Rena and I have been going through some tremendous personal growth lately. One of the things I’ve become aware of is that sometimes I have a distorted view of reality. It’s unsettling to think that sometimes I can’t trust my perceptions.
No, I’m not going crazy. I’m not hearing voices or anything like that. Here’s what I’m learning. When we have traumatic experiences, those experiences can color our perceptions later on in life. I imagine it’s a bit like PTSD. When a soldier with PTSD hears a loud bang from a car backfiring, their instinct might be to take cover or look for a weapon. That soldier, in their mind, is back on the battle field where literally bombs were being exploded. That soldier, in that moment, has a distorted view of reality.
In my growing up years, I’ve had some pretty tough experiences. These experiences gave me implied unspoken messages – messages I took as true. I’ve received the message that I don’t count, and if I want to count, I had better appear smart. I also received messages that if there was conflict, I would be in harms way, so I better run and hide from conflict as quickly as possible.
A Triggering Moment
So, when Rena asked me to clear some of my clutter off of the bathroom sink, I wasn’t hearing her right. What I heard was something more like, “Come here, servant boy, and clean up the sink for me.” That, of course, isn’t what she said. I had a distorted view of reality in that moment.
This is important. When something triggers me emotionally, I can’t trust that I’m perceiving reality with great accuracy. I need to check in, and find out what’s really going on.
I’ve also noticed that when I’m feeling emotionally triggered, there’s a good chance that Rena is also being triggered. So in a triggering moment, we are often each responding to our own distorted view of reality, and we’re not hearing each other very well.
Here is my plan for getting us back to normal reality. First I want to share with her, “I’ve got some past “stuff” coming up right now. I would like your help processing this.” Then I can ask some questions:
- What is the deeper intent and desire here?
- Why is this important?
- What are you feeling right now?
- To myself: What am I feeling right now?
- To both of us: How are you/am I interpreting this right now? Does this match with the deeper intent?
- To myself: Why is this coming up now? Is the timing here significant?
- To myself: What is the higher truth in this moment?
As I observe other people interact in relationships, I’m pretty sure our experience is common. Maybe you can relate to things going sideways in a relationship. You get finished with a crazy interaction and you think, “What just happened?” Chances are that one or both of you is experiencing a distorted view of reality, and you’re reacting to something in the past rather than what was actually going on in the moment. If this is you, my hope is that my sharing will help you in your relationships too.
If you would like to formulate your own plan for when things go sideways in a relationship, I recommend talking with this person about your plans before anything comes up. This way they will know what’s going on when you start asking all sorts of questions.