BY PEGGY HAMMES
We do not see things as they are, we see things as we are.
When a person is behaving towards us in a way we do not like, we need to ask ourselves, “Is it love coming from this person?” If not, there is only one other possible conclusion: this person is afraid and appealing for love. Instead of viewing this individual as having something seriously amiss with him, we need to allow ourselves to see the wrongdoer as a scared little boy or girl who desperately needs love. In fact, the more outrageous the behavior, the greater the fear and desperation for love.
Essentially, our perceptions stem directly from our thoughts, and our thoughts create our beliefs. Changing our perceptions is a conscious choice. We must choose to see someone differently. By making a perceptual shift in the moment of interaction, we can feel the dynamic of the relationship changing, and the outcome can feel quite amazing, sometimes even miraculous.
How we perceive things does more to determine our personal reality and our experience of it than anything else. It is not what another person says or does, nor the events of life that makes us happy or sad, but rather what we think about that person’s behavior or those events.
Recently I had the experience of looking at my life through depressed eyes—everything looked bleak and hopeless. Interacting with my mother was becoming more and more difficult as she slipped into deeper stages of Alzheimer’s. She began doing things that not only did not make sense, but were potentially dangerous. I reacted in anger, which was only covering my fear. In response, my mother became mean and defensive, lashing out at me. Seeing the look of fear on her face, I realized that she was completely confused—she had no idea what she was doing or why she was doing it. We both started crying and eventually embraced each other.
We were both scared—me, because I feared the place we were heading to, and Mom, because she did not understand what was happening to her. We needed to love—and be loved—out of our fear.
All emotions are basically distilled down to two basic ones: love and fear. All of the positive emotions—such as joy, happiness, delight, and affection—all grow out of love. Negative emotions—such as anger, jealousy, guilt, and envy—all grow out of fear. In fact, the more intense or pervasive the negative emotion, the greater the fear that gives rise to it, no matter how bizarre, difficult, obnoxious, or vicious the person might seem.
It is our interpretive perceptions that bring us pain and suffering. We can change them to move from an un-empowered position—in which we feel like a victim at the mercy of the people in our lives, to an empowered and happy one—in which we take responsibility for our thoughts and our behaviors, and choose to extend love instead of fear. Our perceptions are just as controllable as our thoughts and beliefs.
What does this mean in terms of healing the problems in our relationships? A shift in perception is the act of choosing to see someone or a situation differently, of looking beyond the surface emotion presented to us and realizing it’s only a manifestation of the fear underneath. Since perception always includes interpretation, usually a judgment of some kind, it can be changed.
In moments of intense interaction, I find it especially useful to view the situation in terms of only two emotions: love and fear. Whatever is not love is fear, an appeal for love. This same deeper vision applies to everyone in every situation, without exception.
The perceptual shift we need to make is quite simple, though very profound. When we see fear instead of an attack, we are no longer afraid and we are able to tap into our inherent capacity to love. If we do not perceive attack, we don’t have to mount our defenses. We know that the displaced anger is just an expression of fear, and there is no reason to get caught up in it. We know that when someone behaves in bizarre ways, it only means that they do not know more effective ways of getting past their fear. Knowing this, perhaps we can choose to just love them until they get there.