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Clearing the Lens: A Secret to Deepening Relationships
How to improve relationships and help others to see you with greater clarity.
About 34 years ago, I was diagnosed with clinical depression, which turned into a five-year journey that could fill a book. Being in our twenties at the time, Melissa and I found ourselves navigating uncharted territory. This was in the late 1980s, so mental illness was not discussed as it is today. The stigma of mood disorders in those days was strong and harsh. Melissa and I immediately immersed ourselves in learning everything about my brain disorder.
Educating ourselves about depression helped us to understand the ignorant comments we were getting from the people we had talked to about my diagnosis. One relative told me, “What I do when I’m feeling depressed is pull myself up by my bootstraps and get on with my day.” Another friend told me, “You just need to buck up and be a man. Everyone gets down now and then. Just push through it.”
After meeting the public stigma and ignorance around mental illness, Melissa and I kept our struggles relatively private. It was easier than dealing with the hurtful comments until we could educate ourselves to teach others what we had learned.
I eventually got better five years after my diagnosis. I just celebrated my 29th anniversary of the day the depression lifted on September 17th. Getting better felt like a second chance at life, a rebirth in many ways. (More on this in a future article.)
A powerful byproduct of our experience with depression was that we learned the power we have to attract events and circumstances into our lives simply by focusing our thoughts in a specific direction. We discovered that if we talk about what is good in our lives, we tend to attract good events and circumstances in the future. Yet, if we focus our thoughts and conversations around what we don’t like or don’t want, we tend to attract more of those circumstances into our lives.
Most of us remember when a schoolteacher would ask for a volunteer to come up to the blackboard to answer a question, we’d silently wish, “Don’t pick me! Don’t pick me!” I eventually learned that the more fearful I was about getting chosen, the more likely the teacher would say, “Bob, why don’t you show us how to solve that equation?”
I learned there’s a connection between my thoughts and my emotional state around that thought. For instance, whenever I was upset about something somebody said to me, the more I complained out loud about it, the more I attracted more of the same into my life. It also never made me feel better by talking about it. Quite the opposite, I always felt worse for reliving the conversation or event. So, focusing my thoughts and discussions on what was positive in my life made more sense.
Melissa and I adopted this mindset during the five years I struggled with depression, so family and friends noticed that we rarely aired what was troubling us. Additionally, we did not discuss our trials and tribulations with my depression in conversations with loved ones because getting together with other people was a much-needed escape from it. We preferred to talk about their lives, the weather, sports, or any topic unrelated to our day-to-day reality.
Between our initial avoidance of hurtful remarks about depression and our choice not to talk about our troubles, we earned the unintended reputation of being “private” people, which hosts a myriad of reactions from loved ones. The most common effect is that people think you don’t want their support, which is never the case.
In the years that followed, despite a conscious effort to keep our friends and family informed about challenges in our lives, we’ve never been able to shake the reputation we have of being private. Case in point: when Melissa recently received a challenging health diagnosis in June, she told some family members about it but asked that they not tell anyone before she had a chance to tell her mother about it personally, which took about a week. Yet word spread about Melissa as if it were a secret. Recently, months later, I got a text from a family member saying she wanted to call Melissa when she heard the news but wanted to respect her privacy, adding, “I’ve always known you to be private people.”
I responded, “From this day forward, if you ever hear something about us, please know that hearing from you will always be cherished.” This, of course, is true for anyone who loves us. Who doesn’t appreciate getting loving support?
This text—and the realization that we’re still viewed as private people 29 years later—led me to question my perceptions of others. Specifically, it’s made me think about how I might be holding others to the standards of the past. Said another way, I believe it’s common for us to keep people locked inside frames, even if they’ve changed.
As a private investigator, a common experience was gathering witness statements from people who had witnessed an accident or crime. Often, there were multiple witnesses to the same event. Yet, time after time, whenever I obtained statements from five different witnesses to a car accident, for example, I would have five different versions of what happened. Some similarities overlapped, but the discrepancies always fascinated me.
These witness statements showed me how much we human beings project our personal lives into our interpretations of what we experience. Let me say that people’s prejudices, cultural differences, political opinions, spiritual beliefs, and even financial status can filter one’s interpretations of what is happening right before their eyes.
On this note, I first became a published author in 1999 when I wrote a book about my depression to inspire others (no longer in print). When the book came out, several local newspapers had written articles about it. I was on Boston television news stations. And I gave speeches at major hospitals in Massachusetts, which were highly publicized. Yet a lawyer I worked with asked if he could tell a colleague about my story. He said he wasn’t sure if I wanted him to tell anyone. I asked him, “If I were keeping it a secret, do you think I’d have written a book about it?”
He had read the book. He owned a copy. Still, he could not determine if I was keeping my story a secret. Sometimes, the evidence is right before our eyes, but we’re unable to see things logically. Perhaps this lawyer could not fathom telling people about something so personal as mental illness. He projected what he would do onto me (keep it hidden), even when all the evidence suggested otherwise.
I accept that Melissa and I probably earned our labels as private people due to our coping mechanism of protecting ourselves during my depression. Likewise, we might be responsible for holding that “private” frame around us by choosing not to focus our conversations on the negative. But I tell you this story to inspire you to view your friends and family members differently.
Is it possible that a few people you’ve known for years are no longer behaving as they once did? Is it also possible that the signs of their change have been right before you, yet you saw what you expected to see rather than what was evident?
I believe change can occur the moment we become aware that it’s possible. So whether you want to see your loved ones more accurately without the lens of their past behavior or you want others to view you more accurately because you have changed, nothing helps to remove the borders that frame perceptions more than facing them head-on. By this, I mean open the lines of communication and discuss it with those who mean the most to you.
I know this isn’t always possible. I’ve had a lot of experience with loved ones dealing with addiction who kept telling me that they changed, so I opened the door to more pain for myself. That said, my father was one person who eventually quit drinking after a decade of revolving detox and rehab. He’s an outlier who deserved a new frame. I can tell you that the last twelve years of his life were a blessing compared to the previous twelve.
I don’t believe everyone changes, but I do think some people who have changed are held to their past ways of being. It’s a concept worth considering. How might our relationships improve if we cleared the lens through which we view them to notice a new, evolved person before us? I’d love to hear your thoughts about it.
Bob Olson is the host of Afterlife TV, author of two books, Answers About The Afterlife and The Magic Mala, and creator of the reputable directory of psychics and mediums, BestPsychicDirectory.com. His newest venture is Bob Olson Connect, where you can read Bob’s articles before they become books.
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