One of the best changes I have ever made in my life is when I refused to stop ascribing intent.
This is a top reason I love Facebook sometimes. It is an endless river of inspiration to write about, and the spark to extrapolate on this topic originated there…as many others have.
It was in a group where I read the words: ascribing intent. More specifically, in a comment thread, one of the responses was: “You’re ascribing intent.”
It was a laser in my brain. Not kidding
Everything lit up and all the bells and whistles went haywire.
For decades…I had ascribed intent. I had assumed based on people’s behaviors what they would say to me.
It provided the validation I needed to support scary decisions like cutting people out of my life permanently.
Or the time I assumed that my friend with the sick baby was ignoring me.
I have used it to intercept what I thought would be an agonizing answer to hear… Am I fired? Don’t you love me?
Robs us of the gift of being brave.
Of learning we can handle more than we thought.
Finding out we are NOT forgettable.
We are not bad people.
The worst beliefs you have about yourself FEED your ascribed intentions.
As it denies the person you are interacting with the right to share their feelings.
As it denies you the ability to rehab more fully from your ancient wounds and self-limiting beliefs.
It is easier to believe the worst about ourselves than it is to hear the truth of how people view us.
We work so hard on beating ourselves up sometimes that we believe the terrible things our inner voice shouts at us.
They have found out we suck and now they are severing ties.
They have found out we have emotions and are a master internal crazymaker.
They have found out that I make mistakes and now they don’t think I am good enough.
They have found out that I am a handful of drama and that outweighs any talents I think I have.
They have found out I have no special qualities…
That I worry.
That I am not as confident as I seem
That I get tired, discouraged, beaten.
They want out.
Beating someone to the punch is the personification of ascribing intent.
Don’t speak any further. I don’t have the stomach to hear your painful truths about how awful I am. Even if it is couched in the nicest and thickest disclaimers.
How many people have assumed what terrifies you? What moves you? The reason for your decision?
My last cutting of a tie…I couldn’t hear what the person was saying.
“Don’t say it. Don’t say it. Don’t say it.”
In that instance, I was right…it was horrendous. Sometimes it is. But it is still not a reason not to face fear and listen. To not create noise and disruption because panic surges through you.
Be calm. Hear what is being said to you. Emotions will crash on your sensory shoreline. Stand there and take it. Remember, you don’t have to say anything…yet or ever. But listen. This is your only job to challenge yourself to hear what probably isn’t as bad as the reply you have obsessed over and imagined.
And when you catch yourself on the other end, when you are in the company of a panicked individual who just wants the confrontation to be over, understand that fear is driving the compulsion to shut you down.
The other day, I tried to quit on a client via text message. The crazy thing is at the time, I thought I was handling the issue okay. I really did.
I had sat with the situation and not responded immediately. (In retrospect, stewed). I had thought that I was expected to be perfect at all times and that any imperfection meant I had no value.
I literally thought that I was not allowed to be human.
I had ordered myself to perform without any of the mess of being a person, of learning, of stretching and growing.
Nope, I told myself, even though you tell other people to love themselves through their mistakes, you are not allowed to make them.
Laymen’s terms: you are to live a double standard.
No wonder I was such a wreck.
“Listen,” I told my client and friend, “I freak out. I am afraid people will walk away and I just want you to know that because when it happens…well, can you help to reel me back in?”
In the olden days of office yore, you would never allow any “weakness” to show. Maybe that is why when I needed to feel heard, I would scream it out and then be shown the door.
Now, we can confess our human-ess and realistically expect to be embraced because of our “flaws” and honesty.
No more ascribing intention and usurping the right of another person to express themselves. You or me, okay?
When we stop, when we refuse to partake of the visceral response of our fears, then we also learn the beauty of the softness of hearing true intention.
It is freeing to learn most people are not intentionally trying to hurt you.
That they may be ascribing intention themselves.
That ascribing intention mucks up the communication works.
And it is easier to get over a supposed wrong when you learn and accept that most hurts are not deliberate. That people make mistakes and just like you and me, should be allowed the vulnerability to screw up without damage to their confidence.
We all make mistakes. We all live with that occasional (or more frequent) scolding voice in our heads and it drives us on pure adrenaline to shut out what we believe will be the confirmation of our worst selves.
Are you hanging in limbo just waiting to hear how awful you are? That other people will learn this about you and then the game of you, being horrid will be over? You will be outed?
When we stop ascribing intention, we learn this is not the case. That we are not so bad after all. I promise.
That there is NO ONE out there hell-bent on hating you or destroying you…not by a thousands nicks…usually.
If you discover this is not the case, obviously address that toxicity and build a moat they cannot cross.
But in Everydayland, texts, emails, tones are misread constantly.
It is time to hear the truth.
It is courageous to apply the relevant pieces we learn about ourselves toward our own betterment.
When we do, we erase stigmas, assumptions, divides and fear.
Simply by refusing to ascribe intention.
We deepen connections and collaboration. We honor that trust is hard-earned and serious. We believe there are more good people than bad.
We develop brighter observations about the world, about ourselves and our abilities.
We change our assumptions and begin to believe what we never thought we could:
We are good enough. Worth the time. Engaging. Valuable. An asset to every area of our life.
It is the best surprise you can’t imagine.
We swap out our deteriorating thought patterns as we help others do the same.
One of my authors reminded me that we have two ears and one mouth.
I think he’s onto something.
Photo credit: Getty Images