Monday, July 7, 2014

The question of Intent

Intent... intent can be understood as the motive, not necessarily conscious, behind our behaviour and communication. Often times in challenging relationships there appears to be a tendency towards ascribing intent which may not necessarily exist. 

A common enough complaint in relationship is that our loved one is ignoring us. It is sometimes easier to believe that than to come to an understanding that we were never thought of in the first place. In order for the intent of ignoring me to be there, my partner needs to be thinking of me, and dismissing me to some extent.  In order for me to be ignored, someone has to be doing the ignoring... that's a conscious act. Rather than consider you and your needs, I am going to go ahead and do what I want for myself - that's ignoring. That's different from being so absorbed in my own stuff (suffering?) that I don't think of you at all.

Some partners tend more than others to take initiative, whether romantically or sexually. Often times, the person who takes less initiative gets labeled with "not caring". "Not caring" becomes the "intent" behind the less active stance (less initiative). Its entirely possible that two people come together who have different "appetites" - and I often see couples come in to my office, complaining of this. S/he does/doesn't want it as much/little as I do. This can be challenging but the really unnecessary part tends to be one person "ascribing intent" to the other's behaviour. S/he does this because s/he doesn't love me, doesn't care how I feel, or is ignoring me. The truth of it tends to be that we are just different, that it doesn't occur to me to want it more, or I just don't want it more, and it really hasn't got much to do with you at all.

Examples can also be found in relationships with adult children. I have heard many a parent ascribe intent to children who have chosen different paths than what the parent wished for. In their upset with this, I have heard parents say “they do this to hurt/disrespect me”. I haven’t met a whole lot of 20 somethings that walk around with the wish to hurt or disrespect their parents as a motivating factor for their behaviour and choices. Quite the opposite is true.

Finally, I’ve worked with many who have come from families where either parent had significant mental health issues. When these clients first appear in my office, the storyline is often “my parent(s) did this to me”.  Many of us had bad things happen to us in our childhood as a direct result of parental mental illness. However, the part of the story that needs to change is believing there was intent toward you. And again, the notion of not even making it onto the conscious radar in a parents mind is exquisitely painful too. Yet there is something incredibly liberating in understanding that there was no conscious, malicious act borne against you. That was not the intent. Often times when a parent rages, it is against themselves, and an expression of their being consumed with their own pain. Of course how that affects us is important to know and understand and deal with, but it’s still also important to know that their rage and suffering was not about you.

It's worth contemplating what a person's intent might be when we walk away from an exchange feeling something.  Often we make assumptions about intent that are not necessarily correct and behave, ourselves, in accordance with those incorrect assumptions. Can you see how we easily lose our focus, centre, and authenticity in such a state? If you're not sure what is driving your partner’s/kid's behaviour, ask. If you're not sure why you're not being called, romantically perused, or included, ask. You may not like the answer but at least you will have the truth. 


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