Sunday, January 3, 2010

Confusion in Your Life and Mine, Part 3

Introduction (repeated in each post from 1/3/10 on)
Continuing the discussion of ways in which people defend against confusion, based on my book, Lethal American Confusion. In the book I dealt with confusion in governments and large organizations. Here in the blog, I'll apply those ideas to ordinary life.
Some key points:
1. Many confusion-defenses fail to reduce confusion, or actually make it worse.
2. This sets up a vicious cycle: Confusion sources, which lead to: Defenses, which lead to: Failure to resolve sources, which leads to: More defenses, etc., on and on
3. One of the most common --and malignant-- defenses is
When you find-an-enemy, you bury your own confusion about a given issue, and project it onto the other side: not we, but they are confused. Of course the other side thinks the same about you. (In addition to confusion we project other negatives onto the enemy: they are evil, scheming, stupid,
End of Introduction

Part 3: More confusion sources in everyday life

In addition to overload and complexity, discussed in Part 2, we need to look at ambiguity and personal conflicts. 

1. Ambiguity pervades many personal dilemmas. For example, does she or he really love you? Sometimes it seems so, other times you're not so sure. You feel uncertain, and you may convey some of that uncertainty directly by asking, or indirectly, via the vibes we send out in an intimate relationship.
And the more uncertain you feel, the more confused the other person may feel.
Ambiguity leads to defenses against the resulting confusion. You may have so little tolerance for the confusion about the relationship that you decide to break up. Or you pick a fight, unconsciously using that old malignant tactic, Find-an-enemy-and-lose-your-confusion. Or you start seeing someone else to create jealousy.  Or you convince yourself there must be a rival out there. On and on.
What's are some healthy ways to cope with ambiguity?
You might ask how she or he feels, if you can stand the risk of feeling rejected by a lukewarm answer.
You could ask someone to be a go-between, someone who knows the two of you, and can inquire. I did this early in a relationship. (I got the encouraging answer from Greg, the go-between: "You're doing OK, Taylor." We've now been married 51 years. Thanks, Greg!)
Or talk through your feelings with a friend.
Or you can meditate, or continue as you are and wait to see if you get clearer.
And you can consult a counselor if you have the courage, and the money.

To put on my old shrink hat for a few paragraphs, let me tour you through some of the
2. Ways Personality or Personal Conflicts Cause Confusion.

1. People don't know you have a conflict about something and don't understand why you're acting the way you are.
Examples: If you have an approach/avoidance conflict about closeness and intimacy, you may withdraw when a person seems too "controlling," but then feel alone and abandoned after they have withdrawn. (You may not even realize that you're the one who pulled back.) Then you move in closer, or somehow send a signal that you want to be closer and the cycle begins again. The other person may be get confused, saying, "I don't know what you want."
The trouble is, you may not know either.
What to do:
Realize you're the one pulling back.
Ask yourself what you are concerned about: is it losing "freedom" or "having to account for every place I've gone, and all the people I've seen" or something else?
Try getting clearer about what each of you expects from the other. The other person may have grown up in a family that shared more of their feelings and expectations with one another. They don't understand when you need time or space for yourself.

As with any of these examples, your part may be that of the other person. In the example above, you might have seen the other as withdrawing from you.
Talk in a non-combative way about how it seems to you.
If you can't talk about such feelings, learn how from a book, a friend, or the Internet.

3. Personality Traits May Confuse Others
People with obsessive-compulsive personalities (like mine) can get too preoccupied with things like germs and cleanliness. (Going to med school doesn't help--you learn too much about all the bad germs and where they live.)
An obsessional may avoid taking finger food from a tray at a reception because they don't know who touched it, either in preparing it or in taking adjacent pieces off the tray. A minor thing, unless the hostess feels upset by their "No thanks." Then a crisis could develop, depending on the hostess or host's need to be appreciated.
But to take a more dangerous example, consider the person with a paranoid personality who is convinced a lover must be cheating. The other person may have no idea why mistrust has infected the relationship. Is it something they did? No. Something they said? Not likely.
It's not easy to accept the possibility that this person eventually feels mistrust for almost everyone they start to get close to.
I got rejected when someone I had helped as a friend for several years got angry and quit all contact. The problem there was not mistrust, but a need to have people agree with a choice of lifestyle. If anyone questioned this person's judgment, that was it. You don't understand. You're fired!
What to do:
These situations are tough. I thought things had gotten better with the person I just mentioned, but then another break happened, directed not so much at me as at the group I was part of. So I'm back on the outs, since the other person no longer attends the meetings.  

Summing up
We're now up to four sources of personal confusion: Information Overload, Complexity, and now Ambiguity and Personality Traits/Personal Conflicts. You can draw diagrams with arrows showing how some of these four sources act in your life. The arrows can affect other people, and some arrows can connect one source with another. I talked about that in Part 2, and you might see additional connections to these two new sources. For example, if you have an Obsessive Compulsive Personality, you may not only confuse others, but also suffer from overload as a result of trying include too many details when making a decision.
You may find me overloading these posts now and then due to my obsessive need to include too many details.
(I'm surprised. I didn't know I was going to say that. Those surprises make posting interesting to this old obsessive.)

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