Guest Post -Seeing is Believing, Right?
Seeing Is Believing, Right? Not Exactly….
Before I researched and wrote my book, Reluctantly Related, I would visit my son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughters for long weekends a few times a year. (At that time, we lived in different states.) I remember one visit in particular when one evening I was keenly aware it was getting close to dinnertime, but nothing seemed to be moving in that direction. I kept waiting for a sign from my daughter-in-law that she was going to start fixing dinner, but nothing happened. I could feel the tension growing, but I wasn’t sure what to do. Eventually, without saying a word, my daughter-in-law went into the kitchen. I followed her so I could help, hoping to ease the tension and speed things along. I tried to get a conversation going a few times, but to no avail. My daughter-in-law was obviously upset with me, but I had no idea why.
I saw her as insensitive and rude. She saw me as controlling and intrusive.
Perception is a funny thing. We all seem to confuse it with reality because what we perceive seems like reality to each of us. You know the saying: there’s one person’s side to a story, there’s the other person’s side, and then there’s The Truth. Well, that saying is really about perception vs. truth.
Our perceptions are directly influenced by our history and emotional baggage. So every situation we encounter is colored by our past experiences, our perception of those experiences, and our reactions to them. We may convince ourselves that our reactions are justified, but what does this really do for us? It doesn’t fix whatever is wrong, and it certainly doesn’t make the other person change how he or she sees the situation. So you end up with two people who feel right, each sure the other is wrong. Sounds like a stand off to me!
I’m as guilty as the next person of this. I might have had the greatest of intentions that evening when I was visiting my son and his family, but my daughter-in-law didn’t know what those intentions were. All she could see were my behaviors. And then she added her perception to what she saw, and BAM! We had a problem. And I did the same. I later learned that she hadn’t started dinner because she was tired and was hoping we would go out to dinner. When that didn’t happen, she saw me as controlling for setting things up so she’d have to cook and then trying to take over the kitchen.
Experiences like this can be truly humbling, but I also found it very valuable because one of the things I learned was that this “exchange” between my daughter-in-law and me did not make my behavior wrong or bad. It was about perception, not reality. Since then, the research I’ve done on this subject has helped me understand more about how perception plays tricks on us and how it can hurt our relationships, sometimes damaging them beyond repair.
Fortunately, you don’t have to allow that to happen. If, instead, you take a step back, think about how your behaviors could be interpreted, and make your intentions clear before you act, you’ll be well on your way to getting your relationship back on track.
Deanna Brann, Ph.D., is a leading expert in the field of mother-in-law/daughter-in-law relationships. She has more than 25 years experience as a clinical psychotherapist and ran her own private practice for more than 18 years. Based in Knoxville, TN, Dr. Brann is a sought after speaker, author and seminar leader. She is the two-time author of Reluctantly Related: Secrets To Getting Along With Your Mother-in-Law or Daughter-in-Law and Mothers-in-Law and Daughters-in-Law Say the Darndest Things. www.drdeannabrann.com