Letting Go of Assumptions

posted in: Lifeskills | 5


Image by Janet Lesley Powers

Just recently, a close friend and I agreed to let go of our assumptions about each other and to focus on the potential ‘goodness’ in each other. We realised that by making our own, sometimes covert assumptions – through the filters of our own beliefs – we were spoiling our relationship. We risked seeing each other in an untrue way through our false assumptions, and then creating unrealistic expectations and judgements – including some negative ones – about each other.

Assumptions Are Not Who We Truly Are

It’s so easy for us to make those assumptions. My inquiring mind always wants to understand other people and their behaviour. However, when this is not possible, I risk falling into the trap of making incorrect assumptions instead of remaining completely open to any potential reality which may exist.

When we don’t (or can’t, depending on circumstances) openly seek understanding about our fellow humans, we automatically create assumptions from our ego. We make up stories, based on our beliefs, often backed by our own internal fears and anxiousness and the mind’s databank of memories. It can be tempting for our mind to adopt assumptions which ‘justify’ that others are less than us in some way. In our culture we’re conditioned to look for faults in others, while often believing we don’t have those characteristics ourselves. Yet it may be, that those around us are reflecting precisely what we need to be more aware of in our own personalities!

Our ego (our sense of self that is susceptible to fear-based thoughts) may be tempted to make assumptions about another that puts us on a pedestal in order to feel better about ourselves. Alternatively, we may accept and agree with negative projections from someone, because it validates our personal beliefs about our low self-esteem and unworthiness.

Yet none of these options are who we truly are, or who our fellow humans truly are either. All our beliefs are changeable and malleable. At our core, we are that unchangeable truth and love that many of us strive to become. We don’t actually need to become it. It is here, within each of us now, and always has been here. All those malleable, yet seemingly ‘concrete’ beliefs and assumptions have covered it over.

Separation and Judgments Feel Toxic

For quite a few years, I enjoyed the company of another friend who was caring, sensitive and generous in many ways. We enjoyed being in nature and sharing our hobbies of photography and art. We even enjoyed a week’s vacation on an idyllic island. However, this friend sometimes entered into emotional dramas when viewing people’s behavior that she perceived as unjust or unfair.

Occasionally this friend shocked me. After a nice day together sharing the same interests, I would sometimes receive a vindictive letter about how bad I had been to her. It felt to me as though she had suddenly plunged an emotional knife in my back and twisted it in the wound. There had been no indication on our day out together that she’d felt that way, when we were getting along fine. This scenario happened a few times and caused long breaks in our friendship over the years. Our habitual pattern was to come back together after some months (with no apology offered) and be our familiar, friendly selves again for a while.

The third time it happened, I felt I couldn’t take it anymore. Yet I didn’t like experiencing separation in this bad-feeling, toxic-experience way. It was very puzzling to me; I could not explain or understand these sudden attacks of vindictiveness. I desperately wanted to understand the cause behind those attacks, so it would be easier for me to evoke compassion and forgiveness for my friend.

Forgiving No Matter What

women making assumptions
Image by Silvarita, Pixabay

I finally decided that for my inner peace and well-being I would forgive and love my friend ‘no matter what’. I did not contact her, but I was at peace in a place of forgiveness and compassion, no longer needing to understand exactly what had happened. Soon afterwards, my friend phoned me and invited me for a meal. She said she wanted to be open and learn more about me. It had usually been the other way around in our relationship. Our combined willingness to change led to a new, more positive phase in our friendship.

Years later, after we had both moved homes and I had emigrated, I discovered the condition of Borderline Personality Disorder. This seemed to describe my friend’s behavior. She had experienced such bad abuse in her childhood that her memory blanked out the details. I will never know for sure that BPD was the true cause. I’m simply grateful that through her, I learned the values and benefits of forgiving, ‘no matter what’.

We May Never Know People’s Backstory

Indeed, we may never know the whole backstory about where others are coming from, or why their behaviour, characteristics or decisions are not as we want them to be. It may not be our business to know that, or to ‘fix’ them, or to demand that they change. It’s our personal response-ability to have the courage to change if their behaviour triggers negative emotions in us. Sometimes we’re able to have a frank discussion, to be courageously vulnerable, to openly share, and truly understand each other. But if we try to understand without mutual inquiry and honest sharing, we will be coming from the filters of our own programmed beliefs. We will risk being incorrect and making up our own stories with yet more incorrect assumptions. Our relationship will become more complicated, with less clarity and honesty.

Assumptions That We Encounter

Here’s a simple example of making assumptions that many of us encounter. We’re driving along quite happily in a responsible manner, when someone cuts us up, swerves in front of us and nearly causes a bad accident. We could easily get mad at them, react with road rage, or at least call them out in our minds for being totally ‘wrong’ in the way they behaved.

But we don’t know the real reason behind their behavior. We don’t know if they are racing to a sick child in hospital. We don’t know if they’ve had a difficult time at home and now, they’re late for work. And we don’t know if they are simply so hurt and angry from something in their life, that their hurt emerges as anger every day in many ways, with no regard or care for others. We will never know for sure why that driver cut us up.

Wouldn’t it be better then, for us to exercise pre-emptive love – a form of forgiveness up-front – and know there is a reason for others’ behaviour, yet we can’t know what it is? Can we simply accept, in ourselves and in others, that seemingly negative, uncaring behaviour is always because of previous hurt and pervading fear, even if the person we observe does not realise it themselves? Is this where we find true empathy and compassion?

