Don’t Ask Me

Asking someone why they did something doesn’t necessarily produce very good results, or at least not very accurate ones. Have you ever done something so out of character or outside your value system that you were at a loss for words to explain it? How many times have people you know and love acted in ways that are surprisingly lacking in insight or compassion or even common sense?

Not only can they not explain it, they can’t say for sure that it won’t happen again. Perhaps we are thinking about the cause and effect of the situation, when we should be looking at how much or how little we truly understand ourselves or how we relate to the world around us.

Surely you’ve heard the phrase, “Do as I say, not as I do.” It’s likely that we are all living by this motto to some extent. Most of us are living a less than ideal version of ourselves. Think about the fact that pretty much everyone you meet feels like they are good, kind, thoughtful people, who do the best they can in most situations. Well, then how do we have all these negative, inhumane, and shocking events-big and small-happening around the world every day? Clearly there is a huge disconnect somewhere, right? If we’re all being good, how can there be so much bad?

Remember when you were a kid and you did something like break a lamp because you were playing catch in the house? Remember all the remorse you felt once you saw the dented lampshade and broken glass? Maybe your mom or dad cornered you and said, “How could you be so careless? You know better than that!” They probably made you pay for it out of your allowance or grounded you for what seemed like forever. Well, when you look back, did it seem like the right thing to do in the moment (playing outdoor games inside)? Did you know (beyond a shadow of a doubt) beforehand that no possible good could come of throwing a football to your brother across the living room? Of course you did, but you were just a child.

Now that we’re adults, we all think that we know and do what is good and right, but do we really? The truth is that we’re not as accurate in our self-assessments as we think we are. Worse still, we don’t even explain why we do what we do very well. When asking a person why they did something, the one doing the asking should be prepared to receive an answer that is based in part on memory, guessing and an idealized self-concept (all of which are known to be inaccurate and clouded by bias) rather than cold, hard facts.

Of course, no one knows us better than we know ourselves. Certainly we have to believe in our own thoughts and perceptions in order to operate in the world. But sometimes, well perhaps a lot of the time, we are operating based on false assumptions, misinformation, magical thinking, and emotional reasoning when it comes to how we see ourselves. This is where we get into a lot of trouble, as it can result in a mismatch between our beliefs and our actions. When we hold two opposing thoughts about the same topic (especially our behavior) at the same time, we are said to experience cognitive dissonance or distress. Luckily this distress can motivate us to change our behavior.

Some examples of opposing beliefs and behaviors that create cognitive dissonance and lead people to seek therapy:

  • I believe honesty is the best policy, except the person I’m dating is married.
  • I am loyal above all else, yet I had another affair.
  • I am a sensitive and gentle person, but for some reason I keep getting fired for my “bad attitude.”
  • More than anything I want to be in a committed relationship, but I keep choosing guys who refuse to settle down.
  • Financial stability is important to me, even though I have maxed out all my credit cards.
  • I am a confident and strong person, who is trapped in a failed relationship.
  • My parent was an alcoholic, and I could never do that to my family. Every two or three months though, I drink until I black out.
  • Usually I am a calm, relaxed person, but somehow I got in a road rage incident the other day that ended up with the cops being called.
  • I always try to do the right thing, but it gets me in trouble every time.

Therapists know that in order for clients to improve, they must increase awareness surrounding the issues at hand and decrease resistance and obstacles to change. If this sounds like something you need help with in your life, please contact Life Enhancement Counseling Services in Orlando today at 407-443-8862 to make an appointment.


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