Friday, April 22, 2011

Hind Sight Projection

Nothing for months, then two in one day? Shocking, I know. Sometimes there are things more important than eating at lunch. Rarely, but sometimes true.

It's often tempting to try to understand another person's experiences by superimposing our own emotional realities as a template over the factual events in the other person's life. It's a pretty functional model for how children first begin developing sympathy. I've written about it before but it merits a quick refresher before moving on to today's subject. Effectively;

In a situation like X, I thought and felt Y. Person 1, therefore, most likely also feels Y when in a situation similar to X.

Most people do this and many never develop cognitive/emotional integration beyond this point. That's unfortunate as this model only works when there is a truly analogous connection between the experiences. Often there is not. This is particularly true in the sphere of adoption. The experiences of the birthfamily, adoptive family, and the adoptee (the traditional view of the "Triad" in adoption) are connected. However in terms of discrete experiences they are very different. Among the commonalities are loss, isolation, ambivalence, anger, and fear. The thought processes that drive these emotional experiences, however, diverge significantly. It is important to recognize the difference between similar emotions and understanding the full depth of the experience related to it. If we get too stuck on the idea of really understanding everyone we actually disrespect the people we are trying to become closer to. All too often a person's experience is simplified in order to fit our schema, our understanding and intimacy becomes forced rather than resonant, and the person's emotions are disregarded where they disagree with our own. That's the nature of the beast with the type of sympathy response illustrated above. Most often there's no malice involved and ulterior motives don't enter the equation. The same method is, however, sometimes used as a tactic intentionally when one is trying to have a more emotionally intimate relationship than the other participant wishes to offer. In cases where this is intentional it is unacceptable. Pushing for intimacy isn't a viable route for a healthy relationship. Were we to shift gears from emotional intimacy to physical intimacy the reason becomes exceedingly clear. At best, pushing for physical intimacy when the other person doesn't want it makes one a serious jerk, and at worst a rapist.

It's okay to ask for more intimacy in a relationship. That's how many good relationships continue to grow. One person asks for more intimacy to deepen the connection of the relationship. The other person agrees and may behave, or "open up", in ways that are uncomfortable but consensual. A relationship where each person takes on the role of calling the other to deeper intimacy is a real winner. Each person grows in the relationship and step by step the relationship becomes more robust. Begging, needing, forcing, or pushing for intimacy typically means one person is doing too much work, and that expectations need to be adjusted. It's possible the relationship in question is quite healthy. It's equally possible everyone in the relationship is quite healthy. Somewhere, however, there is(are) an expectation(s) that corresponds to an internal emotional reality that is not a reflection of the relationship in question.

It is quite possible that the relationship needn't change or be addressed. Very often to find satisfaction in a relationship what we need do is redefine the terms of satisfaction. It's the relationship equivalent of training oneself out of needing what one wants, and instead wanting what one has.

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