I keep making the same mistake with people: I keep assuming that I understand where they’re coming from. I keep thinking that, once I work out their point of view, basic belief system, etc., I will be able to prevent myself from getting blindsided when they do something “abnormal.”
I don’t really believe in abnormal, when it applies to individuals, unless some disease, injury, or chemical imbalance come into play. From past experience it seems rather rare for people to do something genuinely “out of character”. They might react in unexpected ways when faced with unexpected circumstances, but it often seems that the only surprising thing in that kind of scenario is that nobody saw any of it coming. A lot of the time if you look at how people behave in normal circumstances, you can plot out with a degree of accuracy how they will react to emergencies. For instance, if someone is completely self-centred and prone to fits of dramatics under normal circumstances, I will not expect them to suddenly become selfless and controlled just because my need has gotten greater. It might happen, but I shan’t bank on it.
Yet people surprise people all the time. What seems to happen with unpleasant frequency is people doing stuff completely within their character, but having misrepresented themselves so well for so long that what they do does come as a shock. I’m infinitely better than that, though, what with my spidey sense. I look at what people actually do and what it suggests about their underlying thought processes, rather than allowing myself to be bamboozled by the commentary their provide for their actions. If you do something crummy for selfish motives whilst telling me how nice you are being, I shan’t fall for that. Oh no. Not me.
What I found is that I can actually only ever get part of the way there. If I make a conscious effort to look at the world from another’s point of view, I can predict their behaviour reasonably well, up to a point. I’m far too prone to forgetting how pervasive certain points of view are, though. I keep forgetting that they can affect every aspect of someone’s life.
For instance, I’ve been puzzled all my life as to why my family insisted in being in constant contact when they all visibly hated each other. Every time two or more of them got in a room, there’d be a screaming fight. They’d holler terrible things to each other and eventually one would leave slamming the door… and then a few hours later they’d do it all over again. It was as regular as the tide, though infinitely less relaxing to watch.
Me, I like things to be nice, for my very peculiar idea of what “nice” looks like. Within my friends group we give each other merciless shit, but it’s all in jest. I don’t get a kick out of screaming or being screamed at. To me that’s the sign of a communication, or even a connection, gone seriously bad. So I couldn’t get it round my head that my folks would put themselves through something like that when they didn’t need to… forgetting that they didn’t share my taste. Their idea of “nice” and “normal” were completely different from mine. To some of them, emotionally disregulating those around them was nice; that’s how they got their kicks. To others, being emotionally disregulated was normal; that’s how they knew the world was the right way up.
It sounds bloody obvious when I put it like that, which makes infinitely more annoying, yet I make this kind of mistake all the time. When my psychopathic boss who didn’t feel any differently about me and my chair was destroyed by his new girlfriend who turned out to be a larger, meaner psychopath, I couldn’t work out how he’d let that happen. She did exactly the same stuff he did unto others, yet he seemed oblivious to it and unable to stop her. But, of course, he saw her as a piece of furniture, too. In his world, her being able to turn on him was as likely as the beanbag I’m sitting on deciding to attack me and actually being able to win. There wasn’t a place in his mindset for something like that happening.
I need to guard against that – not just the fact that I can’t fully put myself in someone else’s shoes, but the fact that sometimes I believe I can. Being clueless is probably more dangerous than thinking you’ve worked something out when you don’t.