The Meaning we Make Up (part one)
What I mean is this. When an event occurs—particularly if it’s surprising, we’re not content simply being surprised.
We have to figure out what it means. The stronger your “TJ” on Myers-Briggs, the greater this pressure. But, TJ or not, we’re thrown to make the senseless sensible.
So, we demand a meaning.
If I was abused by my mom, suffered a terrible accident in childhood, experienced a forceps injury at birth, or lost my dad at age seven, before long, I’ll arrive at an understanding why misfortune has befallen me. And, if I avoided these tragedies, I will not have escaped unscathed. Because being human, raised by humans, befriended and rejected by humans, we will experience difficulty, harm, or worse.
The thing we can tolerate even less than being hurt in life is not knowing why.
So, if there’s no rational, justifiable explanation for our plight, guess what humans do?
We make one up!
Rather that live in the ambiguity of not knowing why this-or-that has befallen us, we make something up. “I was hated as a kid because I’m un-loveable.” “God has it in for me… maybe a curse from my ancestors.” “I’m so unlucky, I attract tragedy.”
Often we’re “helped” in this making-up-meaning process by influential voices (parents, siblings, teachers) early in life. Once we grasp a particular meaning, we almost always hold it so tightly that it becomes intertwined with our own identity—and how we interpret life’s events.
Let’s say, in first grade, you’re labeled an “underperformer” by an influential teacher. A couple years later, you choke in the late rounds of a spelling bee. Then, you’re injured on the eve of a ballet recital, and can’t perform. Despite dozens of other experiences where you performed admirably, these few stand out to you. They support the thesis that as an “underperformer”, you find ways to sabotage almost certain success.
As you move through the decades that follow, you experience a normal mix of accomplishments, failures, and successes. To make sense—particularly of the disappointments and near-misses—you interpret these through the lens of self-sabotage.
As a coach to pastors, I listen for the meanings my clients attach to themselves and their circumstances.
Invited to suspend these meanings, the client is freed to consider the events as they are. While Freud apparently never said “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar” it remains true.
Some events are just events. Setbacks happen. As does betrayal, difficulty, harm, and loss.
Still wonder why?
Try Genesis 3.
Coaching Distinctions #22
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