To be able to respond to a situation appropriately, or understand a situation to its fullest, one must accept that the way we view a situation all depends on our personal perception.
What do we mean by perception?
Throughout 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. To make it make sense, we interpret that information and give it meaning. It is the meaning we give it which is the “perception” that we will be focussing on here.
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.
The result is that our learned perceptions, which have been reinforced by the evidence we have given ourselves that that perception is “correct”, govern the way we continue to read the world around us.
An example of different perceptions
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 Dave 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.
Perception in relationships
This principle of perception holds just as true in the relationships we have with others. We can find the proof we are expecting in pretty much 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 that 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 partner’s 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 as an example
Workaholics are driven by their needs. They need the certainty, variety, significance, connection, opportunity for growth or contribution that 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 anyone else the first stage is to understand their world, their perception, by stepping into their shoes and perceiving the world through their eyes. This is the only way to appreciate how they are feeling, 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.
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.