What Holds You Back

A couple of years ago, I made an assumption. I was living in Chicago in a basement apartment of a two-flat. There was a young couple living on the first floor and an elderly woman living on the second floor. For laundry, we all shared the same washer and dryer.

It was about a week before I was to move out of that apartment and head for my new home in Atlanta. One morning, I had just showered and started digging through my fresh-from-the-dryer laundry looking for clothes to wear. I was searching for a clean bra in the heap, but couldn’t find one. I was positive I had washed my bras with that load. To be certain, I searched my entire bedroom. Nothing.

I started checking the pile of clean clothes again and realized I wasn’t just missing my bras. Other clothes were missing, too! I was furious. I got dressed with what clothes I could find and stormed out of my room in a rage. I think I shouted something to the effect of “That bitch stole my laundry!” and proceeded to rant my theory to my roommate.

A long rabbit trail of assumptions led me to conclude that the young couple upstairs did not like me; therefore, had taken my laundry in retaliation. I imagined them getting a good laugh at the idea of me being bra-less. So, I marched up to the first floor and asked the wife if she had “accidentally” taken my laundry. She said “no.” Of course, things escalated throughout the day to the point the police got involved.

As it turned out, the elderly woman living on the second floor had taken my laundry. I’m not sure if it was accidental or not. Either way, my laundry was returned, but my pride was gone. I had, for the first time in my life, actually accused someone of stealing from me. I had caused a scene over a few bras and some skinny jeans.

And, I was wrong.

I cried a lot that evening and profusely apologized to my neighbors. Then, instead of savoring my last week living in Chicago, I spent the week wallowing in panic attacks and breakdowns and trying to avoid my neighbors altogether. I spent a week of my life crawling out of the shame pit. To this day, when I think about the situation, I still cringe. Yet, it taught me a simple but valuable lesson: don’t make assumptions.

I’ve realized that assumptions have the power to hold us back in life more than just about anything else.

Sometimes we don’t go after the job of our dreams because we assume we won’t get it anyway. We don’t talk to the co-worker a few cubicles down because we assume we don’t have anything in common. We don’t bother trying on that dress because we assume we won’t look good in it. We don’t ask that guy or girl out on a date because we assume they won’t like us.

Imagine if you lived for one whole week without making any assumptions. Imagine the foods you might try, the people you might meet or the experiences you might have. Imagine the confrontations and the resulting shame you might avoid. Imagine your new found confidence when you stop making assumptions about your own abilities. Imagine how different – how open – your life would be for just one week.

Now, imagine living your whole life without assumptions.

When I stop and think I realize my life is filled with assumptions that are preventing me from truly living. My assumptions rob me of my time and energy and new experiences. They leave me lonely and afraid. Assumptions are life-suckers and we have to stop them! But, how? How do we stop something that is so ingrained in our psyche?

Well, for starters we need to stop being control-freaks. In my opinion, assumptions are an attempt to control life, to make it more manageable. It is our go-to coping mechanism that allows our brains to contend with the unknown. However, it is not a healthy way to cope. Perhaps, we should open ourselves up to the unknown. If we stopped assuming we might find the unknown is not as scary as we think. In therapy, clients are often taught that they cannot control life, but they can control their response to life. Relinquishing control and realizing you can handle whatever comes is a big step towards letting go of the need to assume.

Secondly, we need to be ourselves and voice our truths (and let me just interject that we also need more face-to-face communication). Allowing the world to see and hear the real you eliminates the guesswork. Others no longer have to make assumptions when you are more transparent, when you are who you are, when you say what you need.

Lastly, we need to challenge our assumptions. One way we can do this is by reversing our thinking. The next time you find yourself making an assumption think about its opposite or do some research. Often we laser focus on our assumptions and that can be destructive, but if we open our minds up to new possibilities our assumptions lose their power.

What assumptions are holding you back? What assumptions are preventing you from truly living?

I hope you start challenging them. I hope you relinquish your control and realize you don’t need your assumption crutch anymore. And, I hope you find the courage to be the real you and be vulnerable to all life has to offer.

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