The Dark Heart: Understanding Abuse in Relationships

All too often we hear about a woman who was violently attacked by her partner, or one who continues to stay with him even through extreme abuse of all kinds – physical, verbal, emotional, sexual, psychological. Without fail the first reaction from people who find out about is always, “Why does she stay with him? Why not just leave?”

Abuse isn’t something that happens suddenly, and it’s not isolated to any particular class or race of people. I used to think abuse stems almost solely from the low-class, uneducated types whose lifestyles are generally questionable, yet now I understand that anyone, from ordinary people to those in the upper echelons of society, can fall victim to or be the cause of abuse. Ignorance is the enemy, don’t be fooled by what appears to be a normal person on the surface when your gut tells you something is wrong.

The other day I read the following: “Everyone always asks why a woman stays with an abusive partner, placing blame on her. Why doesn’t anyone ask why he’s doing what he does? Why are there never questions about what is wrong in him to commit such an act?”

This blog isn’t isolated to male on female abuse situations. It’s to inform anyone who doesn’t understand it, why it’s more complicated than just walking away, to help them see how intrinsically manipulative and psychologically destructive these types of relationships are. I also write it in the hopes of helping some who are going through it at the moment, or who have left such a relationship and are are still trying to process it all, to get some clarity. Abuse happens everywhere, in so many forms. I’m going to focus specifically on abuse in relationships, be in heterosexual or homosexual, because the behaviour traits don’t change based on gender, age or sexual preference.

My personal experience with this left me both strongly compelled to write this blog post, yet also had me extremely reluctant. A year ago I was still in a state of concern and slight anxiety over putting anything out there that might help my ex track me down and show up at my doorstep. After speaking to a few friends and also sharing opinions on the subject on Facebook recently, I realized I should just go for it and write this blog.

My brief summary of experience about this happened between 2011 and the end of 2013. I came out of a long-term relationship and ended up in two successive, extremely dangerous and harmful periods with two men. The alarming shared common behavioural traits between the two only became obvious to me later on. One had an extreme temper and trust problem and the other, it later turned out, was bipolar and had been psych evaluated and found to be a sociopath and danger to society.

I walked away from that phase with a few broken bones and I lost of almost all my possessions, but became a whole lot wiser about how easily things could spiral out of control, and how to help those who go through the same thing. I was lucky in a sense, my natural reaction to back off when someone’s aggravated saved me from additional harm a few times and overall I’m stronger and a lot more aware today. Here are the main things I’ve learned to look out for in a dangerous, abusive partner. Not all of them may apply all of the time, but if any of this sounds familiar, it’s reason for concern:

Kind, Compassionate People Are Targets

Kindness is considered an absolute weakness by abusers. They see it as an easy way ‘in’, to get under your skin and exploit you. One day my ex gave me some insight into how he sees the world, and told me most people are so easy to manipulate and control, to bend to his will. He was convinced that people want to be controlled and told what to do, because they’re too stupid and weak to know what’s good for them. In his mind, the entire world of people is divided into malleable pawns or absolute enemies. If you can’t be manipulated and won’t give them what they want, they’ll hate you straight off the bat and avoid you entirely. If you’re naturally someone who is sympathetic, kind, caring and giving, you’re basically chum dangling above shark infested waters. They seek out people who won’t fight back, people who won’t argue with them or stand up for themselves to the extent where they’re quick to fight or argue when they disagree. They look for peace makers, people who are willing to compromise and like to please and help others. It makes it so much easier to toy with people like this throughout the process.

They’ll be extremely kind and generous at first.

What hooks potential partners so often is how well the abuser treats them in the beginning. You’ll be showered with affection and compliments and made to feel like a million bucks. You’ll think you are so lucky to have someone in your life who wants to share their time with you and go out of their way to make you happy. Initially, you’ll feel there’s nothing wrong as you get swept up by their generosity and focused attention. While some people might test the waters and ease their way into getting to know you, abusers (this may vary, but I found it consistent in what I’ve experienced) tend to go all in and push hard to win you over.

They’re persistent. And often pushy.

