I came to an awareness today while conversing on the subject of emotional change by re imagining people who hurt me when I was very young – basically forgiving them. Many believe that early childhood trauma sets us up for adult emotional and mental problems.
While there may be some merit to the concept, I wondered how I might go about re-imagining those who I perceived caused me harm. I especially wondered how I might change how I feel about people who are now dead – like my Dad. He and I had unresolved issues that haunt me today. I can’t just go talk it out with him, though I’ve been told that facing him in a dream could be therapeutic for me.
I guess I’m not all that convinced that talking out my issues with my Dad in a dream or maybe over his grave would permanently affect me in a positive way. Instead, I wish to consider another approach – one that affects everyone and everything in my world now and likely in the future, too.
Nero-linguistics presupposes several key concepts. Among those is a belief that all behavior has a positive intent or purpose. My friend, John Phillips stated it rather succinctly, I think:
“There is a positive intention motivating every behavior, and a context in which every behavior has value. When a person has a better choice of behavior that also achieves their positive intention, they will choose it because people make the best choice they can at the time with what they know.” (Phillips, 2004)
Let’s suppose this belief is true. It certainly seems true to me when I do something. I feel that my motives are good and that I’m acting from a space of what is best for me and those I care most about.
Let’s further suppose that if I think that way, then others may also. If so, then those times my Dad or Mom or other significant person did something to me that I now judge as bad or traumatic, I must suppose they did that to me for a positive reason/intent that served them and me. It was a positive intention, yet it hurt me. Physicians get away with this everyday.
I wonder what might happen to my sensitivities about those who I feel have harmed me if I were to suppose their motives were positive – and wonder what such motives might be. Where might my mind go were I to search for those positive motives/intentions? How might I feel differently today were I to discover those positive intentions?
When I discover that positive intention, I may feel quite a bit differently about them – maybe even empathize with them. I don’t need to “forgive” someone for exercising what they thought was a positive intention towards me.
So, how might I go about discovering those positive motives?
I could ask those persons I believe have caused me harm. That certainly would be straight forward. It’s just that it’s unreliable because people lie, don’t remember, get mixed up, or just plain don’t know why they do some behaviors.
So, why rely upon others – especially others who may not like you very much? Why re-traumatize yourself by going tête-à-têtes with someone you detest or fear? Unnecessary!
Instead, use your imagination. Ask a pointed question that targets motivation and intent:
“What positive intention might one have that would motivate them to do what they did to me in that instance?” Or – “If I were them in that instance, what positive intent might motivate me to behave as they did?”
Then turn your mind loose to imagine those positive intentions. Let your mind entertain possibilities it previously blocked due to negative emotions surrounding your initial negative judgments of their intentions. These are YOUR judgments.
This does not mean you should now fully trust others who have harmed you before – expecting them to behave “nicely” with you in the future. Past behavior is a good indicator of future behavior. Imagining positive intentions for behavior towards you changes your judgments and life experience overall. It may also give you a window into your own motivations and intentions – most of which you hide from yourself.
You may find that your view of that other person might do a complete flip – as might your view of life, too.