“Positive Intent”

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rainydiary

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“Positive Intent”
« on: July 07, 2021, 08:35:31 PM »
I am reflecting on something I am often told especially in times of conflict specifically at work.  Someone in leadership will say, “Let’s assume positive intent.”

This phrase has always bothered me.  I think it bothers me because it often used to invalidate things I’ve said.  Also, just because someone “meant well” doesn’t mean what they said or did wasn’t hurtful. 

I am part of a training where we made ground rules as a group for how we will interact and problem solve. One of the guidelines is to not “freeze someone in time.”  I had not heard that before and it has been interesting to think about.

The frozen in time thing makes me wonder if I am told to assume positive intent as a way to say “don’t hold this one thing against this person.”  Yet, that doesn’t seem like an authentic way to problem solve and ignores the feelings and thoughts happening and being communicated. 

Another aspect of this is CPTSD and how it impacts perception.  I don’t assume positive intent in anyone because of my history. 

I’m just curious for any thoughts or reactions others may have. 

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Armadillo

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Re: “Positive Intent”
« Reply #1 on: July 07, 2021, 08:59:12 PM »
I react like this with both those phrases.  :spooked: :fallingbricks: :aaauuugh:

Both of these attitudes I have actually carried in myself and it is precisely this attitude that has allowed me to continue to be abused and then not allow myself to get angry or even sad or to draw up boundaries. If you are dealing with kind people then sure...this makes sense to a small extent. But not to the extent of excusing unacceptable behaviors or not being allowed to be upset about them or ask for something different.

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bluepalm

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Re: “Positive Intent”
« Reply #2 on: July 07, 2021, 09:09:07 PM »
Hi rainydiary, this is an interesting question. I hadn't heard either of those phrases but neither seems particularly helpful in problem solving to me.

As you indicate, assuming 'positive intent' is asking you to 'forget and forgive' someone who's hurt you - whether deliberately or inadvertently. How does this work to resolve problems? It basically allows the hurter to get away with their behaviour. It means no-one has to address that behaviour or confront the hurter. It's an easy way out for someone in charge of a group to 'assume positive intent' and move on without addressing a problem.

As for the second phrase - to not freeze someone in time - it reminds me of a frequent response my former husband would give me to any attempt on my part to discuss something he had said or done that was causing me grief or that I perceived as cruelty towards me. He would dismiss my request to talk about something by saying 'why are you always bringing up the past'. And would then refuse to talk further. Logically, everything I wished to discuss was 'in the past' because it had already happened so I saw this phrase as refusing me any chance of ever questioning him or confronting him with something he'd done or said to hurt me.  Maybe 'to not freeze someone in time' is another way of saying that you should not call someone to account for something they did in one instant but be forever forgiving? 

I'd be interested in other views on these phrases, particularly given my experience with my husband where he used that 'in the past' phrase to escape accountability for anything he ever did or said.

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Blueberry

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Re: “Positive Intent”
« Reply #3 on: July 07, 2021, 10:16:45 PM »
I am reflecting on something I am often told especially in times of conflict specifically at work.  Someone in leadership will say, “Let’s assume positive intent.”

This phrase has always bothered me.  I think it bothers me because it often used to invalidate things I’ve said. 

The attitude behind this phrase really bothers me. As Armadillo says, when dealing with kind people, then sure (or even just 'maybe' imo). Aside from people meaning well but still being hurtful or inconsiderate, there are enough people out there who don't mean well. Please nobody suggest to me my business neighbour has positive intent towards me!

I agree, it's invalidating, rainydiary. Thinking of my business neighbour, if somebody suggested I assume positive intent, I think  :blowup: would occur.

In non-work situations within the past 6 months, I've had 2 friends where you might assume positive intent but really it seems they are very mixed up about some things, definitely being invalidating to me about my past, even about treatment from FOO and arrogantly assuming they know better than I do about my next steps in recovery etc. Sorry. I can't assume positive intent there. Maybe positive intent towards themselves or towards my FOO. But not towards me.

Another aspect of this is CPTSD and how it impacts perception.  I don’t assume positive intent in anyone because of my history. 

The further along I get in recovery the less positive intent I assume. Which I think means that due to lots of invalidation and lots of "you should" (forgive and forget / get over this /...), I couldn't take my own feelings of scepticism and mistrust seriously and I couldn't allow myself to think 'I have good reason to not assume positive intent! Even in the here and now. It's not all to do with my childhood. It's not all a projection.'

