Trying not to hurt someone, and other self-fulfilling prophecies

It is almost the plot of every romantic comedy and about half of all dramas: X knows/thinks/finds out something about Y but doesn’t say anything. Ridiculous things ensue that would never have happened if X was just honest about the situation from the beginning, but hey, then we wouldn’t have a plot, would we? Y eventually finds out and feels betrayed/hurt/angry – and much worse than had the information been effectively communicated in the first place.  We are often careful about what we say to the people we love. Sometimes this is sensible, there’s no need to be an ass, after all, but usually when there’s a real tension, and often insecure attachment, trying not to hurt someone goes beyond politeness into dishonesty and manipulation.  We are actually trying to escape taking responsibility for reality, and we might be deluding ourselves on the road to even more pain and destruction.

trying not to hurt someone walking on eggshells

It is one of life’s great ironies that being well-meaning often leads to making a much bigger mess.  The little wall of dominoes we build up in order to protect people we care about from what we actually think is just waiting to cascade into chaos.  If only things were simple and easy. If only contradictions cancelled themselves out and disappeared in a puff of logic. Most of the time we are not even honest with ourselves. We convince ourselves we are doing the right thing when really, trying not to hurt someone is actually trying not to hurt yourself. No matter how altruistic you think you are, you’re acting in your own self interest and avoiding potential stress/pain/guilt.

Speaking of guilt… what I call guilt-cake is another fear-based self fulfilling prophecy. This is evident in people dieting in a conventional way (or giving up smoking). People start by feeling guilty about their weight and fearing the social/personal stigma and so on. This motivates the restrictive diet. The diet causes stress which causes people to feel bad which causes them to feel entitled to eat cake to feel better. Cake causes more guilt which causes more cake which causes more guilt. Here is a carefully constructed diagram:

guilt-cake

If guilt is a secondary emotion based on fear, as we have been led to believe, then perhaps all this fear stuff is self-fulfilling when left unchecked. This sentiment is expressed by Wait But Why in their post How to Pick Your Life Partner:

Fear is one of the worst possible decision-makers when it comes to picking the right life partner. Unfortunately, the way society is set up, fear starts infecting all kinds of otherwise-rational people, sometimes as early as the mid-twenties. The types of fear our society (and parents, and friends) inflict upon us—fear of being the last single friend, fear of being an older parent, sometimes just fear of being judged or talked about—are the types that lead us to settle for a not-so-great partnership. The irony is that the only rational fear we should feel is the fear of spending the latter two thirds of life unhappily, with the wrong person—the exact fate the fear-driven people risk because they’re trying to be risk-averse.

Of course, it all comes back to fear, so be careful if you’re making decisions out of fear, they may not be the best ones. Human beings are not very good at dealing with fear.  The protection patterns we develop unconsciously through watching our parents and society, as children, are often not very helpful, in fact, they are awfully dysfunctional and account for a lot of what is wrong with this world.  The end.

Oh wait, not the end; there needs to be some advice. Okay, so here’s the thing: be honest if you possibly can. Don’t be an ass, but try not to hide the truth either. If your significant other is really insecure, you’re not doing them any favors by propping up their insecurity with lies and obfuscation. If you can’t work out how to communicate effectively and openly, you may both need therapy.  But really, who am I to judge? I’d just rather not have to cringe at the obvious chain of events leading to relationship train-wreck that comes from trying (too hard) not to hurt someone. Oh yeah, and don’t feel guilty for eating cake. Break the cycle.

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