If you don’t fall head over heels for them immediately, they’ll wait it out but constantly stay in touch, as they try to figure out what it will take to let you lower your guard a bit. In time they’ll try to find a weak spot in your armor to break through. They’ll do this by assessing you from a distance and soon they’ll have figured out what you want or need to hear to let your guard down. I’ve found they weave their way into your daily life, waiting for a moment or day where you are more receptive, like when you’ve had a bad day at work or something’s gone wrong in your personal life. In that moment, they’ll step up and ensure that they provide exactly what you need to feel better. They tend to be very possessive and jealous, always insisting that they have to protect you or look out for you.

They have tormented pasts, whether you about it know it or not.

Both of my abusive exes had alcoholic, abusive fathers who nearly killed their mothers in front of them. Both of them grew up with a great deal of violence and dysfunctional behaviour in their homes. While some abuse situations don’t have this type of setup and the abuser just has bad temper or is vindictive, there are always patterns in how they deal with people they’re involved with. Sometimes you never know about their pasts, if they choose not to tell you. Often, women in particular, would feel sorry for a man with a painful childhood and feel the need to heal them in some way, to ensure their lives are better now than it was. The problem is often the damage was done long before they ever met and she doesn’t realize how deeply these experiences twisted the mind and behaviour of the person. For a compassionate person – especially one who is emotionally involved with someone – one of the hardest things to do is to know when to sever ties and walk away because someone is beyond help, or to realize that you’re just not the right person to help them. We hurt to know others are hurting and our first instinct is always to jump in and try to improve things, even if we stand the risk of being pulled under by them in the process. This is especially true in the case of relationships, because one party is trying to help and heal while the other doesn’t even recognize that they have a problem to begin with.

Cutting Your Wings

In the end, abusive people have a desperate need to exert control, because they are so out of control themselves. A big part of this is ensuring that you are completely dependent on them – which, later on, will make it very hard for you to just walk away. During the initial phase, where they try to win you over, they’ll be so generous and reassuring that you’ll feel it’s okay to let go of your independence a bit. They’ll continue to feed you this false security until you reach a stage where they have you fairly well locked down. This tends to be when you move in together and sets the stage for the next steps. Some abusers also want to get into their partners’ finances, finding a way to justify that it’s the best thing that they share everything, from the house to the credit cards. The tables will shift over time though and soon you’ll realize they’re taking a lot more from this arrangement than you are and you’re suddenly suffering huge deficits.

Progressive Isolation

Over time, abusers gradually cause their partners to isolate themselves from their friends and family. They’ll use many excuses as to why you don’t ‘need them in your life’ or resort to blaming you for choosing friends over them and saying you don’t care enough. They do this because they want to stand unopposed and be the only thing you need and want. Their need to be in control is so great that they will find a way to eliminate anything that dares to threaten their empire. And if they want you in it, you can be sure they’ll want to keep everyone else out. Everything from being told you’re weak for needing friends to you not being yourself around family, will be used to convince you that maybe you don’t need to see your loved ones as often. Once their more aggressive sides start surfacing, abusers will threaten you and make it very clear that you’re in for punishment if you decide to do what you want. Again, most strong-willed people will kick up dirt and say ‘screw you then’ at the first sign of having their arm forced,  but in this case we’re dealing with increasingly submissive partners who are also likely afraid of what awaits them when they get home, if they choose to rebel and go out.

Double Standards

You can be sure that the abuser allows himself/herself a great deal of leeway to do as they please. Without fail, they will be the dominant one in the relationship, on every level. This includes setting extreme rules for their partner to follow, while they entirely defy every notion of fairness. In line with this, abusers typically show none of the characteristics of a person who contributes to a healthy relationship: honesty, trust, compassion, fairness, openness, forgiveness, agreeability, compromise. You will find yourself constantly struggling to keep the peace and not set a foot wrong, while they easily dismiss their own wrong doings, even if those wrong doings are massive and would have any healthy person calling them out on it.

Blame, Distrust and Accusations

Abusers have a habit of seeing fault in everything their partners do. There is no rational logic behind most of it and it tends to be so erratic that, for a while – or sometimes for the entire relationship, their partners don’t know what will set them off. If you find yourself trying to mentally process an argument where you were accused of doing something terrible, but you have this gut feeling that what you did was just something people do and nobody would even notice, chances are they’re messing with your head. Abusers have short fuses and they’re quick to go from neutral to sudden attack, accusing their partners of disloyalty, lying, and cheating, among other things. Every fear and twisted interpretation they have of the world, will be projected onto their partners. Partners will be caught up in terrible phases of guilt, shame and confusion over if they really are that bad and what they can do to make up for what they did wrong. The problem here is that they actually did nothing wrong in the first place, but the negative programming and lack of positive input from others will warp their minds to the point where they begin to question even the most straight-forward things.

