Is It Possible I Am Distorting How Big A Deal This Really Is?
Maybe I’m Distorting Something Here, But…
Everyone makes mistakes in perception. Sometimes, I think you mean to blame me, when you think you’re just stating a fact. Maybe I distort the degree to which I am being blamed. Especially if my history includes being a victim of physical, sexual or emotional abuse; it’s very possible that my nervous system is trained to perceive and exaggerate threats early, to try to avoid those threats. So, I may quickly, or easily, distort the degree of the threat. First perceptions are most often based on fear. Without having a quick willingness to see a threat coming, we would not have survived as a species. It’s O.K. that my first thought is fear based, as long as I don’t immediately act on it. In most of the couples I deal with this manifests in conflicts that start over an over-reaction to a mild angry/frustrated tone of voice.
The other night at my men’s domestic violence group, several men identified feeling angry most of the day. They
described a high level of irritability and a general high sensitivity to becoming disturbed. This would not have to relate to their partners, necessarily. It could be a disappointment at work, where an expectation was not met. It could be on the road, with feeling victimized by another driver. The image to the right helps illustrate the idea of what I call, ‘THE TRANSLATION.’ This is when you see an angry spouse, but decide to translate the angry energy into it’s alternate form of neediness or vulnerability that cannot be owned or expressed at the time by the spouse. This skill of translating observed hostility or withdrawal, in your mind, into an awareness of the needs or vulnerability of your partner; is a tremendously healing skill!
By the way, the heading of this section, ‘Maybe I’m distorting something here, but…. I’m feeling…” is a fantastic set of ‘First Words’ to use when you want to express difficult feelings with your partner. If these are your first words, you are indicating that you’re willing to be wrong in some perception or conclusion. It also, eliminates mind-reading violations.
I like to use a scale of 1-10 of anger, with 1 being equal to being very mildly upset and a 10 being raging angry hostility. I’ll ask a group member, how angry was she on a scale of 1-10? Usually, the man says a 7 or 8; but he is describing a time late in the argument. Often, his partner was simply expressing a mild irritation at a level 2 or 3 on this anger scale. THEN, it was the group member’s RESPONSE of defensiveness & irritation to this mild expression, that escalated the argument to a much higher level. If a person with a history of abuse hears a level 2 or 3 frustrated expression by their spouse, that person will tend to exaggerate the degree of threat. That’s why I ask my men in the violence group to say this mantra in their head when they hear their partner’s expression of irritation, anger, or frustration.
It’s O.K. if my partner is mildly upset with me. I need not react to a level 2 or 3!
Next week I’m going to give you a link to the Respect Agreement. The respect agreement spells out exactly what to do when either partner feels disrespected by the other. It is a specific structure that works! There are references to several other techniques that I write about in the blog. So, if you don’t recognize a technique, just look it up in the red search field of the sidebar.
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