradox on so many levels. I will take all the help I can get! I’m still about 95% emotion-driven, but hey – that’s a 5% improvement (and ‘progress, not perfection,’ right?)

About halfway through the course, though, we came to this one sentence in the teaching, and my spiritual breaks screeched to so such a sudden halt that it could have propelled me right out of the classroom and back into my AllTheFeels way of coping with everything.

That sentence was this:

Assume that everyone is doing the best they can at any given time.

Ok, hold up. HOLD UP!

I KNOW that’s not true in certain instances. For instance, when I visit my children in their homes and they are not super nice and tidy, I KNOW for a fact that they are not doing the best they can. I taught them, so obviously I’m calling BULLSH*T on this.

And what about other people, who have – and are actively –  hurting me by making stupid decisions? You are telling me that the person/people who have (to my mind) driven me to require therapy are doing the best they can? I have to ACCEPT that?

“No, you can accept it or not. Is not accepting it working for you?” Says Super Zen Therapist.

Huh.

Here’s what I’m still learning, and what is helping me oil those spiritual breaks and get them rolling in a forward-moving direction again….

You cannot keep a handle on another person’s issue. You simply cannot.

I came up with a dorky little rhyme to help me remember this, and I’ve probably said it to myself several thousand times (especially when the girls were teens):

It’s not your decision to make, nor your action to take.

You can die trying. You can contortionist yourself into all kinds of positions that only end up making you sore and tired. The stress will kill you, I’m not even kidding.

But that’s what happens when you assume that another person is not even TRYING, and you take it personal.

It’s not personal. That person is learning and morphing and all of your hand-wringing and brow-beating will not another minute add to your relationship life, but may well shorten it.

I don’t have to go back that far in my own history to recognize the power of this principal.

When I was an active alcoholic, I wanted to be better for my children. Even as intimate as the mother/child connection was, I didn’t always get it right!  I had to learn and do, stop and lurch forward. Lather, rinse, repeat.

My process spilled over to them, but it was never meant to be personal.

I was doing the best I could at the moment, I swear to you. I did the best I could until I could do better. I did better when I surrounded myself with people who were doing better and whose love for me was not contingent on my doing better.

It will behoove YOUR state of mind to believe that the person most getting on your nerves is doing their best in this moment, with their particular life experience.

(And when I really stop to consider it, even the example of my kids and their tendencies NOT to be neat freaks, It was I who cleaned their rooms for ALL of their lives when they lived at home, because in some twisted way, I was making up for lost ‘drunk’ time as a mommy. They may well BE doing the best they know how in this moment. Because something is important to me, doesn’t mean its the only ‘right’ way  (But that’s a subject for another therapy session….)

What about the big things?

If someone else’s life choices are spilling over on you and your heart is broken? Consider that they are doing their best. Go one further, even. Pray for them and believe for resolution to their situation. Petition God and plead your case, and then release.

It’s not your decision to make, nor your action to take.

You cannot grasp it because you aren’t SUPPOSED to grasp it.

You think holding on to it is helping, but it won’t be under your control.

You cannot drop it until you drop your Very Slippery Assumption and use both arms instead to embrace the person driving you completely crazy.

God  bless us, every one.