The Infinitely Tipping See-Saw

What makes manipulators so good at getting away with the way they treat their partners, is that they pull unexpected ‘saves’ every now and then. They’ll suddenly be in the best mood and become loving and caring, take you out for dinner and compliment you. This propels you right back to where you were emotionally when you first got together, and make you believe that things aren’t really all that bad. Abusers consistently sway between treating you like dirt and treating you like gold, causing even greater confusion about whether something is actually wrong in the relationship or if it’s all in your head. Those brief moments where they are nice to you also induces overwhelming guilt for ever thinking anything bad of them when they suddenly treat you well.

Breaking You Down, Bit By Bit

If someone walked up to you and suddenly insulted you, you’d obviously be offended and either tell them off or walk away. Any respect you have for that person will be tarnished or destroyed and you won’t be all that willing to listen to them the next time. But abusers gradually break you down, so subtly that you don’t even realize it’s happening. They might start off by teasing you about a physical feature or habit, then gradually the teasing and jokes will turn into blatant insults. Whether you’re a bit overweight, have a slightly skew nose, different laugh, they’ll pinpoint it and make sure you know they think it’s terrible. Over time those insults start rolling into full onslaughts of your worth as a person and soon they’ll have you thinking you’re a complete and utter piece of dirt. Later down the line, a partner’s self-esteem is so degraded that they begin to believe their abusers when they’re told they’re worthless and that nobody else would ever want them or find them attractive. The “You’re lucky I put up with you, because nobody else would” card gets pulled often, leaving the partner – who is at that point completely without external, uplifting input – believing all this about themselves and stopping any desire or curiosity about finding something more out there.

Public vs Private Personas

Another aspect that is so hazardous about manipulators and abusers is their ability to seem completely charming and ‘normal’ in public environments. They maintain work life and outside interactions so well that most people never have the slightest suspicion that they’re not actually what they appear to be. This leaves partners feeling extremely isolated and in a state of distress and self-doubt, as they feel they’re the only one seeing and experiencing this dark other side and they have no one to talk to. Most partners of abusers, as I previously mentioned, are soft natured and not the type to be vindictive, so the chances of them lashing out, asking for help or bad mouthing their partner to a friend or colleague is slim to none – especially with the fear they are permanently drowning in that they’d step a foot wrong and face even more punishment. I’ve sat down with former clients and friends who knew my ex and would have to bite my lip as they said, “He seemed like a nice guy.” – completely unaware that he spat venom and wished them all dead behind their backs. Completely oblivious to the fact that he used to slap me moments before others entered a room and would say “Just wait until we get home. Then you’ll see”, demanding I keep a straight face and smile like nothing happened afterwards. Their greatest power is in seeming completely normal and the arrogant conviction that they’ve scared you into submission to the point where you won’t talk to anyone and nobody else would believe you if you ever did.

Guilt and Fear Infusion

One of their favourite weapons in breaking you down is their ability to induce guilt. They’ll wield it in so many ways, each time finding a way to make you feel that you are really being extremely selfish in what you are doing or wanting. Soon you’ll find yourself feeling guilty for just thinking something, as their programming of deprecation and criticism is absorbed and ultimately adopted by you. You’ll feel guilty and scared that you’ll upset them again, which means every waking moment of every day is spent walking on eggshells, praying you do everything just right and that you don’t absentmindedly set off the ever-ticking time bomb.

They’ll make you doubt yourself and everything you think or know.

I’ve heard of several women who, completely cut off from a healthy support structure and stable advice, start questioning not only their worth but also their every action and thought process. Some even go to psychologists in desperation to understand what is wrong with them, because their partners find so many faults in them. The need to understand is so great that you’d rather be diagnosed with a mental disorder and at least know that’s definitely the cause, than to spend your days questioning everything and wishing you knew why your partners treats you the way he does. Abusive partners are very good at making you believe their lies, including their accusations that you’re the one who isn’t right in the head and that they’re perfect and you are ungrateful for everything they do for you. Once they’ve isolated you from your loved ones, they’ll have plenty of room to reprogram you, without any interference – and this is where things become very dangerous.

