One evening, my friend told me about a fight she’d had with a friend of hers. She finished her anecdote with the statement: “Oh my God, I’m a complete psycho!” Hearing herself say the story aloud made her realise that she may have overreacted.
I went on to tell my friend about a guy I was dating four or five years ago. He came from a far-off land (Italy). I mentioned our email correspondence, which hadn’t ended well. “He was a real A$5hol€,” I added for good measure. “I might still have the emails,” I squealed excitedly. Minutes later, I managed to retrieve them. When I read the last email my Italian beau had written, I was surprised to find that, in parts, he had actually been quite nice and affectionate. I definitely hadn’t remembered that. As I read the last email I’d sent him, I visibly cringed. I sounded moany and needy. I hadn’t remembered that either. Yes, there were parts of his email that were defensive and uncompromising and parts of mine that were fair but, up until now, they had been the only parts I’d remembered.
Revisiting a memory when your emotions aren’t running high, when you’re not too attached to your story and when your ego has taken more of a back seat, can be quite revealing. My friend and I had, one after the other, found that we’d perceived the event in a very different way than it had actually occurred. We had been convinced of our innocence. It was hard for us to admit that we had a part to play in the drama but at least we were open to letting go of the need to be right. As a result, the other person could no longer be labelled the “bad guy”. The real villains in our cases were our egos. And that was something we were going to have to look at.
I still feel that my Italian wasn’t the right stallion for me. But I now understand that perceptions are extremely unreliable. We are all coming from different places and experiences… so everything, everything, is tainted with that. For example, I thought the Italian was harsh and inconsiderate, whereas he may have felt perfectly justified in his behaviour. He may have told his friends that I was more trouble than I was worth and that he wasn’t going to change for anybody, especially not an argumentative Irish woman.
Perceptions are totally subjective. The world looks different to you than it does to me. And it looks different to me today than it did yesterday. Everything I look at is compared and contrasted with everything I’ve already seen. I view current relationships through old hurts. Past fears leak into new ventures. Everything is laced with expectation. And my ego assures me that the way I see the world is the only reality there is.
I’m not suggesting that we beat ourselves over the head until we completely banish our egos. We are human beings with egos and emotions. However, simply recognising that we all experience things differently allows for understanding, forgiveness and acceptance. We don’t have to be right. We don’t need to be better. We just are. With this knowledge, we can stop expecting, judging and criticising and start really experiencing and enjoying life.