It's not you, it's me

The most important thing you need to know about relationships.

Photo courtesy of Adi Goldstein

Photo courtesy of Adi Goldstein

There is an old Seinfeld episode in which George Costanza's girlfriend breaks up with him by explaining, "It's not you, it's me."

George becomes highly agitated upon hearing this declaration since he often uses that same line as an easy get-out-of-jail-free break up tactic.

In other words, he doesn't truly believe the sentiment but simply uses it as an efficient way to end a relationship without push-back.

The irony, however, is that no truer words have been spoken...and certainly not by George.

This can be a challenging concept to understand, particularly since we are conditioned to look outside of ourselves to explain how we feel.

Within a relationship, it certainly seems as if we are responding to another person by how they present themselves to us.

We are here. They are there.

They say words. We respond.

Pretty straightforward, non?

It seems logical then to point outside of ourselves to the actions, words, and demeanor of another to explain why we are feeling the way we are feeling and why we are thinking and responding the way we are thinking and responding.

For example,

imagine being introduced to a person at a gathering and rather than meet your gaze, they cast their eyes about the room.

You'd make certain conclusions about that person, wouldn't you?

Probably.

Wouldn't everyone?

Probably.

But not everyone would come to the same conclusion.

Varying impressions would be drawn by any number of people in the same circumstances.

What does this tell us?

It tells us that the truth of what we experience doesn't lie outside of ourselves.

It tells us that the person we are responding and relating to is the version that we create within our own mind.

More specifically,

information about that person and circumstance is transmitted from our senses to our mind. This information is instantly processed through an internal filter system calibrated to consider our current mood, thoughts (in the moment) and past experiences. Once processed, the mind settles, rather automatically, on a response based on all of these considerations. 

In other words, we are never directly experiencing the person as they are in the outside world

We are only ever experiencing a personalized version based on the thoughts and feelings we have within our mind, in that moment.

Not convinced? Let's try this:

Have you ever met a person who reminded you of someone you disliked in the past?

Suppose when you meet this person you are in a low mood with a lot of busy, heavy thinking. How open do you imagine you'd be to developing a relationship with them?

Probably not very.

Suppose, on the other hand, you were in a high mood with very little on your mind when you met this person. How open do you imagine you'd be given this lighter feeling?

Probably a lot more.

Same person (external).

Same circumstances (external).

Different experience due to your own internal thoughts and feelings.

So what does this all mean and why is it relevant?

Well, good ol' George Costanza was unwittingly astute when he declared,

"it's not you, it's me." 

While George didn't understand where his experience of a relationship was truly coming from...that understanding is critical to finding clarity within a relationship.

Without this understanding, it is easy to innocently develop painful patterns and habits that cause needless suffering and emotional pain.

By mistakenly assuming that relationships are experienced directly from the outside-in, we create a confusion of mind that can lead to blame and resentment, miscommunication and rash decision-making.

Understanding that our experiences are only and ever created within our mind, based on our own thoughts and feelings, in the moment, enables and empowers us to appreciate and understand whatever feelings may be coming up for us.

Too often we attribute uncomfortable feelings to the other person, innocently failing to recognize our role in the experience.

Uncomfortable feelings are the result of uncomfortable thoughts that are fostered within our own mind.

Uncomfortable feelings become exacerbated when we unknowingly piggyback them onto other uncomfortable past experiences (thoughts and feelings) that were never fully owned, understood and released.

By understanding where our experience truly comes from, we are better able to consciously recognize the gift within our feelings - whether they be comfortable or not.

In so doing, we can trust that, when left to their own device, our thoughts and feelings will naturally settle thereby enabling a return to a clear state of mind that is free to determine the course of any relationship.

So, yeah, it's not you, it's me.