• Hope Arnold

If I Wouldn't, Other's Shouldn't

I sat chatting with a client about how she didn’t understand how her co-workers and boss can’t be more thoughtful about what they ask her to do at work. The conversation struck me as a little strange, since she’s at work and part of having a job is about being assigned tasks to do. As we chuckled at the irony, something important emerged – a myth she had been living by: If I wouldn’t do it to them, they shouldn’t do it to me.

This is a myth, because it assumes that there is a right and wrong way to be considerate. It also assumes that people want the same things out of any given situation. How many times do we think that others are behaving incorrectly, and that we thing we know the right way to behave?

It made me think of another client that shared a story about how she hates to get feedback about her tennis skills while she is playing. She said, “It makes me totally frazzled when my doubles partner directs me to do something on the court mid-swing. Why can’t she just wait till we are done playing, and then talk about it afterwards?”

While this appeared obvious to my client, I’m aware of imagining that it’s not so obvious to her tennis partner. When we assume the intentions of another without asking them more about why they are doing what they are doing, it ends up building resentment and harming relationships. Plus we usually don’t get our needs met, if we don’t speak up.

In RODBT one way to deal with this is to notice the myth that we are living by and ask ourselves some questions:

  • What am I assuming the other person knows about me?

  • Have a told them what I am thinking or wanting them to do?

  • Do I think I’m right about the way to behave?

Learning to question ourselves is the first way to learn about our behaviors and our sore spots. Sometimes we are upset because we are making assumptions about another person’s motives, without actually checking in with him or her. We need to “out ourselves” about our feelings and expectations. Not through screaming or yelling, but by saying what's going on internally. How can anyone know what we expect and want if we don’t say it?

Hope Arnold is a RO DBT therapist living in Denver, Colorado.

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