Indifference, Insecurity, and Assumption Transference

I am the biggest fan of The Weekly Dream on the planet. The most recent Dream on General Indifference has sparked some very interesting discussion on and off of the site. Rather than post an obnoxiously long comment, I thought I respond with a post that sums up my feelings on this topic. After all, that is my right as this site’s owner :-).

Attention is important. What is interesting to me, how people respond to it. Some people respond differently to the same levels of attention. That is not problematic, except in cases where we expect other people to respond in the same way(s) we do. A very basic yet illustrative example here is eye contact (similar to what Steve alluded to in the Dream). Some, when having another make intense eye contact with them, become nervous, begin fidgeting, and break the contact at the first opportunity. Others are compelled to return the stare, perhaps more intensely than the one they received. Is either response right or wrong? I don’t think so. Why is the same not true in relationships?

For me, the amount of time I spend on something/someone does not many times translate to my level of love for them. If that was the case, I would never leave my grandparents house. Yet we expect people to do things because “they should love us enough” to do it? I don’t know if that always works.

“If you loved me more, you’d…”

I’m not so sure that I could make the above statement. It is based upon a problem that all-too-often rears its vicious face in relationships: assumption transference. This can be defined as having your own notions on something, and then trying to force another individual or group to live within your notion. What’s worse is that often times when I’ve talked to people about this topic, they often reveal that the reason they said it was because they were unhappy with their own emotions. What that means to me is that they were trying to have someone else do something that they themselves did not even feel good doing! The example here is something like, “I love you so much that I didn’t eat all day. If you loved me more, or as much, you’d do the same.” You can replace “didn’t eat all day” with just about anything: “didn’t go to class,” “didn’t take that job,” “didn’t go see my family,” etc. to see my point. My questions is, why would we want to do that to our loved ones?

We need to have better ways of communicating our feelings. Perhaps we instead should be focusing on addressing the reasons we feel negatively about our emotions in the first place. In the above example, maybe the parties can talk about why they feel bad about the things they do because they “love each other so much.” This will likely be a very revealing conversation, so it will only be successful if it is honest and does not contain accusations. If you’re lying to the person, and cool with that, y’all shouldn’t be together in the first place (and probably won’t be together much longer). If you start accusing people of things, you’ll be in trouble because the accusee will be spending their energy defending him or herself instead of addressing the negative feelings that were the motivation for the conversation.

Now to the “Cater to you” sidebar. Let me submit a question and a theory to those who find the lyrics troublesome: do you view your current/previous relationship [or relationships in general] as a power struggle? As some abstract (or concrete) competition or back-and-forth game of 1-up? If yes, then I think I can understand why you would take issue with the ideas of this concept. However, not viewing these intimate interactions as struggles for power or dominance can unlock the door to mutual catering in a way that is fulfilling to all parties involved.

Why are relationships seen as power struggles so much? My theory is that this perspective is founded upon personal insecurity. If I feel weak and I am uncomfortable with my feeling(s) of weakness, then I will be on the defensive to try to stop anyone from exerting “power” over me. Likewise, if I feel strong, I may seek out opportunities to demonstrate my “strength” over others. The commonality between these two extremes is that they are founded upon insecurity. To feel one or the other is not insecure in and of itself. To feel one or the other and to project those feelings upon other people to “protect” or “exert” yourself is demonstration of insecurity.

Now a concrete example. Someone who feels weak will have a problem doing something for another person because they feel that it makes them look/seem weak. Also, they may be hesitant to do these things because they fear being exploited as a result of that “weakness.” This adds another element, also introduced by insecurity, which is distrust. It says, “I know that if I was in your position and you were dealing with a ‘weakling’ like me, then I’d exploit you.” This is what I mean by projecting your insecurities onto others. This sort of assumption transference leads to lots of misunderstanding and miscommunication and unhappiness. The assumptions, especially when they are wrong, will then lead to your counterpart becoming defensive, and then everybody loses, including the ‘weakling.’

How do we address this? By changing how we view our interactions. If you see your relationship as a chance to exert power over another person, that perspective may need to be re-evaluated. Similarly, if you see your relationship as a place in which you feel weak, perhaps that relationship should be re-evaluated and you should focus more on what is the basis for your feelings of weakness. My pastor has been talking about family and marriage over the past two months, and he can be paraphrased as saying, “real, functional relationships cannot be power struggles because in these cases two people become one and you cannot have a power struggle with yourself.” This is simplified, but it is true nonetheless. Does your right eye engage in a power struggle with your left eye over which will dominate your vision? They work together without struggling. The same can be true for people and their interactions.

