My husband and I have a unique distribution of labor. He cooks. I clear the table. He loads the dishwasher, and I unload it. I do most of the heavy lifting, and he takes the kids back and forth to daycare. There are many reasons for this set of circumstances, including physical limitations and personal preferences. My husband thinks Home Depot is a land of torture, and I enjoy fiddling with things and looking at possibilities there. My husband does the laundry and I do the folding. Honestly, he would do the folding, but I tend to be particular due to years in retail. If I want it done a certain way, I had best do it myself. Anyway, this all leads up to a story that really brought home for me the importance of perspective.
When my husband and I were first living together and we had started dividing up the laundry chores, I used to come to bed and find a pile of clothes on the bed waiting to be folded. My interpretation was that my husband wanted me to fold the clothes on his timetable. I was irritated. I was aggravated. I felt pushed and taken for granted. I was worried that he thought I was lazy and just did not say so. Needless to say, I have a vivid imagination that I need to put a rein on. I was chasing rabbits in my head and becoming more and more upset.
Finally, I decided I needed to approach him about my frustration. I talk to my clients all the time about being assertive, and I thought I'd best practice what I preached. So, I went to him and said that I wanted to talk to him. He agreed, and I mentioned that I felt pushed by finding the clothes on the bed, and I felt aggravated that I found them at night when I wanted to go to sleep. I asked him if he thought I was lazy or wasn't doing enough. He got a funny look on his face and said, "Stephanie, I don't think you're lazy. I dump the clothes out on the bed because I need to empty the bag so I can reload it to do more laundry. That's just the most expedient place to put it."
I was chagrined. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that my husband is not passive-aggressive and is not that invested in my choice of activity. I realized that I had put my fears and my perspective on him rather than looking at things from his point of view. Ultimately, I asked him at least to warn me if there were clothes on the bed so that I could fold them before it was bedtime. He agreed, and we've not had any more trouble since.
So many times, we bring our pasts, our fears, and our perspectives to the table and assume that others see us the same way we see ourselves. Often, when I speak with my clients and they describe other people's thoughts and criticisms of them, we find that those are their thoughts and criticisms that they fear others share. It can be so difficult to check our own thoughts or to speak with others about our fears and get their interpretations. What we think in our heads often sounds very real and true until we say it aloud or write it down.
Therapy can be a helpful place to work through those thoughts and learn to explore alternate perspectives. One of the lessons that can be hard to learn is that others see us differently than we see ourselves. They do not live in our heads, do not have our histories, and, generally, do not pay as much attention as we think. The ideal may be not to worry so much what others think, but this can be hard to come by. Recognizing that they do not always share our perspectives and looking for other interpretations can be helpful steps. I like to say "keep your perspective in perspective." It always helps to remember where you are coming from and what influences you. Some people may be judgmental and hurtful, but many people are caring and giving and see positives in us that we may not see in ourselves. It pays to keep an open mind and keep your perspective in perspective.
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