These are just a few of the main aspects of how abusers interact with their partners. To understand why partners stay, you need to understand how immense the psychological destruction of exposure to an abusive person is. People have quit their jobs, moved schools and changed lifestyles just to get away from someone who belittles and bullies them to the point where they feel they can’t handle it. Now imagine living with someone like this, every day. By the time a woman is so beaten up that someone actually notices something is wrong, she’s so far gone in terms of self-esteem that she honestly does not believe anyone else will help her or love her,  convinced that she doesn’t deserve kindness or love. And sick as it is, if she doesn’t have a very supportive group of friends or family members to help her recover and see things in perspective again, there’s a chance she’ll go back her abusive partner. There’s also the reality that, thanks to the isolation and dependence abusers inflict on their partners, by that stage there won’t be anyone else to turn to. Don’t forget that for many women, they have spent years with their partners and in this time, everything from her financial stability to work and having children could have changed, most likely to the benefit of her partner’s control.

Anyone who exacts harm on other people or living creatures without a thought of compassion has a twisted, damaged heart and mind. You will come across many in life, but you don’t have to become broken because they are.

Advertisements

So This Online Dating & Meeting People Thing…8 Lessons I’ve Learned

I’ve never really had a normal, we-met-through-friends/work/school relationship history. In fact, my first serious relationship was with a guy I met online, and it’s how I ended up living on the other side of the country. Back then, in 2000, I spent many hours in online chatrooms – the kind that existed before there were actual chat software and apps like Skype. Yes, I was a MIRC lurker and moderator for 5FM’s chat channel, however much praise that’s worth. The seedy underbelly of instant relay chat could not have been more frowned upon or weird back then, so you can imagine the shocked reactions we used to get when telling people how we met. I found it interesting though, talking to people from all over, each of us hiding behind handles (not door handles, kids, online nicknames). We’ve come a long way since then, with a lot of people today turning to social media because their lives are too busy or social circles too small to meet new people.

Recently there’s been a lot of discussion about online dating and whether it’s an acceptable form of meeting a partner or if it’s a weirdo’s fantasmagorium of exploration. I find it funny, and a bit interesting and perplexing, because a lot of articles have surfaced which justify finding a partner online, based on behavioural algorithms and the ability to search by interest, age, and even income bracket. The whole idea that meeting people and finding meaningful relationships or friendships can now be narrowed down with cold, hard science and statistics, honestly scares me a bit. It makes the hollow of quick dismissal and instant gratification through apps like Tinder and most dating sites feel all the more shallow and non-empathetic. To me, putting a percentage of compatibility on someone is the equivalent of trying to put a price on a human life. No amount of personal bio information can really give you a clue of whether you’ll like the person, in person.

So, nearly fifteen years down the line (on and off over the years), here are some constants I’ve learned about the process of meeting people online and how it impacts or changes when you meet them in person:

1. You’re going to have the same initial conversations over and over.

I can pretty much predict how the typical flow of conversation and covered topics go when meeting someone online. You go through this initial phase where you figure out if they can make you think, laugh, feel curious…whatever it is you need to invest more time in them. And most of the time you’ll find that not much comes of it and you move on to the next person, repeating the process again. The difference between meeting them online versus in real life, is you don’t spend money on drinks, dinner or coffee, you don’t get dressed up. You also aren’t forced to look them in the eyes and maintain a conversation for longer than you feel comfortable, since you have the convenience of merely closing the chat the moment things don’t interest you anymore. This is the first of a few double-edged swords when it comes to online meeting.

2. You’re probably going to cyber stalk them to some degree. Admit it.

Everyone from people at work to your best friends have embraced the power of social media to dig deeper and find out more about people before meeting them. It’s actually been defended as a way of ‘protecting yourself’ or ‘preparing yourself’ in case they have some skeletons and it’s nowhere near Halloween time of the year. Chances are good that they’re doing the same to you. Creepy? Yeah, maybe a bit. But again, this is why you shouldn’t display your whole life online, unless you’re happy to have anyone know all about you. It’s human nature to be curious though and even when we’re not aware of it, we feel an inherent need to be prepared for what is coming. It’s why we have flights of imagination – whether they are idealistic dreams or fearful thoughts – about anything new and unknown. Going to new places, meeting new people, starting new jobs. We do this in attempt to be more prepared for when it actually happens.