We need to get to a point where we can face our personal insecurities and not pass them onto others. This would have implications not only in personal relationships, but in group social and even political interactions (you know I had to tie this back in to social and political issues somehow :-)).

Just my thoughts. I’ll let Steve stick to writing the Dreams from now on.

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About Garlin Gilchrist II

I'm from Detroit. I created Detroit Diaspora and am a National Campaign Director at MoveOn.org. I currently live in Washington, DC with my beautiful wife Ellen. After graduating with degrees in Computer Engineering and Computer Science from the University of Michigan, I became a Software Engineer at Microsoft. By day, I helped build SharePoint into the fastest growth product in the company's history. On my personal time, I sought out opportunities to connect my technical skills with community building efforts across the country. This led to my co-founding The SuperSpade: Black Thought at the Highest Level, a leading Black political blog. I served as Social Media Manager for the 2008 Obama campaign in Washington, and then became Director of New Media at the Center for Community Change. Today I work at the crossroads of traditional political organizing and online activism. I speak before diverse audiences on empowerment in revolutionary new organizing spaces, increasing civic engagement & participation though emerging technologies and protecting civil rights in the age of the Internet.

4 responses to “Indifference, Insecurity, and Assumption Transference”

  1. Y says :

    You and Steve deserve a standing ovation. You two hit the ball right out of the park with this post! I love it! What can I possibly say? Steve you started it and you, SuperSpade, finished it. I’m really feelin’ this one. :)

    You’re right, BrownSugarFlyGirl, there are many Prov 31 women out here & we are awaiting the arrival of our Boaz.

    Continue to be blessed you guys. You are doing an AWESOME job with this site!

  2. "The Governor" says :

    Way to finish it up. I could not have said it better myself. I always tell people that we all have “different love languages”. The way I might express my feelings is going to be an extension of myself, but other individuals whose language is different might not be able to receive it in the way I communicate it. Case and point, a lot of men may show their woman that they care by their actions and sacrifices, but not words. The woman may still want to hear “I love you” from time to time, but that kind of expression amy not be his style. So, we should understand our own modes of expression and those we deal with. I think that is “emotional intelligence” at its finest. But I gotta send a link to this as a weekly bonus. Great way to give it the capstone.

  3. Free says :

    Catering to someone is beautiful. However, I can understand how one might feel that some people take it wrong & exploit it. It really is sad to say, but sometimes the worse you treat a person, the better they are to you. (Same thing goes for the female attraction to “the bad boy” image.) I’m not saying it’s right, just that it happens.

    I like the concept tho of waiting for Boaz. I’m going to hang on to that one. Thanks.

  4. Dayna C. says :

    Garlin.

    I really appreciate your post, because I do think there are issues in relationships that are based upon the transference of lack and insecurities onto each of the parties involved. I think that this is what creates most if not all problems in relationships, there are a couple things, though, I’d like to help you address.

    The issue is not ‘if you love me enough’ the issue is in your expression of that love. There is no issue in catering to another person but it shouldn’t be a one way street. I think what the person who has posed the question of ‘if you love me so much why don’t you’ may feel as though they are not receiving the love that they are giving. In no way am I saying you should give with the expectation of receiving love from another person, but when two people agree to actively participate in a relationship based in love, reciprocity is necessary. You made the comment “Yet we expect people to do things because ‘they should love us enough’ to do it?” And the truth of the matter is we do. There are two types of expectations, ones which are healthy and benefit all parties involved, and others which are the result of fear and perceived lack and one person blaming these things on the other. A healthy expectation is ‘I expect my significant other to be honest’ or “I expect reciprocity in our relationship where we are both working towards mutual support and respect.” An unhealthy expectation is like the one you proposed “I love you so much that I didn’t eat all day. If you loved me more, or as much, you’d do the same.” I do expect my significant other to love and respect me enough to treat me like I deserve to be treated. How I perceive this treatment and their effort is another story. I think unhealthy expectations become involved after that, after the other person has abided by the agreements set forth in your commitment. Then it becomes an issue of perception. So who is really at fault when the issues of ‘if you love me so much’ come up? Is it the person who is not giving with the level of effort and consistency as the other person or is it the person who is perceiving what the other is doing as not good enough? Or is it both? It is easy to make this a one sided argument and I am sure that we tend to take sides on issues that we feel is most relevant to our own experiences. But maybe as men and women who are attempting to have relationships based on mutual love and respect we should sometimes try to relate to the other party. I think then it will end the finger pointing and help to foster those relationships that we desire. Because when it’s all said and done we are just trying to experience the same thing – each other, not the lack and fear that we allow to poison our dearest relationships.

    Dayna C.

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