Ever had a friend or family member withdraw or act angry and you had no clue why?
The answer may be simple: you failed to read his/her mind!
This can become especially acute around the Holidays. Gift giving can be a minefield. You ask a loved one what she’d like for Christmas or Hanukkah. She may respond in any of several ways:
Your sister gives you a list, without saying “choose one” (errr… does that mean she expects everything on the list, or just wants to keep an element of surprise?). If you choose wrong, she may be disappointed. If you buy everything, she may scold you for being extravagant and/or making her look bad because she only gave you one thing. Or the items may be of varying prices. Will she be disappointed if you don’t buy the most expensive? Will you look cheap?
Or your Dad may say, “Really, I have everything I need. You don’t have to give me anything.” He does have everything he needs. But still, he really does expect something. At least make him some cookies, or give a gift to his favorite charity in his honor.
Mind-reading is a type of assumption based on expectation. If we fail to do it correctly, we can be punished. Two recent columns by Carolyn Hax, advice columnist for The Washington Post, illustrate the problem.
One column involved the meaning of an engagement ring. Should the recipient have a voice in choosing it? Is it a simple expression of love, an investment, an “icky assertion of ownership,” a piece of jewelry the woman is expected to wear the rest of her life, a status symbol, or all of the above?
The other column was about the meaning of a birthday. (Big deal or no big deal?)
In both situations, unstated — and therefore unmet — expectations were ripe to cause hurt feelings all around. To complicate matters, assumptions are unconscious.
Two lessons here: (1) Examine your own assumptions and talk about them ahead of time to be sure you’re on the same page. “In my family, birthdays were a big deal. How did your family celebrate?” “I’m worried about our budget this year. What would you think of a $___ limit on gifts?”
And (2) If you’re disappointed after the fact, take responsibility for your own unexamined expectations. Then let them go. Let the holidays be a time of forgiveness and love.
Nan raphael says
I lost a longtime friend over holiday gifts. I know that she had been dissatisfied with me for a long time and I think she was looking for an easy excuse to summarily cut me out of her life. It’s been almost 3 years and it still hurts. I do see more clearly and realize that if she were to want to reconnect with me that I don’t think I could ever feel comfortable rekindling a friendship with her. For the last decade of our friendship, (and even off and on through out our 37 year friendship) I could tell that she was unhappy with me. I in turn felt like I was walking on eggs with her and had to monitor everything I did and said knowing that I’d inadvertently hurt her feelings or upset her in some way. She has standards that very few if any come come up to. I’ve seen her cut many people out of her life. Even so there’s a part of me that still cares about and wants to know that she’s ok.