3. The pictures don’t make the person or tell the whole story.

If you’re following some gym fanatic with bulges in every place you desire bulges to be, and then some, you wouldn’t be blamed for developing a bit of a crush every now and then. However, unless you want nothing more than a mute gun-show facilitator in your life every day, you might find your interest in them dwindling or plummeting, soon after meeting them. I could be wrong but I’m pretty sure people who spend 4-6 hours of their day either training or eating and the other 8 taking selfies of themselves, probably don’t have a lot else going on in their lives. Love Playboy bunnies? Great! Just don’t expect them to recite Plato at any given moment in time if you ever meet them in person. These are the more outrageous examples but for general reference, try bear the following in mind: Instagram filters. Photoshop. Samsung’s sneaky Beauty Face filter. Low level lighting. The possibility that the photo is from 4 years ago and some things with them have, uh, gone down since then. Ahem.

4. You’ll get to know a great deal about them, before you even meet them.

Notice I said ‘about’…you don’t actually get to know the person on a non-fact-sheet-based level. The funny thing is that online interaction lets some people share parts of themselves they wouldn’t have talked about in person, at first. You get to learn about their siblings, parents, pets, some random stuff at work. Maybe you’ll even get to know their bigger secrets or deepest wishes. You learn these things because it’s easier for people to be open when there isn’t that pressure of being in the same room as the other person. They feel safe, knowing that they can just click to exit the app or chatroom and never need to worry about the conversation again, if it doesn’t go down well. You learn all of these things, en masse, yet the simple things that make up their entirety and character, fall away. You don’t ever learn what drives them nuts on a frequent basis, you don’t know how they respond to surprises or stress, you don’t know if they’ll smile at you with appreciation if you bring them coffee or if how open and sincere they are most of the time. You’ll have information, but not a lot of observational understanding, which means a much less accurate progressive feeling about them and if they’re actually right for you.

5. Never put all your bets on a person before you actually meet them in real life.

I don’t care how perfect they may seem online and how many chats until 3AM you’ve had about life and your dreams. Stop yourself from going all Tom Cruise and planning your wedding or telling everyone you know you’ve found ‘the one’. Keep that stuff locked up tight until you’ve spent a good amount of real time, having real food and sharing real, mutual oxygenated air together. A funny thing happens in that crevice that divides the virtual person from the real one. You may think it’ll be an easy transition to meet them for coffee after weeks of chatting online, maybe completely flawless even, but often times you’d realize you were so wrong. That disparity, that really weird space between who and what you see online and who and what you see in person, can be pretty much of atom-splitting proportions on a personal level. I’ve met people online who I hit it off with instantly and thought we’d be friends forever. Then I met them in person and we’d sit in awkward silence, discussing the weather and being halfway between trying too hard to make conversation flow, and trying to figure out how to politely end the whole meeting and re-contemplate your entire life in the aftermath. On the flip side though, I’ve met people in person who I really doubted I’d get along with at all initially, yet the moment I met them, a whole new level of radiance, intelligence and compassion surfaced that was never obvious from what I saw online.

6. The person you’re dating probably isn’t a carbon copy of who they are online.

For whatever reason – whether they are deliberately selective about what they share, or if they just think and act different in person – a lot of the time you see a side of them online that either vastly enhances or completely conflicts with the person sitting next to you, eating popcorn and watching TV. It’s understandable if they are professionals who need to maintain an image online, or if they simply prefer not to share much online. Becoming aware of this rift between online and personal behaviour raised my semi-paranoia about the reality that you never really know if the person you see every day is, in their spare time, a serial killer or cross dresser. I never saw a greater disparity than with one guy I dated, who was highly philosophical online but dead silent in person. All the things he couldn’t express in person, he put on his social pages, including his doubts about his relationship with me. On a related note: never, ever express online what you can’t express in person. It doesn’t really make for a strong character or garner respect. We all want to show the better sides of ourselves to the world, it’s normal, but if you find the two personas are not at all the same person, you have valid reason to be concerned. Also, bear in mind that people don’t always type and talk in the same tone or reveal the same information – online activity gives people a chance to consider how they’ll react and what they’ll say, while real life tends to strip people of that restraint. Trust what you see in person, your gut is remarkably good at detecting what you don’t really want to see or think about someone.

