What is she thinking? Is he mad? What did I do? What is that look for? Is he cheating? Why are we obsessed with other people’s thoughts?
Many of us have a tendency to endlessly pain ourselves attempting to decode and decipher others and their thoughts and intentions. The “WHHHHHYYYYYYYYY?!!!” screamed out of a car window at night, the “WTF?!” we mouth when someone flicks us off in traffic, the “What’s his problem?” we curse under our breath post-meeting. All of these can be solved not with a lengthy interpretation, but with a little reminder that you can only ever control one thing in this situation: yourself. Whatever you think you might understand about that other person – you will never ever know why they did what they did or what the heck is going through their mind, nor should you. It’s irrelevant. Just like you are a patchwork quilt of experiences that cause you to make the decisions you do today, so is everyone else. And some have more childhood issues than others that cause their internal alarms to go off in specific types of situations. The best thing you can do is remind yourself of this fact and let it go. It’s not your problem to figure it out: it’s your problem to make sure you keep yourself safe, and calm and prevent yourself from standing in the line of fire in the future. If you’re upset, spend that energy processing the feelings, acknowledging them and then letting them go.
Here’s a little equation that I use to help myself remember this fact: If 100 different people saw you walking into a 7-11 in the middle of the day to buy a soda, they would each interpret that differently. One person would say, “Wow, she must be a spoiled trophy wife because she doesn’t have to go to work and that’s why she’s in 7-11 in the middle of the day.” Another person might say, “Wow that girl is probably a stripper if she’s in a 7-11 drinking green soda on a weekday…” Another person would say, “That person is smart and practical because she shops at 7-11.” There’s no way you could predict these things and they have nothing to do with you or the 7-11. All you can do in the face of these diverse interpretations is control your actions and protect yourself.
The constant looking outwards and focus on another person when it occurs in a relationship is something much more dangerous. A little thing called co-dependency. Let’s say, for example, that you have a significant other that you suspect is cheating or has a bad drinking habit or behavior that is somehow hurtful or dangerous. A preoccupation with that other person’s actions will cause you to stop protecting yourself and thinking about if this hurts you and instead will keep your mind attached to that person’s actions. Which are, of course, out of your control. (This is sometimes caused by childhood experiences and roles we took on as the “hero” and it usually comes about when a child feels that no one is capable of caring for them. Instead of self-distructing, that child will assume this new identity as a survival mechanism. “I am naturally capable and the savior of my family.” ) These qualities are super common and sometimes manifest in positive traits: you’re a great listener, a great caregiver, always ready to help. Great until you end up in a relationship with someone that has issues and all you can do is obsess about what they’re thinking or doing.
A more pervasive trait that is common to us girls (and I’m sure guys too) is the preoccupation with a person we like and whether or not that person likes us back. The, “Does he like me? Am I pretty enough? Why isn’t he calling? What is he thinking right now? Is he seeing someone else?” All that crap is just another form of the removal of our self-awareness and a shift of focus off of how we feel to something we cannot prematurely interpret. The information we want will be revealed in other ways that will come in forms we cannot deny. This lack of self-focus and with that self-care also becomes evident to that other person. You begin to act in a way that does not demand respect and sets up a bad foundation for any kind of healthy relationship. While dating or even meeting new friends, you should be asking, “Do I like this person? How do I feel about the fact that they have not called me? Is this person worth my time? Do I really want to be with someone that is potentially a cheater?”
I know a lot of girls would say, “I don’t care — I want him and I’ll change him!” If you think you will, then that’s a lesson you gotta learn on your own unfortunately. You cannot change another person, they can only change themselves. If you believe you will inspire change in a person, this is never a condition you can rely on if you intend to take care of yourself. To want something despite the fact that it will cause you pain and devalue you is to not love yourself. It is to disregard your own health and happiness for the sake of a chemical high sometimes misinterpreted as love. I would call it “extreme want” – something that is painful and intoxicating, but blinding.
Without both parties being honest, understood and capable of giving love, important human needs will not be met and often a relationship will become a whole made up of two deformed parts that have grown together, never healing and growing upright but rather twisting and remaining stuck in painful cycles. Sometimes when two people are both mid life-change they can grow together, but it requires they are honest and committed to that process – something that is rare but not impossible. One of the best pieces of advice I got when I was stuck in my head was to stop trying to “figure it out” and do everything in my power to get to a place where I could hear my real voice inside. To listen to my feelings, what my body was already aware of but my brain chose to ignore. Now I strive to hear it constantly and when I do hear it, I never betray it. The self is everything. It’s the divining rod that will guide you truly. Don’t let chemicals and ancient feelings get in your way.
I recently arrived on a new definition of love and I have to say, it has grown into something much better and much bigger than I could have understood before. To love someone you have to know them and know them honestly and you have to be present and aware and whole. There have been times that I felt I was in love with someone and I realized I was in love with my idea of who they were. A rendering half-completed by my own excuses and explanations. This false-reality also created an internal incongruence in that my gut was telling me things that did not match my outlook. I became blinded and lost without my inner voice to help me find my way out.
Coming out the other end, I would like to offer this to those who perhaps are stuck somewhere that doesn’t feel right and those who don’t quite believe that perfect love exists. I don’t know if I will find it but I know what I want and I don’t want anything less. Real love is different. It requires that both parties reciprocate the feelings, and if one party is incapable of caring for the other properly then that should be accepted, and you should move on. Real love means a person will never willfully hurt you (aside the occasional fight where words are thrown and then retracted). Real love means you can be yourself and be honest about your feelings and never change yourself to please the other person. Real love makes you stronger, helps you grow more and go farther. And everything that is special about you is brought to life. Real love is peaceful and soothing. It is family. It helps you to blossom.
To be truly available to another person and love them and receive love, you must first love yourself. Looking inward, taking care of yourself, retaining your balance and clarity above all else is the most important thing in the world. It will give you all the answers you will ever need with friends, work, health, family, in times of pain and trauma, in times of overwhelming change. If you can take care of yourself and stay connected to your body enough to feel your gut and know when it is talking, you have the most important thing in life. Never lose sight of it. If you have inner conflict – that’s a sign that your “mind” is trying to tell you to go against your gut. Just slow down and listen. And whatever you do, never betray yourself or hurt yourself, because what that does is tell you that you don’t matter. That you are not worth loving. And whoever you are, that is false.
Please share any stories or thoughts! I love, love to read them. xo Sarah
Special shout-out to Sharon, from whom my most valuable wisdom is gleaned.