Picture this: my mom and I are driving in the car and she is asking me some things about my sister because as a parent she is naturally concerned (nothing major, just respecting the privacy of my sister Elizabeth*) about her since she is younger than me and just started college. For anyone who has siblings, there usually comes some point where your parents may ask about what is going on with them. Elizabeth and I are really close. I love her so much and she is my best friend. We are only two years apart and have been through a lot together. For some quick background: my parents separated when I was about nine and Elizabeth was seven. They had a long and messy divorce where Elizabeth and I were consequently put in the middle, a lot. This is an over simplification of the experience and was undeniably damaging to me in a lot of ways. I consider myself lucky to have healed and grown from it the way I did.
My mom thought Elizabeth seemed a little different and sometimes they argue (like many mothers and daughters do) and was wondering if I had any insight into her behavior. I thought it was a bit out of the ordinary too and suggested it could have something to do with my parents divorce. I knew how it impacted me and because of that was suggesting that there was a possibility that it could have had an impact on Elizabeth. I expressed that I didn’t know for sure, but it was a possibility. My mom went off on me. She was so frustrated, telling me that I was wrong, saying that I was using the divorce as an excuse and that there was no way that could be the reason for Elizabeth’s behavior.
The funny part about all of this is, my mom could be totally right. I was only making a guess. Since Elizabeth had been acting this way for awhile, I thought there could be something deeper going on and didn’t want to rule it out. I thought I was clear that I didn’t say that had to be the reason, but to just explore all of the options. What bothered me at the time was when my mom said that there was no way that could be the reason, my parents’ divorce had no impact on either of us and I was essentially imagining the whole thing and using it as an excuse any time I was upset.
Now picture this: my dad and I had just driven home from my college graduation and I was sitting on the floor of his office where he was telling me how he was bothered by my mom’s behavior. This was one of the rare times they are ever together and it didn’t surprise me he had something to say. The details aren’t important, he was just telling me about the way he viewed her and the whole experience. Remember, I have been listening to these “he said, she said” stories for about twelve years so at this point I was just nodding and staying quiet to allow him to express his feelings and get it all out. In the midst of the conversation, I had one of the clearest downloads. The phrase, “they’re both right” just popped into my head. After that, everything about what they had been saying since they separated made sense.
It sounds so simple. However, this started when I was fairly young and I lived in a world of polarity for a long time. One day, Elizabeth and I were in the car (when we were about ten and eight) talking about our parents. Elizabeth asked me, “Who do you think is right? Who do you think is telling the truth?”. I was ten. I had no idea what was going on. All I knew was that they would say conflicting things when the other parent wasn’t around. None of it made any sense and the phrase “that’s not true” or “I am telling the truth” was tossed around a lot. I told her, “I don’t know. But one of them is right and the other is lying.”
We learn from a very young age the concept of “good” and “bad” and “right” and “wrong”. The consequences (not necessarily bad, just a way of life) are that we tend to apply these simplistic principles to more complex situations later in life. For a child this can translate to things like, “Well either mom’s right or I’m right and one of us has to be a liar”. I thought that way for a large part of my childhood. Whenever my mom and I would fight, there were times when I thought she was a straight up liar because our views directly conflicted one another. There were even times when I thought I was going crazy because I knew I was telling the truth but she was saying things that directly contradicted my story. But she’s my mom and because she was the adult, how could she be wrong? There just didn’t seem room for both of our realities to exist. Except there is.
My parents have both been “right” this entire time because both of their experiences, realities, perspectives, etc. are valid. It’s not as if you need to match them up and see where there are inconsistencies to tell who is lying. There have been moments where I wished there was some video camera following us around so I could replay it and show my mom that I was telling the truth. When I was younger, I never liked being called a liar by her because I was always doing my best to be honest and have her see it from my point of view. The difficulty there is we all have our own experiences, memories, emotions, etc. that cumulate over years and shape our perspective. That is a lot of nuances to account for and we don’t even remember the same things. Some people think kids don’t remember things before a certain age. I’m not saying kids remember everything, but it may be time to start acting like we all remember everything. So many of us have that one memory that no one else remembers but it meant something to us so it stuck. It could be with friends, family, in school, anything. Things that seem meaningless and small to other people could mean the world to us and shape us in ways we could have never imagined. We also simply don’t always remember the same memories the same way.
Unfortunately, there is no universal video camera to provide a totally objective point of view into what is happening 24/7 for every person on the planet. When I was in my mom in the car that night, I was so upset because she was beginning to make me feel crazy for being impacted by an experience that took place during the major formative years of my life. It wasn’t about the experience itself. That experience has done so much for me. It was that she was blatantly saying that it didn’t matter and I asked her, “Well how could you know? You’re not me, you don’t know how that impacted me.” Any time, especially a parent, tells a child that they are wrong about something that comes from their authentic and vulnerable perspective, there is a chance they could be communicating to the child for them to not trust their perspective. I may be running with the child parent example, but this is possible in any relationship. This could cause them to second guess themselves and just not trust themselves and their intuition. Or maybe they feel guilty about having that experience and perceiving it that way because the other person is hurt. I love both of my parents. Even after everything, I believe they did the perfect job. They did the best that they could and they are amazing for that. If anything, I thank them so much for showing me how subjective everyone’s realities are. Just because they are subjective, doesn’t mean that they aren’t “real”. They are all “real” because that is what we choose to experience.
There is room for every single one of our perspectives. We all have our own truth. We don’t have to line them up with anyone and everyone else’s in order to create the ultimate Truth of whatever is going on. Just because your experience doesn’t match up with someone else’s or vice versa, it doesn’t mean anyone’s perception is more or less valid. If you perceive something someway, that is all that matters. However, it is always up to you to grow and heal from it if you choose to do so. This is not about blaming other people for your perceptions. They don’t have to take responsibility for what you perceive if they don’t want to. If they choose not too, it doesn’t mean what you felt wasn’t “real”. Your experience is valid on its own. Sometimes we can associate “subjectivity” and the idea that someone “perceives” something a certain way with it not being “valid” or “real” because traditionally we don’t place the same value on our perceptions as we do “facts”. It doesn’t have to be that way. You can easily take the power back and own your truth. You can decide what has value in your reality. You have all the power. We can also respect others who choose to place value on different things. Different doesn’t mean “wrong”. It just different. I place different values on different memories from my childhood than my mom does. We may “share” those memories but it doesn’t have to be in the same way. Both deserve love and respect. Our perceptions of people, emotions, physicality, identity, and any aspect of the human experience is all different. Instead of attacking one another and saying that there is a “right” and “wrong”, we can celebrate everyone’s realities. It’s not about whether my mom or dad were “right” about their divorce process. They have their own valid realities that they have created. Their validity is not dependent on the other person’s or anyone else’s.
This is so important to me because I have seen so much conflict arise over not taking the time to hold space and attempt to understand one another. You may not truly understand the other person. That’s okay. It can be incredibly difficult to just jump into their shoes. There is so my strength in acknowledging one another, seeing everyone for who they actually are and using the opportunity in every moment to express that we are all lovable, regardless of how we experience reality. It’s just an experience. I experience Elizabeth differently than my mom. Neither experience is more “real” than the other. They are both beautifully different and there is room for both of them.
with unconditional love, katie
* name has been changed