A few days ago I had dinner with a girlfriend who is also a single mum. She's recently starting dating a new man, and when she described him to me alarm bells started ringing. I could read between the lines, I could sense her tension and uncertainty, it was so clear to me the way she was compromising.
I didn't say much. It's not my place to challenge her. But it got me thinking about the numerous times close friends of mine challenged me when I was dating someone who wasn't good for me. The guy was a million shades of wrong, and was making me far more miserable than happy, but I couldn't see it.
And why not? Because it is almost impossible to see ourselves objectively. We are too caught up in our own heads.
Many of us are tremendously emotionally intelligent about other people. We can deconstruct their spin. We can analyse their motivations. We can cut through their bullshit. We can give advice! Fabulous advice! We can show them the way forward!
But when it comes to helping ourselves out of a quagmire, we are completely stuck. We can't see our own patterns, because they are the veil through which we view ourselves. It's like discerning the Matrix when you're living in it.
You can't know what you can't even perceive.
Recently I discovered a trick to help me see myself the way I can see other people. I've found it to be incredibly useful during those times when I have found it difficult to be objective about my own situation, in regard to a relationship, my career, a parenting issue or a personal decision.
I write down how I feel, what has happened, what I need to decide. I write it down in detail, in the first person, for example:
I'm sure I did the wrong thing. I'm sure this is going to ruin everything. I spoke to her, and she told me it won't, and so far nothing has happened, but no-one can come back from a mistake like this.
And then I go through what I've written, give myself a new name, and change it all into the third person.
Amy was sure she had done the wrong thing. She was sure it was going to ruin everything. She spoke to Sarah, who told her it wasn't going to affect anything. And, so far, nothing had happened. But Amy was sure no-one could come back from a mistake like this.
Then I leave it. I file it away and ignore it for a day or two. And then I come back to it, and read it as though it really was the reflections of someone else.
And I can see it for what it is. I can see that Amy is worrying over nothing. Nothing has happened, she has been assured nothing will happen, and yet she is still worrying. Clearly, her anxiety is the issue and not the mistake.
Then I realise, Amy is me. And it is me who is worrying over nothing. It gives me the perspective I could not possibly have about myself. It gives me the emotional intelligence, the insights, that I can only have about other people.
Next time you're stuck, try it. And for my friend the single mum, I hope you try it too. I can see things that you can't, just like everyone could see things about me. Now we just have to learn to see them about ourselves.