The frozen in time thing makes me wonder if I am told to assume positive intent as a way to say “don’t hold this one thing against this person.”  Yet, that doesn’t seem like an authentic way to problem solve and ignores the feelings and thoughts happening and being communicated. 

Wow, I'm really glad you've brought this up. I hold things against a person, especially if the person keeps doing it. So I'm really interested to read your thoughts on that not being an authentic way to problem solve.

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rainydiary

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Re: “Positive Intent”
« Reply #4 on: July 07, 2021, 10:58:07 PM »
Armadillo, I think for me too the way I feel is

 :fallingbricks:  :spooked:  :stars:

I’m glad I asked this because I hadn’t fully been able to say why this bothers me so much.  It is absolutely a way to keep certain systems and power on top. 

I agree that if someone is doing their best and generally makes me feel heard and seen, I am willing to not hold onto a mistake.  But some times are never ok no matter how “nice” someone is.  The I’ve been told this was after sharing about people a pattern of behavior that has been used against me or someone else. 

————-

bluepalm, I appreciate you sharing these thoughts. 

Yes, the times I have been told to assume positive intent at work have always involved someone else treating me or a student I work with really badly.  I’ve tried to advocate for myself or the student.  The conversation seems to be going ok and then gets to a point where the leader doesn’t really want to deal with it anymore and says to assume positive intent to brush it away. 

My husband also gets upset about me “holding things.” I think that what I’ve learned on my journey is that I get/got stuck at the moment of a wound.  It’s like I have to go back to that original moment and explore it in order to heal.  I actually realize I want to ask the group I am in more about the frozen in time thing because I don’t think they are thinking about how it might come across the trauma survivors. 

——————-

Blueberry, I appreciate you sharing these thoughts.

Yes, I think I know when someone made an honest misstep.  The situations where this thing has been said have not been times when I’ve thought “wow, the other person is doing all they can.”  No, they’ve been times where I’ve thought “wow, the other person is being mean/a bully/ hurtful” and my speaking that truth has made others uncomfortable with facing what is really present. 

I also feel less comfortable just letting someone off hook with “they meant well” as I heal more.  When we don’t question or are punished for questioning, we may put up with things that cause trauma and long term challenges like CPTSD. 

I appreciate you asking more about holding things.  I think what I meant is that when someone tells me to not take what someone else does personally or assume they meant well, it makes me feel like my experience is invalid and they want me to stop talking.  I would rather if that wasn’t said and a conversation about what is needed could be had (instead of just telling me I am wrong which I definitely have not been in these situations).  I definitely hold onto things people have said and done.  I also tend to blame myself for those things. 

—————

I posed this question a little differently in a Facebook group I am in.  It’s interesting to get the perspective of people that don’t have CPTSD.  They also didn’t seem to like the phrase but also make comments that are like “Just tell the person this and this.”  I don’t like when people say things like that because it implies it should be easy for me to say things that aren’t easy at all for me to say. 

In the future I hope to find ways to push against this phrase being used. 


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rainydiary

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Re: “Positive Intent”
« Reply #5 on: July 08, 2021, 11:04:07 AM »
I had a strange interaction with someone on Facebook about this topic I would like to share about. 

The first thing I am reminding myself is that Facebook groups are flawed places from the start.  There are some people in the group that I went to grad school with, but generally they are strangers.  The people in the group are people with the same job as me.  I am questioning if what I posted and said was even appropriate, but it is done.

I asked this question about positive intent and most folks responded that for them it sounds like a version of toxic positivity that ultimately ignores or dismisses the experience of someone involved. 

In my yoga training, the leader shared with us a wheel of power and privilege that was developed by Sylvia Duckworth.  The wheel is intended to be a visualization about how our society places great power and privilege in specific identifying things including race, able bodies, mental health, income level, neurodiversity, etc.  Those with more identities toward the center tend to experience more privilege and more power.  That wheel was probably a lot to offer up in a Facebook group.  But for me, the culture of toxic positivity has links to systems that keep people marginalized.

Someone responded to me and told me that the wheel was insulting.  They stated that I am being negative and trying to hold people back.  They were trying to say that wheel may not represent all experiences (which I don’t think it was intending to).  I responded that the message I was intending to share is that when someone is told to adjust their thoughts and feelings to make other people comfortable it isn’t positivity.  I also shared I disagreed about the visual being insulting.  There are people living marginalized experiences every day and pretending like that doesn’t exist isn’t helpful.  They responded with this really long message about how difficult their life has been and how what I am saying is just not right. 

