“Perception Is Reality”

One of the more difficult concepts I had to confront in the course of our daughter’s illness is that, often times, particularly where our children are concerned, perception is reality.  What I mean by that is that it really didn’t matter what I intended to do as a parent or even what I actually did.   What mattered, what became our daughter’s reality, was the way she perceived and understood those words and events.  That was a tough one for me, particularly as someone who has spent most of his life in a professional arena that is very fact-based and analytical – a world where words and actions have to be chosen and delivered very carefully to convey precisely what you mean.

The truth is, of course, that, like so many other life lessons I learned during my daughter’s struggle, the “perception vs. reality” dilemma is not at all unique to world of eating disorder sufferers and their loved ones.  It is an integral and sometimes highly destructive part of many interpersonal relationships, where one person intends certain words or behaviors to convey one message and the recipient construes them to mean something entirely different, something profoundly hurtful, and then, rather than seek clarity through communication, internalizes that hurt and allows what is in fact a misperception to become their reality.

It’s very difficult to undo those misperceptions once they have taken root, but this much I know:  The surest way NOT to do it is to become defensive, to discount or, worse yet, seek to invalidate your loved one’s reality in an effort to “prove” that your historical perspective is “right”.  It may well be, indeed it likely is, but it doesn’t matter.  What matters is working to see things through your loved one’s eyes (because there likely is more truth there than you care to admit anyway) and, where appropriate, acknowledge with a heartfelt apology the role you may quite unknowingly and unintentionally played in contributing to the hurt.

December 17, 2007

Dear Ashley,

Let me take the first step in OUR (your and my) journey towards true healing.  I’m trying very hard to listen and one of the things I keep hearing is that somewhere along the way you came to believe that my love and/or acceptance of you was/is dependent on what you accomplished or how well you “performed” personally, academically, musically or athletically (in your riding).  If that is what you feel/felt or believe/believed, I am truly sorry.  If I ever gave you that impression, by what I said, what I didn’t say or how I acted or didn’t act in a particular circumstance, I assure you it was never my intent to convey such a message – and it certainly was not the way I actually felt.  Indeed, quite the opposite is true:  My love and acceptance of you, my admiration for you are, always have been and always will be predicated on who you are – not what you do or may achieve.  More importantly, my love for you is UNCONDITIONAL and ETERNAL.  Please know that clearly going forward and accept my sincerest apologies for past hurts attributable to any impressions to the contrary.

All My Love,

Dad

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