Intent, Does it Matter?

I was involved in a situation recently where people made huge assumptions about my and others motivations for certain actions.  In both cases everyone took the actions they did with the best of intentions.  We all thought we were doing something nice and helpful.  But the person affected by it didn’t see it that way.  In fact, she was almost hostile in her reaction, suggesting all manner of mean spirited, spiteful intentions on our part.

Our response? We all immediately apologized and explained why we did what we did and how we thought it was helpful.  But it didn’t matter.  She would hear none of it.  There was an uninvolved party that knew what had happened.  He tried to explain, but again, she’d hear none of it.

She verbally berated one person that had no stake in the matter that was trying to genuinely do a nice thing.  And it was a business situation so she had the ability to take some “retribution” against me and another person involved.  And she did.

That happens a lot in personal relationships.  We get upset or our feelings hurt because someone, even with the best of intentions, does something that makes us feel bad.  I know personally I sometimes have trouble letting go of the outcome and embracing the intent.  And I see it with friends and clients as well.

Why is it so hard?  When we receive gifts we are taught that “it is the thought that counts.”  And to be fair, we have different expectations of “thought” depending on the person and the place he or she holds in our life.  A gift of a toaster from a significant other probably doesn’t represent much “thought.”  But a very badly made card from a child can seem like the most thoughtful thing ever.

What I find so unusual is I know, and I bet you do, too, just how bad it feels when I try to do something nice and I get such a negative response.  Despite that, I know I’ve leaped to conclusions and had the same negative reactions to what was intended as a nice gesture.  And I’m only sometimes able to make the shift and recognize the value of the intent behind the gesture.

I’m going to pose this one to you.  Why can it be difficult to feel the intent versus the outcome?  Are there ways that you try to make that shift, to look at the intent of someone’s action a be appreciative of it even when the execution wasn’t so good?  Share your ideas and comments.  I’d love to hear them.

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About awentherapy

I am Jay Blevins, LMFT (www.awentherapy.com). I am a licensed systems therapist with a private practice in Madison, WI. While I work with individuals and partners around a wide variety of issues, my primary focus in on alternative relationship structures, alternative sex and sexuality, and power dynamics. I am a contributor to various relationship and sexuality blogs and publications and have been a frequent presenter at alternative lifestyle events and psychotherapy conferences.
This entry was posted in Awen Therapy, Communication, Emotions, MFT, Psychotherapy, Therapy and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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