How Assumptions Can Chip Away at Your Mental Health

A few weeks ago my family were in Montreal for a vacation and so that I could attend a psychotherapy conference. When we landed in Montreal, all the signs are French. And it seemed to me that every person I heard was speaking French.

My trip to Montreal taught me an important lesson. When you assume that everyone is speaking French, everything you hear sounds like French…

Montreal has a great transit system, so we decided to take a bus from the Trudeau airport to our rented apartment. We boarded and occupied three seats at the the back of the bus. We were joined by five other adults who were engrossed in their conversation. One man was very animated and I found him entertaining even though he spoke French and I had no idea what he was saying.

After the group left, I asked my wife (who is fluent in French) what the group was talking about. To my embarrassed surprise, my wife informed me that she had no idea, because they were speaking another language!

Assumptions. They get you every time.

I allowed myself to settle into the assumption that everyone in Montreal speaks French (and only French). So everything I heard sounded like French.

Thankfully I had this experience at the beginning of my trip. My assumptions would have made me less aware of the cultural richness, openness and energy in Montreal.

Do your assumptions help you or get in the way?

Truth is, who cares that I was completely wrong which language my bus mates were speaking. Mistakenly thinking they were speaking French didn’t effect my life, behavior or relationships.

Some people say that French people can be standoffish to the English. If I assumed this was true, I would have noticed all of the situations where people seemed irritated at me or seemed to treat me with disdain. My experience was amazing. Everyone was helpful… even when I ended every conversation with “Bonjour” (Hello) rather than “Merci” (Thank you).

Assumptions can be minor irritations, but they can also get in the way. They can become rules that govern our behavior, attitudes and reactions. These rules can limit what we do and they can define what we believe we are capable of.

Consider these assumptions and how they tend to shrink, limit and close you in:

I can’t afford it… This can create a sense that we are broke, limited or unable to do what we want. In reality, if I can’t go out for an expensive dinner or buy a new suit, probably I have other important priorities. Or not… maybe I have wasted my left over cash on momentary and frivolous things?]

I hate that! (Doing or listening to or eating…) [I hate asparagus but then my wife made it with butter. And mushrooms. Now I like asparagus.] What things do you and I write off because we ‘hate’ doing it, eating it, listening to it… You are free to have your opinion but sometimes what we think we hate is based on old and outdated and unhelpful experiences.

I don’t have time… The reality is that we all have 24 hours in a day and 365 days in a year. We may be busy, but after our work, family and relationship time we have some time left. I may not want to go out with you… but not because I don’t have time. I am prioritizing other things. Sorry.

What about our assumptions about our mental health?

…You will miss the richness of other cultures and experiences. You will hang back and assume that you are the only one who thinks/feels/experiences something because you are English and ‘they’ are not. Your assumptions will narrow your mindset.

– I feel anxious about _______________ and so I won’t do it [what if I have support, a plan, a therapist, or if I take small baby steps?].

– The last time I did ___________ I fell into a deep depression, so it’s not [ever?] a good idea.

– I tried _____________________ but it did not help with my triggers to drink/eat/use drugs [trying something a few times may not be enough.] One of my weaknesses is that I will use a strategy all of the time but when it doesn’t work for one thing, I just stop using it everywhere. I have to remind myself that just because something didn’t ‘work’ does not mean it won’t help. If something doesn’t work, try a different strategy but in my experience, the issue isn’t lacking creative solutions but lacking persistence.

My trip to Montreal taught me an important lesson. When you assume that everyone is speaking French, everything you hear sounds French. You will miss the richness of all of the other cultures and experiences. You will hang back and assume that you are the only one who thinks/feels/experiences something because you are English and ‘they’ are not. Your assumptions will narrow your mindset.

• • •

For a related post, you can read Celebrate Your Baggage, it’s What Makes You Thrive!

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Photo by Manki Kim on Unsplash


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