Taking the Bait — How Assumptions Keep You Stuck

A friend of mine recently went through a painful and confusing break-up. When we would talk, I would hear her assume all kinds of things about her ex. She would say, “oh, he probably doesn’t care about us breaking up. I bet he’s already moved on and that I never mattered much to him in the first place.”

She would make up stories, assuming he was saying flippant or uncaring things about her. She would tell me, “I can just picture him down at the bar with his friends, telling them how the break-up was all my fault. I bet he’s not saying anything about how he treated me”. Making these assumptions clearly hurt my friend, but many people can relate to how easy it is to jump to those kinds of conclusions.

There’s the age old saying that to assume is to make an “ass out of you and me”. While it’s a pretty silly saying, it serves as a useful reminder to how painful and unnecessary assumptions can be.

The Lies We Tell Ourselves

We make up stories all the time. We tend to project our ideas, fantasies, or beliefs onto others’ experiences without even noticing it. It’s unavoidable, but in some cases it can become problematic if you get stuck ruminating or have a hard time distancing from these thoughts. In the age of social media, it’s particularly easy to get stuck going down the rabbit hole of how “wonderful”, “fun” and “successful”, others’ lives may appear to be.

Still, that’s what we are doing: making something up. Creating a false narrative about someone else. Doing this may help you feel more in control of your own feelings or ease your worries. Or it may keep you connected to a person you’re not ready to let go of. Yet to say, “I know they are saying this”, or “I know they are feeling that” — well, you don’t.

You don’t know what anyone else is saying or feeling or doing, and unless you’re willing to actually ask, it will continue to be a story you’re making up. You may have an idea or a feeling that this person feels or thinks this way, but until you actually know that it’s true, it’s not.

Most of the time you make assumptions to regulate your own feelings. My friend felt really hurt by her break-up. She was trying to make sense of what happened and she had questions left unanswered. Making an assumption felt like an answer; it felt better for her to assume her ex was saying or doing hurtful things than to just accept the fact that she didn’t know how he felt, that she may never understand what happened, and it really hurt.

The Assumption Fish

Imagine that you are sitting at the end of a dock on a beautiful lake. The sun is setting and you are surrounded by mountains. You have decided to go fishing. You are sitting there, casting out your line. Now imagine that every little fish in that lake is an Assumption. Every time you cast out your line you are catching one.

Those Assumption Fishies can be all kinds of stories you have made up (i.e. the way your boss thinks about you, or that your friend didn’t like your outfit, or that your ex never really cared). Whatever the Assumption Fish, it now has you hooked. It has caught your line and it is pulling you with all of its fishy might.

With my friend, I saw her throwing her line out and continuing to get pulled by the Assumption Fish of her ex. She was staying attached to these thoughts and stories to help her make sense of her pain.

Now imagine reeling your line back in and unhooking that Assumption Fish. You pull the fish off of the hook, hold in in your hand and appreciate it for what it is. It’s there to help you make sense of things, but it sure isn’t helping in a productive way. You can even thank the Assumption for what it’s trying to do, but then gently release it back into the lake. Or if you’re feeling pretty gutsy, take out your Swiss Army knife and cut that dang line — reel it back in with no fish at all. You’ve just distanced yourself from this assumption.

Feel It, Don’t Reel It

Essentially, every time you notice you are making assumptions and creating stories about someone else, you can notice it gently, appreciate that it’s there to try to ease your pain, and then release it. Very similarly to meditation, you are looking at the assumption without judgement and then you are letting it move on.

It takes practice to stop making assumptions. Sometimes you’ll reel in the Assumption Fish and it might drag you for a while. That’s okay. Other times, you might throw the line out and it just doesn’t catch anything. Some days you may never decide to go fishing at all. Either way, you are creating more power over your own reality and aligning yourself with the only thing you know to be true: how YOU feel.

So, feel the feelings. Feel the pain and confusion of whatever you may be experiencing. Ask for support. Talk to friends. Realize that you may not get the answers to the questions you have, and that maybe that’s the answer. Breathe through it. Feel it, heal it, but don’t reel it. Let that fishy free!