You’ve may have heard the old adage that when you assume things, you make an ass out of both u and me, (ass-u-me, get it?) and if you anything like me, you try not to make assumptions. But if you are human, you also have what’s known as a negativity bias.
A negativity bias is the notion that as humans who are biologically wired for survival, we focus on the negative more than we do the positive. Worse, we take negative situations more personally and allow them to have a greater impact on our psyche than we do positive situations.
While your partner’s affair is one of the most difficult and traumatic situations a person can face, because of the way it guts your identity, self-worth, and trust in yourself and the world, assumptions, negativity bias, and taking things personally make recovery more traumatic than necessary. Here’s what that means, and how to prevent negative assumptions from overtaking your healing and wellbeing.
Assumptions & Negativity Bias
Even though I try not to, this past week made me realize how much I, and other people make assumptions, and how much those assumptions (which are usually negative) damage your psyche.
Here’s what happened.
Last week I spoke at two conferences, one live and one virtual. During the virtual presentation I was not present in the breakout rooms, so I assumed everything was going well. In fact, while waiting for participants to return to the main Zoom room, my mind said things like, “This is going great, I’m so proud of me!” Which left me feeling like a rock star!
During the group discussion following the breakout rooms, my belief that “this is going great, I’m so proud of me” led me to focus on the insightful comments being made by some of the participants, thus bolstering my belief that I was doing well. I didn’t think twice about the participants who didn’t participate. I assumed they were just as happy as everyone else.
But in the live presentation, I could hear the interaction. So when I overheard a woman say, “I’m lost. What are we supposed to be talking about?” my thoughts changed. In this instance, I assumed that I had was doing a terrible job, which colored the way I saw the comments in the discussion and left me feeling like a failure.
Instead of focusing on the engaged and insightful comments (like I had during the virtual presentation) I scanned the room looking for blank faces and disengaged participants. In both instances I was making wild assumptions, but I didn’t sit in my room stewing about the positive assumptions I had made. I only did that with the negative assumptions, which cut deeper. And led me down the path of negativity and judgment.
Negativity bias in full force!
Has something like this ever happened in your relationship? Do the positive interactions with your spouse or the negative assumptions that ring in your ears and keep you up at night stewing and raging in your head?
Assumptions & Taking Things Personally?
When I got home from my conference, I taught my weekly boot camp class. Before class I ran into a participant who hadn’t been in my class for a while. I bounced over to her, said it was great to see her, and asked if she had been on vacation. My assumption was that if she was in town, she would have been in class. She said that she quit coming to my class because she knew she was no longer welcomed, and although she missed it, she knew we didn’t want her there.
Stunned, I dug deeper. She said that during class last month I said, “If you can’t do this, just stop!” She assumed I was speaking to her because she was modifying the movements when I made that comment.
Horrified, I apologized and explained that I was talking to the class in general and that my intent was to set people free to do their own thing and not feel like they had to push themselves into something they weren’t able to do.
After clearing up both of our assumptions, she’s back in class and we are both better because of it. I’m more aware of how my words can be interpreted and she can once again enjoy the class she loves. But it was interesting to see how not only were we both making assumptions about the other, but how we were both taking those assumptions personally, and making something about us that had nothing to do with us!
Most of the women I coach take their partner’s infidelity personally. They think that his choice to cheat says something about her looks, weight, skills in the bedroom, or ability to “keep her partner happy.” But that couldn’t be further from the truth! A cheating partner’s cheating says everything about them, and nothing about you! It says something about their ability to handle conflict, to know what they want, to understand and express their emotions, to meet their own deeds, and to live up to their own morals and values.Their decision to cheat says nothing about you. Period.
Living Free from Assumptions, Negativity Bias, & Taking Things Personally
What would it be like if we did not make assumptions? How much freer would we be to feel good about ourselves and enjoy life? And how much more balanced would our perspective and interpretation of what was going on around us be? And most importantly, how much faster might we heal?
The Living in the Glitter exercise in my book FLAUNT! Drop Your Cover and Reveal Your Smart, Sexy, & Spiritual Self has eleven filter questions that you can use to challenge your assumptions and help you to become freer, happier, and more balanced both during your affair recovery process and beyond.
I have summarized them and turned them into a handy-dandy pdf that you can print out and use anytime you need a dose of clarity or anytime you feel like you are stressing out, feeling angry or judgmental, or are unable to let go of a situation or interaction with your cheating partner.
Just print out a copy of the questions, take a few deep breaths, and answer honestly. When you do, and you begin to see that you are making assumptions, that your negativity bias is kicking in, or that you are taking something personally that has nothing to do with you, you will calm down. Your nervous system will begin to regulate, and once again you will find the peace and calm you desire.
Being betrayed or learning of our partner’s infidelity sends our nervous system into high alert. We move into fight, flight, or freeze and we naturally protect and defend ourselves. Which inhibits healing, growth and understanding. This will help.
Additionally, attempting to heal or reconcile with someone who is also in a heightened state of stress or anxiety means that they too will have the tendency to make assumptions, focus on the negative, or get defensive because they are taking everything personally. Go ahead and share this blog, or this checklist with them. Doing so has the potential to help you both!
HERE IS YOUR PDF: Filter Questions.pdf