My cat woke me up in the middle of the night meowing loudly. My first instinct whenever something happens that I don’t like is to get angry and resist that it’s happening. Even though I was half-asleep, I managed to breathe and remember that he doesn’t do this every night. He was probably meowing for a reason, not just to annoy me.
I got up and saw that during yesterday’s play date someone had moved a foot stool in front of the cat door, so he couldn’t go outside. I moved the stool aside and went back to bed. He continued to meow for awhile, trying to get me to open the door for him, but I focused on my breathing and listened until he finally went out the cat door on his own.
My dialectical behavior therapist used to encourage me to try to widen my perspective. When I’m depressed and angry, everything seems black-and-white to me, and there’s only one explanation for anything. When I was feeling strong negative emotions, she would always tell me, “Get curious!”
It’s a skill to look beyond first impressions and knee-jerk reactions. This morning at Starbucks, it was really crowded, and I was irritated that two women were taking up two small tables when they were obviously together and didn’t seem to need both tables. I considered asking them if they would give up one of the tables, but decided to wait it out and see if other people joined them or if they were leaving soon anyway. Sure enough, after I ordered my drink, I saw that two other people had joined them, and they really did need both tables.
I’ve written before about meeting hate with kindness. I think getting curious about what motivates people is the first step in being able to show them kindness and give them the benefit of the doubt.
One of the DBT skills I learned was “Check the Facts.” Here are the steps:
- Describe: what happened? Be specific.
- Consider: what is my interpretation of what happened? What story am I telling about it?
- Determine: what is the threat? What am I worried will happen because of this event?
- Evaluate: what is the catastrophe I’m worried will happen because of this event?
- Predict: how likely is the catastrophe likely to occur? Assign a percentage.
- If the percentage is less than 50%, practice radical acceptance
It can help write this stuff down, especially when you’re feeling really strong emotions, but after some practice, it’s pretty easy to do just in your head. By the time I get to step three, I’m usually already calming down and feeling more compassionate and understanding.
I really like the use of the word “catastrophe.” I can be so extreme, reacting to every little thing as though it’s a really big deal when it usually isn’t. Real catastrophes are natural disasters, poverty, hunger, child abuse, etc. My projection that someone is being rude is just another example of my perfectionism. We all get distracted, stressed out, and tired, and we each deserve a break.
How do you practice giving people the benefit of the doubt?