He is… she is…, they are… Go ahead. Complete the sentence. Fill in the blank. About anyone you know. What words would you use? Mean, grouchy, controlling, sneaky, nosey, conniving, kind, caring, funny, loving, giving, sexy…?
It’s not difficult to do, is it? We can think about anyone we know and almost instantly assign at least one descriptive word – and usually several – to that individual. We can categorize them. And as a result, we are able to predict their actions, how their words and actions will affect us – and how we will continue to think and feel about who they are.
People are really predictable, aren’t they? If someone has been mean to us, there is no doubt in our mind that they will continue on their mean streak. If they’ve been kind and caring, we know that is the kind of person they are – and we know they will treat us well.
So what is one of the main determining factors that allows us to so easily assign labels or characteristics to another person? What permits us to predict with a fair degree of accuracy how these other individuals will act and how they will treat us?
That’s right – us. You and me. Even though everyone else in the world is operating (functioning, performing, acting) with their own individual set of rules that determine their overall personality characteristics – and even peculiarities – our assigned “labels” and opinion of their character will be the primary influence on our relationship with them.
Here’s how it works. Think of someone in your life with whom you have a somewhat strained or less than totally pleasant relationship. Just for the sake of discussion here, we’ll call them “Butthead”. Butthead is not a particularly fun person to be around. He (or she) does and says things that bother us – that hurt our feelings or cause us to feel badly about ourselves or our situation. Butthead has a history of living up to his or her name and we know – absolutely for certain, know – that he or she is not going to change and that our relationship and interactions with this person will not be pleasant.
We are one hundred percent correct in our assumptions. And it’s commonly because our thoughts about – and our words and actions toward – this other person will tend to validate and reinforce their “butthead” status.
Simply… our perceptions (thoughts about and opinions) of another person create our reality. If we honestly believe someone is a butthead, they are. We will say things to them and treat them as though they are a butthead – because of course, we “know” they are. We will interpret the things they say and do in such a way as to confirm that this person is indeed a butthead. And honestly, it won’t make a heck of a lot of difference what they actually say or how they act, our mind will play its little trick and automatically file our observations in the “butthead” folder.
They can’t win. Unless we experience a significant event – a mind-blowing, oh-my-God what was I thinking – situation with our personal butthead, things just ain’t agonna change. And that’s a real shame.
And yes, I do realize that there are a bunch of folks in this world who, for one reason or another, are almost impossible to get along with. They really do and say things that aren’t very nice. I understand too, that sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference between these types of people and those who we have simply mislabeled because of own experiences with – and misperceptions of – them.
We should be aware too, that it is also possible for us to over-react on the positive side. I’m sure you know of situations where someone has slathered a sugar coating all over another individual – and in reality, this other person was not really quite as nice as he or she was made out to be.
Relationships with others are not always as simple or as easy as we would like them to be. There’s a good chance though, that they could be better if we would take a few minutes (or longer if necessary) to look at ourselves and the possible reasons we might have for thinking and feeling the way we do about the other person. (The key here is “looking at ourselves” to identify possible reasons we might have developed prejudices or biases toward the other individual.) With some honest introspection, we might just find that the other person is not really as “bad” as we have led ourselves to believe.
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