My emotions are elevated based on this exchange.  I thought it was important to share the information I am learning.  I wasn’t ready for the consequences of sharing.  I think that person responded because I triggered them.  Their response was really missing my point and I imagine they feel like I missed theirs.

I am glad I am putting myself out there more, but it is also tiring.  For me, pretending like suffering doesn’t exist allows for systems that hurt people to continue.  I did take a big leap in going there in a Facebook group, but I don’t regret what I shared.  I’m just going to need some time to process. 

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CactusFlower

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Re: “Positive Intent”
« Reply #6 on: July 08, 2021, 04:07:04 PM »
There are people living marginalized experiences every day and pretending like that doesn’t exist isn’t helpful.  They responded with this really long message about how difficult their life has been and how what I am saying is just not right. 

This part resonated with me because it reminded me of my ex. One of the MANY reasons I left that toxic relationship, and it wasn't even near the main reasons, was this kind of attitude. I tried to explain to him what white privilege is and that it exists, and he got so furious he left the room for a little while. Then he came back and made it all about him, and how hard he's had it in his life and that crappy things happened to him and not to his friend who happens to be part Native American, so white privilege isn't real. .............just.......wow.

I'm sorry you had that experience, that person seems very defensive and maybe doesn't want to face some truths. I looked up that wheel and it seems pretty explanatory and spot-on to me. I would agree that the whole "positive intent" thing sounds toxic to me and is just a way for people to get out of being blamed for things. My opinion, but yeah...   :hug:

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rainydiary

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Re: “Positive Intent”
« Reply #7 on: July 08, 2021, 05:54:55 PM »
Cactus, I appreciate you validating my experience.  I was feeling like such a fool for the whole situation happening as I wasn’t expecting someone to unravel like that…but also it might have felt random to that person and others.  I tried processing the experience with some other people in the training I am doing.  They were helpful, but I think the whole situation is just causing a bit of an EF. 

Social media is a weird space and I tend to think big and see connections that other people don’t.  I think I want to help make the world better for everyone and try to find moments where I can stand up.  It really isn’t comfortable and I am working with  difficulty in feeling safe to speak up. 

I am also noticing that I am processing the “positive intent” comment several weeks after it happened.  And that brings up more feelings of “why didn’t I say something in the moment?” 

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Armadillo

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Re: “Positive Intent”
« Reply #8 on: July 08, 2021, 07:17:36 PM »
Yeah...I can't bring myself to engage in those types of spaces. So good for you for trying!!!! Seriously!

That person admitted as much that they have problems. I'd just write something like "I'm sorry you are struggling. I understand that. I wish what i wrote hadn't been so difficult on you. Take care."

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Alter-eg0

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Re: “Positive Intent”
« Reply #9 on: July 08, 2021, 07:35:08 PM »
That phrase also rubs me the wrong way. Especially since my NF used it all the freakin' time, to get out of taking responsibility for his actions. "I meant well".

Sure, there are situations when assuming (or knowing about) positive intentions can help you to look at things from a more compassionate standpoint. That can be helpful.
However, I don't think blatant abuse is one of those situations. Especially since those positive intentions don't translate into changed behaviour when you let that person know you're hurt.

For these situations, I've learned to respond with the following: If you punch me in the face, it doesn't matter what your intentions were, I still have a black eye. So obviously, if you continue that behaviour, no matter what your intentions, i'm going to take a step back. Purely for self preservation. 

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Blueberry

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Re: “Positive Intent”
« Reply #10 on: July 08, 2021, 08:10:00 PM »
I am also noticing that I am processing the “positive intent” comment several weeks after it happened.  And that brings up more feelings of “why didn’t I say something in the moment?”

I also tend to have either a delayed reaction to comments or a reaction at the time like feeling triggered but it can take weeks for me to figure out what was going on and then to start processing it. In the moment I would have been totally incapable of saying anything. Maybe an I.Child could have blown a fuse or started crying, but that wouldn't have been helpful. Please be gentle with yourself as much as possible for not being able to say something in the moment, rainydiary  :hug:

I'm grateful to you for bringing this topic up because it's giving me food for thought about my discussions with other people in associations and that kind of situation where things often go awry. I might write about it in my Journal in a day or two.   

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rainydiary

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Re: “Positive Intent”
« Reply #11 on: July 08, 2021, 10:03:11 PM »
Armadillo, I’m not sure what I was thinking opening up that type of conversation on a social media platform.  I guess I thought it might help those that want to learn learn.  I was reminded that more often than not, these types of comments in groups just leave me feeling worse. 

