If you were to see this German Shepherd dog coming towards you, what would be your immediate response? Would you feel afraid and try to avoid him? Or would you feel a sense of delight and want to pet him? If the dog was not barking or growling at you, your response would mostly be based on your assumptions, which would be based on your past experiences with dogs. If a big dog ever growled at you, chased you, or bit you, you might assume that this dog coming towards you equaled danger. But if you ever had a German Shepard dog who was your best friend, who hated being away from you, who rode in the car with you everywhere he could go, and who greeted you at the door with the utmost excitement when you returned home, you wouldn't see danger at all. You might be saying, "Hey, Buddy, what a good boy you are," as you scratched behind his ears. And there...I just made an assumption that this dog was a boy dog.
We make assumptions every day. It's normal. It becomes a problem, though, when the story we tell ourselves about something doesn't match what actually happened. For example, what do you tell yourself when someone disappoints you or something doesn't go your way? Some people make assumptions that something is wrong with them, like, "I don't matter. My needs aren't important." Other people tell themselves something is wrong with the other person, like, "They're undependable. I can't count on them. Maybe they're just selfish."
Have you ever spiraled down emotionally because of an assumption you made, only to discover later the story you told yourself didn't match the real facts about the situation? We could save ourselves from a lot of misunderstanding and conflict in relationships if we learn to recognize when we are making up a story in our head that might be true, or might not be true.
Here is one way of interrupting that process and keeping ourselves from reacting negatively before having all the facts:
First, we can notice ourselves getting upset about something, but before we take it personally, we can stop and ask ourselves, "Wait a minute...what am I telling myself about that? Could I be making up a story in my head, or am I completely sure what I'm telling myself is the full truth?"
Next, we can record our answers to three questions: (1.) "What are the facts, and nothing but the facts, about what happened." (2.) "What negative assumptions am I making about what happened?" (3.) "What are some other possible explanations or logical reasons as to why that might have happened?"
Some years ago, I knew a woman who was completely convinced that people didn't like her. One day she said, "I can prove it to you, Vicki, that people don't like me and don't want to be around me." I won't go into all the details about the situation that prompted her to tell me that, but in this instance, it involved going to one of her child's school events and sitting next to someone she didn't know. They said, "Hello," to each other, but a few minutes later the other woman got up and left. She soon noticed the woman sitting elsewhere, and she immediately believed it was because she had done something wrong or there was something wrong with herself. That triggered feelings of shame and unhappiness in her. As we went through the above 3 questions, we came up with 10 other possible, logical explanations as to why that woman might have moved. By the end of our conversation, she was able to realize that maybe she wasn't a person that people ran from, but that seeing herself as unlikeable was something she projected onto similar situations.
It takes wisdom and a willingness to be honest with yourself and ask the questions, "What am I telling myself about what ______ means? Is it really the truth or could I just be making up a story in my head?" This week, notice what assumptions you make and the story you tell yourself about something. Try asking yourself the above 3 questions, and then notice what that does to your feelings of well-being and happiness.