My adorable teenage son is learning to drive. We have passed considerable time together the last few weeks, he behind the wheel and I in the passenger side serving as instructor. As you might imagine, we’ve exchanged moments of friction and anxiety as well as delight in growth and learning. While we drove along the familiar streets near home last night, I was struck by how often I commented, “Check your blindspots,” and how frequently a quick glance over his shoulder served to safeguard against collision. In my own driving history, I recall many annoyed honks and near misses from failing to check my blindspots. Over time as we develop into seasoned drivers, our early conscientious precaution gives way to habitual shortcuts. We often become reliant on the quick reflection of mirrors and sometimes misjudge our position in relation to other vehicles.
This same tendency applies to blindspots in relationships. In our relational interactions, we become reliant on the reflection of our own perceptions. We forget to check our blindspots before we accelerate into relational interactions, and are often unaware we have blindspots to begin with. We fail to put on the brakes, slow down, and take pause to stay present with self and other. We clumsily step on toes, push boundaries, poorly communicate, and fail to hear what is truly spoken from the heart of another. We fail to hear our own hearts. As humans, we all tend to create the usual distressing “collisions” again and again.
Our blindspots are usually unconscious and difficult to discern. Blindspots represent internalized structures of the mind and the emotional and behavioral derivatives of such structures. These internalized structures are occlusions in our perceptual lens that obscure our view of reality. When the mind is optimally employed under the guidance of awakened consciousness, we experience reality as a flow of unobstructed awareness and can respond effectively to what is truly present. A wonderful bestselling book I recommend to understand this in greater detail is The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer.
Here are some possible blindspots:
- false or distorted beliefs and perceptions regarding self and other
- unprocessed reservoirs of emotion
- problematic habits and addictions
- abusive behaviors toward self and other
- lack of skillful communication
- unrealistic expectations
- unresolved trauma
- inherited tendencies
- developmental arrest
- lack of integration within our being
This list is long and incomplete—navigating our blindspots can certainly feel overwhelming at times. However, with conscious consistent effort and patience with self and other, we can gain insight and understanding regarding our blindspots. We can learn tools to navigate our relationships with greater safety for all. The following process assists with identifying your relational blindspots. Do this with a notebook or journal and record any insights that arise.
1. Sit down. The key here is to be sitting in a position that increases alertness AND relaxation. Sit with your feet flat on the floor, spine straight with your pelvis higher than your knees. Use back support if you feel strained. Be gently alert in your posture.
2. Slow down your breath. Notice your breath. Is it fast and shallow? Take a deep inhale and slowly exhale. Continue to breath in a deep and slow rhythm. This increases your ability to observe and become aware of the thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and body sensations that arise in your relational interactions.
3. Slow down your thinking. When we get activated in “collision course” mode of our relationships, our mind is going faster than the speed of light. We can slow down our thinking just by observing it, just by paying attention to how fast our thoughts are racing. Observe your thoughts and make a gentle effort to slow them down with your breath.
4. Observe each thought individually. Your thoughts will give you specific clues about what you really believe about yourself and others as well as insight into your fears, intentions, and needs. Write down anything that stands out. For example, you may notice the thought, “He never listens to me.” Noticing this thought suggests you may have internalized a belief that you are NEVER heard, which can create a blindspot to the possibility that you ARE being heard.
5. Notice your emotions. You gain awareness into emotions you are feeling by observing the way they manifest in your body as sensation. Find where the sensation arises in your body; it will usually be uncomfortable. Does the intensity of the emotion seem out of proportion to the situation at hand? This may be a clue you have internalized a reservoir of unprocessed emotion as your blindspot. As you move into interaction with others, your unprocessed emotion can become suddenly activated and overwhelm your ability to accurately perceive the reality of the present moment.
6. Examine your behavior. How do you react in your collision course patterns with others? Do you get defensive? Do you criticize? Do you push boundaries to get what you want? Do you shut down and leave the room? Do you placate and please? These behaviors are all blindspots and can reinforce your other blindspots. The good news is that once we hold ourselves accountable for behaviors that don’t truly meet our needs, we can identify and implement effective behaviors and skills, strengthen our connections, and assist others to get their needs met as well.
7. Identify your true need(s). Ask yourself, “What is it I need right now that I feel I am not getting from the other?” Deeper in our awareness underneath our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are unmet needs. When I work with clients within their partnerships, I will often get responses indicating a behavior. For example, “I need more sex,” or “I need more emotional support.” Deeper exploration will reveal that under the desire for a behavior is an unmet need: the need to feel connected, the need to feel loved, the need to feel free, respected, heard, and so on. The behavior wanted from the other assists to meet this need. The caveat here is to recognize the true need rather than to attach the true need to a behavior (blindspot). When we attach need to a specific behavior as a replacement for the need, we can develop compulsive habits, addictions, and unrealistic expectations. Once we have identified our true need, we can identify a range of healthy ways to get needs met and maintain balance, interdependence with others, and realistic expectations regarding other’s ability to assist with our needs.
I experienced relational blindspots of my own during one of my son’s recent driving lessons. A car suddenly swerved into our lane and braked in front of us. My son happened to be looking to his left to change lanes. I let out a dramatic holler, “WATCH OUT…” The car was a safe distance in front of us and quickly swerved out of our lane well before my son even needed to brake. He was annoyed and asked me for “the hundredth time” to not raise my voice and holler, especially with giving no indication why I am hollering—a reasonable request. I had overreacted and poorly communicated (two blindspots). However, I noticed my mind immediately launched into a defense. I opened my mouth to protest his point, but then took a breath, stayed present with him, and listened instead. Although my hollering made sense to me in a moment of alarm, he assisted me to see my hollering did little to help him and instead incited a feeling of panic. After affirming his need for relaxed instruction, I grinned and suggested that next time I POINT at the offending vehicle AND holler. He quickly softened and we both laughed. We felt connected and he felt heard.
The process of navigating our relational blindspots can be challenging to do on our own. We often need the assistance of a compassionate other. Sometimes we need deep healing, tools, and guided practice under the facilitation of a trained professional to improve our collision patterns. Please contact me if you feel I could help; I would be honored to assist…