Your Planet or Mine
by Cynthia Schwartzberg, LCSW
Your partner is late meeting you and you begin to think to yourself, ‘He can’t be trusted; he doesn’t even think of me. I don’t count. I don’t matter.’
But what’s really going on and what is he thinking? This is a good question because most times we don’t really know. He replies that he had to run to the store first and you immediately conclude, “I knew it. He doesn’t want to see me anymore.” He apologizes but you’re convinced he just isn’t interested in you.
What you’re thinking is real, is logical, all your friends agree. But what is really going on here?
One could say it’s all because Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus as John Gray did in his book of the same title. But this miscommunication and misunderstanding doesn’t just happen between males and females. It happens with people of all ages underscoring the point that we all seem to come from different planets.
We each use an individual, inner vocabulary that we have developed from birth. It is our way of understanding, interpreting and defining the world around us. When we enter a relationship we bring this frame of reference with us – which works out most of the time. However, when something affects our reptilian or limbic brain we react with history and basic information. It’s in those moments that we tend to become more defensive and reactive and fall back on what is called ‘all or nothing thinking’. Then we are indeed on our own planet, far away from earth and far from reality.
In real life situations far more often fall into the realm of gray and the three dimensional with many viewpoints and interpretations possible. The key to ‘all or nothing’ moments like this is to learn to calm down enough so that we can consider how our minds got so narrow, our vision myopic and our emotions explosive. Once we can identify these reactions we are less identified with them. We can then begin to step off our own planet and onto someone elses. And get to know their language.
Recently I was with a dear friend who mentioned she tends to “suck it up.” Having that information let me know her language and style. We were on our way someplace and I had gotten caught up on a cell phone call. When I hung up I could tell something had changed for the worse. I said, “Were you upset I was on the phone?” She said she was frustrated because she was trying to get us to our destination on time and she had no idea where it was. Her expectation was that I would get off the phone and help. I didn’t do this, however, until we arrived. And that sure bothered her. After hearing her explanation I apologized and asked what she needed, and gave it to her (it was a hug). We ended up back on earth and together again.
I could have retreated to my planet and pretended nothing happened or entertained a myriad of bad thoughts; ‘I’ve done something wrong, I’m bad, she doesn’t like me any more’ or some other form of rejecting and isolating thinking. But instead I drove my spaceship back to her planet and I’m glad I did. I let go of my pride and stuck with my care for her and the realization that my actions affected her. I was also aware enough to catch myself starting to steer my ship away and it wasn’t a good feeling – very distant and detached.
We may not be able to change the other, but we can always drive our spaceship back toward them and toward earth, remembering there are many ways to understand a situation.
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