Back in November, my husband let me know that our daughter would be performing in a Christmas recital.
“Cool,” I replied. I assumed that the recital would be online, as all recitals had been since the start of COVID.
A week went by, and as we were discussing the recital, I learned that it would be in person this time, and not online at all. “You never told me!” was my response. The introvert in me was like, Ahhh, people! But, ultimately, it was fine. I assumed the recital would be a small affair of immediate family in the instructor’s home, as past in-person recitals had been.
Another week went by, and I learned that the recital was actually going to be a big affair, with lots of people, and in a public venue. What? “You never told me!” We were now in December, a week before said recital, and I needed to go shopping for an outfit because there was also a dress code for this very public recital and I never knew. I roamed the mall in a state of stress and anxiety. No one waits until December to buy their Christmas outfits! There was hardly anything left!
I passed my stress off onto my husband, obviously. I was frustrated that he never told me these details from the very beginning. But then, I had an important realization: It’s me that had made a lot of assumptions, right from the start. I never asked any questions, I had merely assumed that I knew the answers. How could I expect my husband to know what information was or wasn’t relevant to me? (I mean, I like to think that he should know anyway, but that’s besides the point…)
A week after that, something similar happened, another assumption that caused me stress, and it really drove the point home. My stress was caused by my own self, my own choice to make an assumption rather than inquire as to truth and fact. Byron Katie says that “what’s true is always what’s happening, not the story about what should be happening,” and that when we only pay attention to what we think is happening, we cause ourselves pain. I realized that every time I make assumptions, I cause myself pain.
You know what they say about assumptions….
It made me think back to other times in my life, and I realized that there were so many instances when I caused myself unnecessary stress and anxiety, so many instances where I could have saved myself pain.
I remember one Christmas, I saw my mother-in-law whispering with my brother-in-law. I could tell there was something coming, something that I didn’t know about. I made an assumption. What else could they have been whispering about but pregnancy? My sister-in-law must be pregnant! Normally this would have been a happy thing, except, at the time, I was still emotionally unstable from suffering miscarriages. Learning a person is pregnant after a miscarriage is an experience that happens with a heavy heart, even if you are genuinely happy for the person.
I went to my room to breathe it out, mentally preparing myself to hear the news. When I went back downstairs, using every ounce of my inner strength, I noticed everyone standing around, waiting for me. I stood there as my husband and brother-in -law stepped out, carrying a table saw. A table saw, just for tool-loving me. My mother-in-law’s gift to me was giving me her late husband’s machine, this is what she had been whispering about.
All that pain and upset, all for nothing.
I remember this other time, in my early twenties. I had been at my workplace for the better part of six years. I was doing many jobs there, capable of fulfilling many roles. I was a good worker and knew it. I assumed, however, that I was the only one who had noticed. I became grumpy because no one was giving me any credit for how capable I really was. I felt like I deserved something –pay, recognition –and I was upset that I wasn’t getting it. I didn’t speak with anyone about my feelings, I simply simmered, assuming that, if anyone noticed, they would understand exactly why I was simmering.
First, I don’t think anyone noticed my mood, or, if they did, they didn’t attribute it to the workplace. Second, in reality, my good work was being noticed. I ended up getting a sizeable raise and a promotion. By then, my bitter attitude was so engrained that I was barely able to enjoy it.
Pain. For nothing.
I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about truth lately, and the importance of inner truth. As with anything, truth is something that has to be understood from within.
The reality is that we lie to ourselves all the time. We make up stories, and then we enter them into our psyches as fact. It’s illogical, and yet we do it anyway. We treat perceptions like reality rather than make believe, yet, make believe is what they are.
I think sometimes to the things that trigger me: When I feel like someone is judging me, when I feel like someone is insulting my intelligence, when I feel misunderstood. Without trying to invalidate my feelings, the common element above is “when I feel like,” or rather, “when I assume another person is thinking/feeling xyz about me.” Unless I ask outright – which, obviously, given that I am making assumptions, I don’t – how do I really know that a person is judging me? How do I really know they are insulting my intelligence (as opposed to, for example, simply disagreeing with me)? How do I really know that I’m being misunderstood? For that matter, how do I ever really know that I am being understood?
The truth is that I can never know anything for sure, not without communication. Therefore, I am left with only two choices. Choose to assume and live with hurt feelings as a result, or, choose to acknowledge that I am unaware of the reality, and move on with my life.
I’m growing a deep fondness for Byron Katie’s definition of truth and reality. Life is so much easier when you don’t believe your own stories.
Assumptions hurt. Assumptions block the truth. Assumptions blind us and hinder our ability to engage honestly with the life around us. Assumptions are lies; theories we believe without bothering with the factual evidence.
I mean, they truly do make an ass out of me, each and every time I form one. Which means I’ve been an ass for most of my life… When my head is up my arse, it’s pretty hard to see the truth.