7. Don’t let meeting your partner online cheat you out of getting to know them in person.

Something weird happens with dating someone you met online. Sometimes, there’s a feeling that the hard work has been done and you can relax now. Sort of like how many people say spouses slack off once they’re married because they feel they’ve reached the goal of finding someone and settling down. With online connections, you’ve probably spent countless hours talking and sharing endless amounts of thoughts, which tends to make you think it’s cemented the two of you securely enough to carry on having a life together. After all, you know the other person’s hopes, dreams, pet hates, passions, and you two agree about most things. I tend to think initially meeting online, especially if there have been long conversations before meeting, cheats you out of getting to know your partner once you are actually together in person. You almost feel as though there isn’t much left to talk about or ask once you’ve covered all those late night conversations. I ended up in a long-term relationship with a man who I honestly never knew at all, and neither of us ever tried to learn more about each other, we just carried on living, but together. If I could give some advice: keep the big conversations for when you’re sharing dinner together, not wolfing down crisps while staring at your respective laptop screens at 2AM. And if you’ve already crossed that line, be sure to have those conversations again in person, every once in a while, because people grow and their minds, personalities and opinions change over time.

8. Don’t become a fisherman just because you’re suddenly in an ocean full of fish.

This one coincides with a lot of things that worry me about how we live these days. We are, without a doubt, a society that has succumbed to immediate supply and demand satisfaction. With the arrival of social media and the ease of meeting new people whenever your phone has battery life and good signal strength, people seem to think of others as easily disposable and replaceable. It’s far too easy to give up on someone just because you know there are so many others out there who will pay you more attention, give you that feeling of excitement again, grant you that satisfaction of knowing you do still have some game and are still attractive…at least initially. Divorce rates and breakups are skyrocketing with the combination of social media opportunities and the acceptance of having multiple partners or annulling a marriage. Unless you’re a very shallow person, you won’t find satisfaction in this way of life. Remember that you are dealing with people, individual minds and personalities, not tissues out of a Kleenex box. There’s merit in taking your time and putting in effort.

Empires would never have been built if people stuck to building mud huts and rebuilding them whenever there’s heavy rain.

As a final thought…

old-couple

The Ultimate Trickster

Our minds are tricky, sneaky and pretty freaky things. Your brain can fool you into believing so many things, perceiving and misperceiving, and even change your recollection of past events. As if all these optical illusion posts lately aren’t enough to have you questioning how you see things, there’s a lovely range of things happening to you, caused by your brain, that you’re not even aware of at all.

Your mind warps things, and I’m not just talking about forgetting details or adding them on when you try to remember events. This is especially treacherous when it comes to relationships. Someone mentioned on Twitter the other day that it’s funny how the people you at one time could not imagine possibly loving more, can one day be people you never even think about at all, and when you do you wonder what the heck you were even thinking. Initially it seems like that is pretty odd, but then I got to thinking about all the times I was convinced of something and soon thereafter looked at myself and wondered what the heck I was thinking. Several wardrobe faux pas from my teens come to mind… *cough*

Anyone who’s a bit clued up about human behaviour knows we tend to create a preconceived image in our heads of how we think things or people are. Often it’s a picture painted in the way we want it to be, and the absence of actual personal experience with that person or thing leaves a nice, big open world of possibility that it might well be true. This is how people can easily day dream about their crushes and play out imaginary scenarios in their heads about what the person would say, how they would laugh, how they would interact with them. Often – I’d even go so far as to say pretty much all the time – they have a harsh moment of disillusionment when they do actually meet the person and spend a bit of time with them. The same thing goes for dreaming about a trip overseas, a party, or anything else you haven’t yet experienced. In spite of our outward, cynical reactions to the world, our internal natures tend to be hopeful most of the time. We choose to hope and believe that what is coming, where we’re going or who we’ll meet is good and will bring positive experiences. Many times we build it up so much in our minds that reality just doesn’t live up to it. Let’s face it: even the most critically, methodically planned thing like a wedding, can still go wrong thanks to forces beyond our control. It should be accepted.

