Before we start to consider why it is important to focus on your perceptions lets clarify what I mean by perception. Through out our waking hours we take in millions of pieces of information. We take in information through all our senses. What we see, hear, feel, smell and taste. By itself that information makes very little sense. We interpret that information and give it meaning. It is the meaning we give it which is “perception”.
The way we choose to perceive things is governed by our values and beliefs, our upbringing and life experiences. Having chosen a particular stance, we look for evidence that we are correct. Because we continue to interpret things in a very specific way we can always find evidence to substantiate our belief. We then interpret subsequent events in the same way and our perception becomes entrenched.
Let me illustrate what I mean. Fred is walking in the park. He sees a dog on the far edge of the park. He thinks to himself, “What a fabulous dog, it reminds me of Bobby my childhood friend. I loved playing with him,” Fred has learned to like dogs. His experiences with dogs in the past have confirmed his belief that dogs are friendly and that he is right to be anticipating a pleasant experience with this one. The dog approaches him barking excitedly and jumping about. Fred greets the dog with confidence and the dog responds positively. Fred’s initial perception that this was a friendly dog was confirmed and his beliefs were deepened.
By contrast Dave is walking in the same park. His mum was very nervous around dogs. She considered them to be dirty and dangerous. Every time Pete went near one when he was little, she would warn him against touching them and as a result he began to be extremely nervous around dogs. As the dog comes near him bouncing around and making a noise, the dog picks up his emotions and starts to feel anxious, the dog’s initial curiosity and changes to wariness. Dave begins to walk faster to get away and the dog begins to chase him. You can imagine the rest. Dave’s belief that all dogs are dangerous is confirmed.
It is no different in the relationships we have with others. We can find the proof we are expecting in pretty well any conversation or in the way others behave if you look for it.
Clients will often site examples as proof that their partner thinks more of work than they do of them, or that their partner doesn’t care, or that there is another agenda going on.
When I ask “Is there just the possibility that there could be a different motive or reason behind the words or actions which have been so wounding” the initial response is often that they know their first impression was correct. This sense of certainty creates a set of responses which continue the cycle. There is no space for any change in the pattern which becomes more and more entrenched.
When the client is prepared to explore the smallest possibility that their partners behaviour may not be created to hurt them, and that it is more about their partner’s addiction than their partners wish to hurt or wound the cycle can be interrupted.
Workaholics are driven by their needs. They need the certainty, variety, significance, connection and the opportunity for growth or contribution which their work offers. They are often distressed that they are failing in their relationship with their partner or children and escape into the world where they feel more powerful and in control. In my experience many workaholics fear failure and constantly look for opportunities to achieve. If the world of work offers them a much greater sense of achievement it will have a significant attraction.
Let’s be clear I am not suggesting that as the partner of a workaholic that you have to put up with everything and act as a doormat. What I am suggesting is that you start to be curious about what is truly going on. Be prepared to put old perceptions to one side and explore whether your partner is deliberately trying to hurt you or whether what is going in is driven by something quite different.
In order to influence any one else the first stage is to understand their world, to step into their shoes and to perceive the world through their eyes, to appreciate how they are feeling. To get beneath their behaviours and language and try to understand what underpins their beliefs and behaviours. To be open to what drives them to be the people they are. Doing this will change your perception and it is this which can make a significant difference to the way we feel about them and provide an opportunity to make a lasting change. It is not an instant thing but a process which
By changing the way you respond to someone not only do you have a completely different feeling about the situation, you also offer them the opportunity to change too. Your motive must be about changing you rather than changing them. In making an active choice to change your perception to what is happening you stop being a victim to circumstance and as a result feel far more in charge of your own destiny.