I recently read The Making of a Therapist by Louis Cozolino for my counselling course. Cozolino talks about needing to “embrace your ignorance and practise a stance of not knowing” rather than jumping to conclusions or guessing how someone feels.
This idea of “not knowing” is important in all sorts of relationships, both professional and personal. We all know people who seem confident, sensitive, funny, irritable, outgoing or shy. We base our beliefs about other people on how we experience them from the outside – and then we assume the insides match, without even realising we’re doing it.
So, if a friend or colleague has a quiet, sensitive manner and gets upset easily, we’ll be wary of being too critical. We may feel like we’re walking on eggshells, so we’ll be really careful about what we say.
Other people are much more confident, outgoing and cheerful. Phew. We relax around them and stop watching what we say because we assume they’re much more able to cope. Maybe they are. Or maybe they’re just more inclined to hide their feelings. They could even be using their confident manner to actively cover up how they really feel.
We are more careful around people who seem fragile, so it follows that we’re less careful around those who seem more resilient. We assume we know what’s going on inside, rather than practising that stance of not knowing.
A couple of years ago, a friend made a remark I found very hurtful. I told her I felt upset and she said: “I feel comfortable saying exactly what I mean around you because I know you’ll always tell me how you feel.” This was a huge surprise because I wasn’t in the habit of saying how I felt!
My friend assumed I had a thick skin, when actually I just don’t tell people if they’ve hurt my feelings. I explained this and my friend said she simply hadn’t realised. We seem different on the outside – I’m outgoing, she’s shy – so she assumed our insides were different, too.
We can make these assumptions about ourselves as well. If we’re known for being hard, resilient or confident, we think our insides should match and we can’t show that we’re upset or scared. It’s worth remembering that we don’t have to stay in these moulds.