We Can Let Go of Assumptions

We have a free choice to be simply loving, accepting, and compassionate without knowing exactly why people are the way they are. If we do not allow ourselves to be triggered by that reckless driver or anyone else displaying negative, judgmental or even scary behaviour, we nurture our own well-being. I know this can be extremely challenging sometimes! Yet if we are courageously willing to take this approach, we will free ourselves, to carry on with our lives without letting such things continue to trigger us or spoil our day.

My purview is that everything on the spectrum of ‘negative behaviour’, from poor driving and inconsideration for others, right through to mass shooters and killers, is due to fear-based beliefs that we carry, consciously or unconsciously. Our fear-based beliefs sap our attention; we then have less attention to devote to our own well-being, or to care about those around us. As I’ve already mentioned, such beliefs arise originally from personal hurt or collective inherent conditioning, which continue to arouse our fears, distractions, anxiousness, hurt, and reactiveness. To understand more about this, please visit my previous Silver Blog: Is Everyone Doing the Best They Can?

Compassion Does Not Mean Condoning

Being compassionate does not mean condoning or tolerating behavior that is hurtful or dangerous, or that we should accept unwanted behaviour in our lives. It can be appropriate to set boundaries, to say a firm and honest No, and to take further measures for the safety of all concerned when needed.

When we invoke compassion about what may have driven people’s negative behaviour ‘no matter what’, we are less likely to fight the consequences of their fear and hurt with yet more fear, hurt and judgments. We are more likely to help transform a situation, than to perpetuate it with some sort of egoic battle.

“Love and forgiveness is not for the faint-hearted,” said the Indian mystic Meher Baba, “but someone has to stand up and say it stops with me. I will not pass on to my children this sorrow”.[1]

Image by moonzigg, Pixabay

As we consciously notice our feelings, we become the witness, a presence which is much more than our hurt and upset egoic little self. From that more centred space we have the power to change our perspectives willingly.

When we experience negative behaviour from others, or we notice negative feelings and perceptions within ourselves, simply know they’re caused by hurt and fear sourced within us. These are never who we truly are.

Forgiveness and Self-Compassion Nurture Our Well-Being

In his video, The Ancient Heart of Forgiveness[1], Jack Kornfield explains how our practice of forgiveness of others is not primarily done for them. It’s done for us so that we don’t imprison hate for others in our own hearts. Jack Kornfield says “Forgiveness shifts us from the small separate sense of ourselves to a capacity to renew, to let go, to live in love”. Kornfield also offers a meditative exercise in forgiveness at the end of his video, and some interesting stories along the way that illustrate his wise guidance.

Kirsten Neff, an expert in compassion, says in her TEDx Talk[2] that practicing radical self-compassion is key to our well-being. Only then are we fully enabled to practice forgiveness, with unconditional love and compassion for others.

Willing To Let Go?

Where in your life do you make assumptions that do not serve you or those around you?

Are you willing to let go of your story – to be open to a new, compassionate story that gives you inner peace?

Or perhaps you’re willing to be at peace with yourself, attached to no story at all.


[1] Jack Kornfield (YouTube): The Ancient Heart of Forgiveness


And a transcript of Excerpts from Jack Kornfield’s lecture: The Ancient Heart of Forgiveness.


[2] The Space Between Self-Esteem and Self Compassion: Kristin Neff at TEDxCentennialParkWomen (YouTube).

Janet Lesley Powers


About the Author

Janet Lesley PowersJanet Lesley Powers is a Certified Transformational Life and Leadership Coach and Certified Group Facilitator.
She transitioned into coaching in 2007, following a successful career in conservation policy for a world-wide non-profit organisation.
Janet coaches clients online and in person, dividing her time between extensive travel in her RV and her base in the Washington DC Metro area, United States.
You can reach Janet by messaging the Open Community Facebook Group: Living As Our Truth: Reclaiming Our Authentic Power.
Janet also manages a closed Facebook group with the same name.


Also by Janet: Is Everyone Doing the Best They Can?


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5 Responses

  1. Yvonne

    Thank you for sharing. Beautifully written and has afforded me such clarity in understanding forgiveness.

  2. Mike Poole

    Very insightful Jan. Thanks to your previous mention of this subject I was recently able to stop myself reacting and just forgive a long-standing friend who sometimes gives advice in a very negative and deprecating way. It was the first time I was able to think to myself “that is coming from her own lack of self-worth”, and just let it go.

  3. Cathy R

    Beautifully written and honestly expressed, Janet. The more we become aware of our own reactions and responses and focus on transforming ourselves rather than changing or making assumptions about others, the closer we move to peace. Write on, Sister!❤️

  4. Ron

    Your realizations are illuminated quite well through your life experiences that led to them. Continue sharing and evolve on . . .

  5. DT

    Excellent article. It’s amazing how courageously sharing even the most vulnerable moments from one’s personal life—done w such poignancy, accountability, honesty..can really stimulate reflection in those of us reading a piece lime this about our own lives. Janet is really able to bring it home w well crafted references, thoughts, how-tos from a healthy place, and question offering for readers to consider. A great follow up to her previous article about asking if we are really all doing the best we can.

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