————

Alter-Eg0, I appreciate your perspective.  Gaslighting is so sneaky sometimes and is unfortunately built into so many systems it makes me feel mad.  I find your example of the black eye very helpful.  Since our emotional experiences can be less overt or obvious, sometimes putting things in physical terms seems to communicate more.

————-

Blueberry, I appreciate the support and reminder for gentleness. 

—————

It feels like there are so many layers to this. 

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bluepalm

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Re: “Positive Intent”
« Reply #12 on: July 08, 2021, 11:36:26 PM »
I'm sorry this experience has been so distressing for you rainydiary. I think you were courageous in speaking out. I also looked up the power wheel and it seems to me to be an accurate, albeit broad brush, description of social hierarchies, and hard to argue with.

What you say here is truly admirable:

I tend to think big and see connections that other people don’t.  I think I want to help make the world better for everyone and try to find moments where I can stand up.  It really isn’t comfortable and I am working with  difficulty in feeling safe to speak up.

Finding moments where I can 'stand up' is something I have long struggled with. Having been trained in my FOO and marriage to be silent and compliant and yet having a mind that is capable of deep analysis is kind of paralysing - I remain afraid of speaking up because I anticipate the kind of defensiveness and aggression you experienced if I speak my mind and I feel ill-equipped to deal with that kind of emotional assault despite calmly feeling inside that my analysis of the situation is a reasonable one. So I admire what you did in opening discussion of this topic here and on Facebook.

You also say:
I am also noticing that I am processing the “positive intent” comment several weeks after it happened.  And that brings up more feelings of “why didn’t I say something in the moment?”

Like you and like Blueberry, I can process remarks for ages before I react to them and then wish I'd been quicker to react. This was probably one of the reasons for my husband so successfully avoiding accountability because it took me a while to come to terms with and try to understand the reasons behind his conduct or comments before I felt able to raise my reactions with him - hence his deflection with 'why are you always bringing up the past'.  So please be gentle with yourself in noticing your processing of comments takes time.

Indeed, now, after a lifetime's consideration, I've come to feel it's part of being a gentle and kind person, of being someone who does not wish to inflict on anyone else the type of conduct, the immediate aggressive responses, the contemptuous put downs and defensiveness, that led to my being traumatized, for me to take time to process remarks and conduct - to consider carefully before responding and try to understand what lies behind the other person's behaviour. 

Anyway, I'm sorry this has been distressing for you. I admire what you did, including the way you tried to understand what lay behind the strange hostile response you received on Facebook. Please be kind and gentle with yourself.  And lastly, may I say that you write really clearly and well. Your thoughtful responses to those commenting here are always respectful. It's a pleasure to read your posts.

bluepalm




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Jazzy

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Re: “Positive Intent”
« Reply #13 on: July 09, 2021, 04:29:07 AM »
I feel badly that I was not able to post here earlier, though I I am telling myself that it is okay because I am working through my own things.

I read this in your journal, and I was angry. I pushed that anger aside in an attempt to do my best to write a positive reply to encourage you.

Honestly though, your boss can go (&@%&*)(#$*@#)(*$)(#@*$)(#@*$)(#@*$($#$%@&#_)%#$&@_$_@#*$@#_*$@#_)$(!!!

I'm so upset, I can't even find the emoji for it.

This behaviour shown by your boss of not understanding, not caring, and letting you, their best employee, get walked all over is the kind of weakness I have shown my entire life, and I hate it with a passion.

I am trying very hard not to be mean, but it is not easy. I will phrase this as "you deserve a much better boss".

I'm not saying this is best by any means, but if I were you, I would not be speaking to that person. They can write me e-mails, leave me notes, whatever. If they absolutely need to, they can talk at me. I will give them the absolute minimum indication that I hear their words, and that is it. I have done this, and it is not received well, especially by someone who thinks they're in a position of authority over me. When all is said and done, I am thoroughly relieved that person is all the way out of my life.

I am sorry you are still being treated so badly. I hope you create a reality for yourself where people treat you as you deserve.  :hug:

<3 Niko

Addendum: Don't worry, I'll be fine. This is a healthy anger out of concern and love for you. I'm going to go process it a bit, then have a nice sleep. I wish the same to you. :)

Addendum 2: I see there is more about Facebook and social media. I got rid of all of that in my life years ago for this exact reason, so I'm not up on how it all works. I also can't think clearly about it right now, but I do hope you get it sorted.

