Many clients come to see me about relationship issues. The types of relationships vary. They may be romantic or family or work or any number of other types of relationships. Despite being different in nature they have many things in common. One of those is that our work in session almost always involves trying to see that the other person or people in the relationship have their own perspective. We tend to view and interpret other’s actions from our own perspective. That only makes sense since it is what we know.
Where we run into trouble is when the assumptions we make about other people’s actions, based on our perspective, differs from the whys and hows of the other person. A classic example is a teenager who sees their parent as wanting to control the teen’s life or make the teen’s life miserable when in reality the parent is acting (maybe badly) out of fear and love. Likewise, some parents see their teen’s behaviors as a desire to get back at the parents when it may be normal teen exploration or differentiation.
If we can truly understand those different perspectives and learn the true motivations of the other person, it can radically shift our own feelings about the actions and the other person. We can begin to see that there was caring or loving intent even if the actual outcome didn’t feel good. That shift can allow connection instead of creating more distance. It makes room for compassion in our relationships.
There is a trick to this working, however. It isn’t enough just to see the other perspective. We also have to believe that it is a valid perspective for the other person to have. Sometimes clients say that they see the other perspective but it becomes clear from their actions that they don’t hold it to be valid. They refuse to create room for the other person to have operated with good intent from this alternative perspective. They’ll say things like, “yes, I see how they may have seen it but they should have known how I’d feel” or “they may see it like that but they should have seen it differently.”
So while they acknowledge the other perspective, they want to judge that perspective as wrong instead of just different. This reaction doesn’t have the desired effect of connection but instead adds another layer of judgement and accusation, creating further distance. It doesn’t allow for understanding and compassion of how the other person’s actions might have actually been well intended.
As a therapist this reaction is disappointing to see for a couple of reasons. First, a perspective is just that…a perspective. It is formed from where the person is, what they know, what their values are and more. For one person to judge another’s perspective as right or wrong doesn’t make sense. It might be if the other person had more information or saw things from a different place they would change their perspective. But it may be that their perspective is just genuinely different because they have different values or beliefs.
The other difficulty with discounting another person’s perspective is that I am usually working with people who claim to care about the other person or the relationship they have with them. If that is the case it is hard to understand why there is such a desire to rush to critical judgement and disregard the other’s perspective once it is revealed. Emotions like anger, resentment or the need to be “right” can block the ability to achieve what it is we say we want with the other person…connection.
The next time you find yourself in that position, check yourself. Are you open to understanding the other person’s perspective? Are you open to allowing them to have it and to have made decisions based on it? Can you allow that their intentions may have come from a good place, even if they didn’t resonate with you? If so, you’ll find it much easier to forgive and to connect. Try it.