Ignorance. Being unaware of, and untrained in, alternatives to being a hypocrite and alternatives to making decisions motivated by the fear of pain, is, for purposes of this topic, how we’d describe ignorance.
Ignorance also includes strategies we’ve learned – or acquired without any conscious thought – but that don’t actually fix anything; things that tend to create rather than avoid strains in our relationships.
Fear, for example. Fear is learned. We also learn to be mistrustful. In ignorance of the damaging affect fear and mistrust will have on a relationship, we build walls. We are somehow able to convince ourselves (more self-deception) that it is possible for us to have a fruitful and satisfying relationship with someone while keeping these walls in place.
Invariably, this creates and proliferates a nasty vicious cycle. When, not if, the other person senses the presence of the walls we’ve built – and they most certainly will if we’re in any kind of serious relationship – what will the other person do? They will do what comes natural; they’ll do what we did. They’ll take the queue from us, unconsciously draw the conclusion that there must be something to be fearful of and mistrustful about and, in total ignorance of what’s going on, they’ll build walls too.
Now, when I see that the other person is now acting fearful and mistrustful of me, and if I’m ignorant of a better alternative way of approaching this dynamic, what am I likely going to do in response? I will do what comes natural. Something inside of me will say, ‘Ah-ha! Look at the way they are behaving! Very suspicious! See, I was right to be fearful and mistrusting of them. I knew it. Boy, am I glad I built those walls. Otherwise I could have really been hurt. Good thing I expected it!’
It’s a self-fulfilling prophesy! By being fearful and mistrustful, I’ve made a determination that I need to be fearful and mistrustful. When the other person has an adverse reaction to me being fearful and mistrustful, I use that adverse reaction as evidence against them.
Once I become aware of this dynamic, I should go back and use the other person’s adverse reaction to my fear and mistrust as evidence that fear and mistrust are not ingredients to a successful relationship (!) and that I was clearly responsible for at least part – my part – of the missteps and difficulties in the relationship. However, I won’t do that without a healthy dose of humility (maturity).
Do you love the person you’re having a difficult time with? Yes, of course you do. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be in a relationship with them in the first place. And isn’t it safe to assume that they love you too? Of course it is.
Harry: I love you.
Sally: How do you expect me to respond to this?
Harry: How about, ‘You love me too’?
Sally: How about, ‘I’m leaving.’
Harry: Doesn’t what I’ve said mean anything to you?
Sally: I’m sorry Harry, I know it’s New Year’s Eve, I know you’re feeling lonely, but you can’t just show up here, tell me you love me and expect everything to be all right. It doesn’t work that way.
Harry: Well how does it work?
Sally: I don’t know, but not this way. (Walking away)
Harry: Well how about this way. I love that you get cold when it’s 71 degrees out. I love that it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich. I love when you get a little crinkle above your nose when you’re looking at me like I’m nuts. I love that after I’ve spent the day with you, I can still smell your perfume on my clothes. And I love that you are the last person I want to talk to before I go to sleep at night. And it’s not because I’m lonely, and it’s not because it’s New Year’s Eve. I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to begin as soon as possible.
Sally: That’s just like you, Harry, you make it impossible to hate you; and I really hate you, I really hate you [said while simultaneously smiling and crying, then the big kiss].
So, do you see how silly it is to conclude that if they really loved me they would not have done this or that? [Or, here’s one that really grates on the nerves: “I’m not sure if the other person even knows how to love.” How obnoxious and condescending that is. Not being sure if the other person even knows how to love, as spoken by the world’s love expert, right? No. As spoken by someone big into the blame game and justifying hypocrisy as described above.] When fear and mistrust are in the mix, and the party holding on to those obstacles refuses to even consider letting them go, it’s not an issue of “really” loving or knowing how to love; not for either party. It’s an issue of ignorance and having a hard heart.
If only we had better information. If only we could gain the awareness needed to acquire the skills to move beyond all this.
Well, that’s what this article is all about. Do you have a tiny bit more awareness so far?
Hopefully, this is helping you blast through an obstacle or two. It starts with the same thing all education starts with: awareness. Awareness of a need. Awareness of the need to consider something new.
The bad news is that the obstacle of ignorance is a pretty serious problem. The good news is that it can be solved fairly straightforwardly.
However, there’s an obvious snag to the theory that there’s an easy remedy to the problem of ignorance. The snag: when I’m ignorant that there’s a problem in my way of thinking, I won’t ever agree that I need to do anything about it.
The situation gets even more complicated when I refuse to stop justifying the practice of blaming the other person for the fissures in the relationship. It potentially gets even worse: confront me on my self-deception when I’m in that frame of mind and I’ll likely just get angry, defensive, and actively avoid dealing with the topic in the future.
Oh, and guess what: if you’re the one confronting me on this stuff, but not the person I’m in conflict with, chances are good that we’re in conflict now. And if we’re now in a state of conflict, guess whose fault it is: that’s right, yours.
‘Gosh, Jim,’ you may say, ‘you’re suddenly so negative. If a person I care about fits all the things you’re describing here, what can I do about it? How am I supposed to help the other person see the obstacles in their ways of thinking if bringing it up will just get more of the same from them?’
If you really want to help the other person see the obstacles in their ways of thinking, you might hate the answer to that question.