Addendum 3: Re-reading this now that I am calm, it is very polite considering how I was feeling. On one hand I'm relieved it isn't mean and aggressive, but on the other hand it does not properly express how wrong it is for them to treat you this way, and how toxic that work environment is.

The attitude you describe in your boss of conflict avoidance is what put me over the top. I have read some others post about how bad conflict avoidance is, but none of those words do it justice. It is absolutely poisonous.

I also realize that many of us avoid conflict, and there is good reason for that. I have done it all of my life as well. Despite how necessary it was in the past, it is still poisonous. I would be in a much better place had I done more to stand up for myself once I was able to survive alone. The problem is that I doubted myself. I didn't believe I could survive alone. I did anyway, but I didn't realize it, so it was the worst of both.

Replacing that doubt with confidence has turned the tables, and now I have the best of both. I'm surviving and much more, and I have more people who are closer to me than ever before.

It's not easy, but nothing with trauma is. The way I see it is I can struggle and suffer, or I can struggle and improve. I choose the latter.
« Last Edit: July 09, 2021, 05:16:50 AM by Jazzy »

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rainydiary

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Re: “Positive Intent”
« Reply #14 on: July 09, 2021, 10:59:52 AM »
bluepalm, thank you for the response.  I truly appreciated the compliments you offered.  It gave me space to cry yesterday and I needed that, so thank you.

I think I keep holding onto wanting a concrete, single answer reason for why it is hard for me to speak up.  I am taking this course where the facilitator often says something about how we try to make simple solutions or approaches when we are deeply complex beings (that wheel comes to mind).  I then also seek a easy, simple thing that will solve all when I know that this requires a complex approach.

——————-

Jazzy/Niko, I appreciate the emotion you offered.  I agree I am in a difficult work situation where people are not treated as well as they should be. 

I think I initially didn’t react as strongly as I have to the “positive intent” because that has been said to me in other schools I’ve worked in.  It always said by people in leadership.  It makes me wonder if they are taught to say that through their training or gaining experience as administrators.  Yet it is always said at times when someone is doing things that are not ok and when that leader doesn’t know what to say or do about it.  What gets me is that if they treat me like this, how do they treat students?  I know that they tell themselves pretty stories about how good and kind and compassionate they are, but these attitudes color everything (as you mentioned, it is like poison).

It certainly isn’t right.  And it hurts people.  What I wish I could say to my boss is, “Believe it or not, I know when someone’s intentions are good.  If the intentions of my colleagues were good, I wouldn’t be sitting here telling you how hurtful they have been.”  Luckily, there was another person present that hasn’t been knee deep in “the way it is” at my school and I hope to talk to her more about this kind of stuff later.  I also know now that these types of comments are mean and I hope to find ways to push against them. 

I am doing my best to create an environment that works for me.  And to use my voice.  I am getting worried as I know that other people won’t change unless they want to.  I am worried I will continue to be their target because I speak uncomfortable things that show the holes in the pretty stories they tell themselves.  But I can try.  And in another year, I can leave in a way that doesn’t feel so bad to me if I need to (I really wanted the chance to talk to my students before I go). 

————-

I truly appreciate all the thoughts and comments and words offered here.  I needed the outside perspective.  I am still working through making mistakes.  I tend to think everything I do is a mistake and I am trying to recalibrate that.  I think trying to be deep on social media can be a mistake especially when it is in a group with strangers.  What I hope to feel at some point is not picking up on gaslighting in the moment is not my mistake.  I hope to get better at finding and recognizing moments of gaslighting, but some of what makes it gaslighting is that it is sneaky.  When I do recognize it, even if it is much later, I would like to find a way to address it if I can. 

After all of the experiences I’ve had this summer and the past several years working in this job, I have learned a great deal about myself and others.  I struggle with trust, but I see in this situation this struggle is warranted based on the behavior I’ve been shown. This isn’t just the outer critic expecting all people to hurt me. I do think this will help me protect myself because in moments of clarity, I can see that my inner critic is wrong and so are these folks.  They have not extended me the things they fault me for and that isn’t all on me as well as not my responsibility to “fix.” 

I’ll keep everyone posted on how it goes.  Another big thing is that when stuff like this happens, I now reach out and process (as much as I can, a reality about me is I process things for a long time) with people I do trust.  Thank you for being a part of that and a place I can come to.