Coping Skills - $13 - Don't Pass Judgment on Others
This is a blog about another proactive coping skill that has helped me immeasurably over the years.
I attended a class many years ago on how to improve my relationships with others. This is a story about what happened to one of my fellow students. I'll call her "Marg."
Marg was single, young (in her late twenties or early thirties), and lived with her mother. She was attractive, but not beautiful, intelligent but not bookish. More than anything she wanted a meaningful and intimate relationship with a young man. She had been dating a handsome young man [let's call him Henry] for several months and was pleased with what was happening. She thought her young man felt the same. Then, in her view, the roof had fallen in.
Henry had asked Marg to go see a movie. After the show they were on the way out of the theater when they had a chance encounter with two couples that Henry knew. He talked with them for several minutes with Marg standing at his side. Marg waited for Henry to introduce her, but he did not do so.
When Marg arrived home and Henry had left, as Marg described it, she became distraught. She had become increasingly puzzled about why Henry had not introduced her to his friends. She thought that perhaps he was married, but finally settled on the explanation that Henry was embarrassed to be seen with her, that she was not attractive enough.
At the next class meeting she told those present about what had happened and her plans to write Henry a "Dear John" letter. The instructor asked the class to discuss the situation and see if they could come up with any other explanations for what had happened at the theater. A surprisingly large number of possible explanations were suggested. In the end, the class suggested she put the question directly to Henry.
At our next meeting Marg happily reported that she had talked to Henry and learned that he didn't know the two couples they had encountered at the theater very well. In fact, he couldn't remember the names of three of the four. He was embarrassed to admit it and hadn't introduced Marg because the fact that he couldn't remember their names would have become apparent.
About a year later, long after our class had ended, I was please to find in the newspaper a marriage announcement for Marg and Henry. I wonder if Marg recalls from time to time how close she came to scuttling her future marriage and family because of an incorrect judgment.
Marg's story, the loss that might have occurred and, in the end, the joy that did come into her life, is most certainly not trivial. As significant as it was, however, it pales in comparison with the impact of the misjudgments that are often made by family, friends, and the public about those of us that are struggling with mental illness.
When I first became ill with schizophrenia at thirteen years of age my parents concluded, based on my symptoms and family history, that I probably was mentally ill. They took me almost immediately to see a psychiatrist. My larger family, primarily my uncles and aunts, were convinced that I was lazy or acting out and needed discipline. And they did not hesitate to tell my parents they were making a serious error by not applying that discipline. For my classmates in high school, I was a crazy nerd deserving of ridicule and torment. A significant portion of the members of the church to which my family belonged made the judgment that I was possessed by Satan's demons and asked quite forcefully that I not be allowed inside the church building or to associate in any way with others of my age in or outside the church.
The lesson for me in these two stories and the substance of the proactive coping skill I have derived from these is that "I can't rightly and won't pass judgment on anyone unless I can literally enter their mind and see the ‘demons' that they are facing. I've never succeeded in entering another person's mind and so, instead of passing judgment, I wait to see what unfolds. I can't count the number of good friends I have made and not lost because of this coping skill.
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Please remember, this writing reflects my own experience and opinions. If you, or a loved one, are experiencing the symptoms of schizophrenia, or any other mental illness, you should seek professional assistance.