Assumptions have the ability to destroy relationships, and indeed they do just that. Assumptions can be direct, or indirect. A direct assumption is basically a thought that a person believes in, regardless of the validity of the thought. The thought may have no connection in reality, but the person assumes that the thought is true, and therefore responds emotionally based on the thoughts.
Then there are the indirect assumptions. These are the assumptions that originate from an outside source — basically, second hand information that we assume to be accurate. Second hand information is rarely reliable, but people still often assume that what they hear from others is portrayed accurately. The reason second hand information is rarely accurate is because in conversations, people tend to hear the parts that are most relevant to their emotional needs in that moment, and when they relay it to others, it’s out of context, and only contains the information as they received it, not necessarily as it was meant to be received.
Basically, an assumption is something you believe in of which you don’t have proof. Here are some classic assumptions that can hurt relationships:
a) Believing you’re being cheated on
b) Believing people are always trying to get money out of you
c) Believing you’re being unappreciated
d) Believing your significant other knows what’s in your head
There are many more, but these are very common assumptions that hurt relationships. The inherent problem with any kind of assumption is its fulfillment of emotional needs, which inevitably leads to an emotional response. When we assume to know a piece of information, we react based on it. However, negative assumptions usually derive from our own fears, they don’t just come out of nowhere. For example, someone who assumes that people are trying to get money out of them likely has a general fear of people using them (issues with trust), as well as emotional insecurity about money. This causes them to look for cues of being used for money (whether or not its actually the case), and react to people based on these assumptions.
Take the case of Jerry, a man in his 50’s with a demanding job that sometimes keeps him out until eleven o’clock at night. As his marriage began to struggle a bit, his wife, Jill, assumed he was cheating because he would frequently be out so late. She assumed he was cheating for two reasons — one a direct assumption, and the other an indirect assumption.
First, Jill had long been concerned, based on her own life history, that men are cheaters, and that at some point, Jerry would cheat and leave her. So when she started to pick up cues that triggered her own fears of abandonment, the automatic assumption was that she was being abandoned. This was her emotional need being fulfilled by a false thought. It’s important to know that just because people feel an emotion doesn’t necessarily mean it’s accurate to the situation (this is commonly seen in phobias where people feel fear, but are actually safe. This also works vice versa, a person can feel safe while still being in danger). Just because Jill felt abandoned doesn’t mean she was being abandoned.
The indirect assumption in this scenario was Jill’s friend, who saw Jerry at a restaurant with a woman while he was supposed to be at a business meeting. Jill’s friend promptly called Jill and reported this to her. What the friend didn’t know was that the woman Jerry was out to dinner with was the business meeting. But, with Jill’s emotional need being the need to fulfill a fantasy of being abandoned, she first assumed that her friend’s information was accurate — that this was a date outside of the marriage, rather than a business meeting — regardless of the reality of the situation.
What leads to toxicity is when people take these assumptions and run with them. When people have a deep emotional need (such as Jill’s “need” to be abandoned), people become so attached to these needs that they actually prefer their assumptions as opposed to reality, when in this emotional space. They’d rather believe the hearsay, or rather believe their own thoughts than the realities because it validates the emotions that they really “want” to be experiencing.
I find this to be quite common with people in states of anger. When angry, people tend to look for information that will validate and perpetuate their anger, rather than resolve the issue (perhaps because it would be too shaming and embarrassing to learn their anger is based on something not based in reality).
The more assumptions people make and believe, the better chance this will get in the way of all relationships — not just romantic, but with family, friends, and even ourselves, as well. People’s assumptions can cascade into a snowball of unrealities, and soon, it becomes unclear what we’ve manifested in our own selves and what has actually happened in reality.
A couple of suggestions for undoing assumptions:
1) Be skeptical of second hand information. Take it with a grain of salt, and don’t buy into it unless you have proof. It’s easy to latch onto something we “want” to hear, and this is exactly the danger.
2) Know when you’re assuming. If you didn’t see or hear it yourself, you’re assuming. This includes partially assuming. If you see something, it still may not tell the whole story (such as Jill’s friend saw). Be careful of taking a scene and writing a script of your own.
Jerry and Jill eventually got divorced, Jerry having never cheated.
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Dr Brian Gersho | Assumptions are Toxic to Relationships (August 3, 2013)
Last reviewed: 21 Jul 2013