I recently experienced a quantum shift during a therapy session that I have to share in case it benefits others as well.
My therapist could rival Yoda in her wisdom not only because of her academic training and decades of professional experience but also because at 80+ years old, she has lived through practically everything I am experiencing and is able to look back and focus on what actually matters. She also possesses a deep compassion and ability to see through BS that makes her seem other-worldly.
My life-changing epiphany began when I was telling her about my husband. My husband, a truly solid, dependable man who is a good father, has a great sense of humor, and is always willing to self-reflect, has a fatalistic viewpoint that can drive me crazy. For example, he looks at his growing waistband and instead of putting down the peanut butter granola, he says his father has a belly, too. It’s all genetics. Nothing can be done about it. I grunt every single time I hear this.
While exploring his perspective and my reaction to it in therapy, my therapist said: “many of our reactions and perspectives are learned behavior. It’s things we were shown as children over and over again.” So, this trait of my husband’s is not necessarily an innate character “flaw” but a taught perspective that was carved so deep into him it seems to be his nature. My therapist assured me that as with all learned behavior, this could be unlearned.
This nugget of insight dramatically shifted the way I see practically everyone in my life. Remember I mentioned that friend who refuses to show any vulnerability? Even after childbirth, when all of us experience at least some level of overwhelm and disorientation, she acted as if everything was easy, breezy. After my epiphany, I realized her armored exterior has nothing to do with me--it may not even have anything to do with what she is or isn’t trying to prove to the world. It’s likely simply an approach she learned as a child. Could I really blame her for it any more than I blame her for being raised in an American household and speaking English? Interestingly, I was talking to a mutual friend of ours last week when she mentioned she saw her for lunch. Our mutual friend commented “she’s really turning into her mother.” It was all the confirmation I needed that her behavior is learned.
This shift in perspective has opened up a well of compassion and understanding in me. Instead of looking at people as intent on hurting, creating chasms in relationships, being intentionally passive-aggressive or rude, I realize they may have simply learned this type of behavior from a young age. Of course, it doesn’t immediately improve our relationship, but it does help me let go a little bit, take a step back, breathe--and then look at them through a more compassionate lens. Not only does it melt away most of the hardness I feel, but it puts me and our relationship in a space where the possibility for improvement and greater connection opens up.