In driving to the gym the other day, Heather was relating a story about a conversation she had during the day. The conversation had been with a married coworker who had moved from overseas with her family. The lady misses her parents and during a chat with her husband, she became aware of just how much she was missing her father. When her husband asked her what was wrong, she didn’t tell him.
“Bet that didn’t go too well” I said.
“How could it have? We fill in the blanks with stories about us” was Heather’s reply.
She coached her friend to not say “nothing” when there was something wrong, particularly when having a conversation with someone who cares a lot about you, given the tendency to fill-in an unknown with fear and items based on their insecurity. Her recommendation was for the sharing of thoughts and feelings with those who care for you to create intimacy and fosters a sense of close openness. It will improve a relationship as it helps to keep a tight focus on the things that are important and real.
From a psychological point of view, filling in the silence / blanks with fear and insecurity makes sense. We are the perceptual center of the universe so our initial point of reference is always going to be our own. As a species, we don’t really gain an understanding that other people have a point of view until mid to late teens; although some never grasp this understanding. It can take a lot of mental effort and willingness to consider and see the world from another perspective as we will never have any direct experience with it and the action of seeing the world from another perspective requires abstract and imaginative thinking.
From a sociological perspective, we need a sense that we have some control over our environment so we see ourselves as being the cause of other people’s actions. We are almost hyper-aware of any indicators that we are not liked because these things serve as a warning that we are about to become alienated from the group; a need to belong to the group in an antiquated carryover from our evolutionary past given that isolation would usually mean death within a couple of days. As is the way when we look for something, we find evidence for our pending eviction in the actions of other people. Most of the time, we take-on responsibility and blame for the silence and fill in the missing information with things that we could have controlled.
The modern world is very different from the world our ancestors came from so many of our behavioral defaults are not relevant. Loners can do very well in north America and one could argue that many of the people at the top of the corporate ladder benefit from approaching the world in a way that does not give as much consideration to the possible impact that actions have on other people.
But relationships are not corporations so we need to engage our partners in a way that is sensitive to their tendency to regard themselves as the cause of things. The quality of the relationship will improve dramatically when what is actually going on is related to them so they don’t have to make up what it is they did to cause what is occurring.
NOTE – after I wrote this I realized that I’ve observed others leaving out the critical information in an attempt to manipulate how people think, feel and act. I’d recommend someone be cautions when advancing a relationship that has some or is becoming rife with silence instead of explanations.