So now, there’s also the flip to this whole situation. It turns out, not only do we build up these magnificent hopes and visions of people before we really know them, we also break down our memories and skew them, after we break up with these people or have a fallout where we can’t reconcile our differences. I read an interesting article the other day, explaining how we alter our memories of a person, based on our current feelings about them. We highlight and exaggerate memories we have of people, based on how we feel about them now. So if you were once madly in love with someone and they could do nothing wrong in your eyes, but you had an ugly breakup, you’d find it hard not to suddenly think back and only remember all the things they did wrong, all the times they didn’t do or say what you wanted or hoped they would. Everything from the time they didn’t do the dishes to the way they cleared their throat all too often – things that before were happily overlooked – suddenly becomes all you can think about when you look back now. So what’s happening here? Basically your brain is adjusting your memories – putting some into focus and repressing others that don’t align with what you believe about that person today. I’m guessing this is what makes people have those kinds of arguments where they mention things from months or years ago that the other person did wrong. It’s like your mind detects that you are talking about that person’s wrongful actions and it goes and searches for more information of the same kind, to further bolster your argument and prove you are ‘right’. All of this is obviously terrible for any effort of actually getting along and making peace. Of course there’s the other side of this as well. For example, an old lady who was in a less than fulfilling marriage for years who now finds herself widowed and alone, will tend to think back with fond and happy memories of her husband. When we lose people we love and care for, we only remember the good about them, the things that make us smile.

My take on it all is this: at some point in time you obviously got along with that person or at the very least tolerated them enough to allow them and yourself the opportunity for exploration. You clicked and things took a natural course where you got to know each other better. As much as it takes only a few seconds to decide if you like someone or not, it takes a long period of time to truly get to know someone. Not even an information packed “100 things you don’t know about me” list would get you any closer to knowing if you’ll still get along with the person a year down the line. You have to take into consideration the physiological aspect before you even start delving deeper. From what I recall reading ages ago, the first six months of a relationship is pretty much fuelled by hormones and unusually high levels of mental happy juice like endorphins, serotonin and the like. Once those levels start dropping and level out again, you’re left with the ability to think a bit more objectively and see the person in a more balanced light. This is where it goes awry for many people (although admittedly sometimes it happens way before this stage), as they start thinking maybe things aren’t quite right here, start feeling disappointed in their partners in some way. This is the part where all the other factors that make a relationship work kick in to either save the day or fail miserably. Things like agreeability, trust, confidence, knowing you can rely on the person and that your long term goals are actually lining up. But that’s a whole other post altogether. Point is, next time you start cursing your ex or bad mouthing old partners, bear in mind that you are probably seeing things in a not entirely unbiased way.

Relationships is only one example of how we warp how we think and recall things. In some way or other, we are all twisting our perceptions and interpretations. It’s a hard thing to keep a handle on unless you really have developed well beyond your average human being. If you’ve ever known or seen a fanatical person, you’ll have a perfect example of this in action again. Everyone, from headstrong conservationists to religious zealots to gym freaks, are shaping their beliefs, actions and memories based on what they actively are involved in. If you so strongly want something to be true, your mind will find or invent ways to give you the justification you so badly need to carry on with your life. This is why you can give ten people the same sentence to read and they’ll each come back with their own interpretations of what it means. It’s also how people can see different images when they’re all looking at the same drawing. Again, based on what you already believe at present, and of course also in relation to your past experiences and perceptions in life. People inherently have a need for acceptance, the extreme of which is insecure people who desperately seek the approval of others because they don’t have independent confidence in themselves. I’m thinking that in that same way, if you really want to believe that aliens have infiltrated our planet and walk among us, you would go digging and searching everywhere for proof or justification of this. Your mind is basically trying to have your back, even if what you believe is utterly outrageous or unreasonable.

Our entire world is shaped by our perceptions and interpretations of what happens to us every single moment of every day. It often makes me wonder if what one person sees is at all the same as what the next sees, and at the same time I find it astonishing how nobody seems to be aware of this and stops to question if they are really right in how they are doing things or what they say about people.