I’m laid up in bed with food poisoning that I’ve brought home with me from Amsterdam so it’s time for a blast from the past. After reading through lots of recent comments where people are devoted to trying to work out what someone intended, it was time to revisit the truth about intentions and whether you really need to work out what they did or didn’t mean.
I often hear people talk about ‘intentions’ in respect to their interpersonal relationships:
Of course I intended to do it.
They did intend to do it but something I said or did must have caused them to change their mind.
I don’t think he/she set out with the intention to hurt me.
Intention is all about doing something with conscious purpose.
Many of us do have good intentions generally speaking, but there are some of us who are nothing but intentions which is really a nicer way of saying “I talk a good game but I don’t get up to very much” – too little action.
We also want to see the best in others so we want to believe that no matter what others do, at the heart of it was good intentions and it wasn’t actually their intentions for the consequences that did unfold and the subsequent impact on us to result, which then causes us to invalidate our own feelings.
When we are the type of person that seeks validation from others or internalises other people’s behaviour, we can intrinsically link ourselves with what we perceive someone’s intentions to be and decide that it’s something about us that caused those intentions to change.
This is like having a blinkered belief that everyone is running around intending to ‘do the right thing’ or to be committed or whatever, but if you piss them off or don’t breathe the right way then the plans will change – it’s this blind assumption that people’s intentions never change because of the fact that they’ve changed them for their own reasons that have nothing to do with you or because the purpose never existed in the first place.
Take future faking for example. This is where someone gives the impression of a shared future to get what they want in the present. When they’ve got what they want or the future gets closer or arrives, they bail or create conflict that makes it look like we’ve done something to screw up their grand masterplan. Why do people struggle so much with future faking? Because they believe that the person 100% intended to do it and something in their actions stopped it and they blame themselves.
Some future fakers are intentional because they’re just the type of person that will say whatever it takes and then there are some that don’t necessarily intend to do it, but they overestimate their interest and capacity for a relationship, they don’t connect their thoughts with their actions, and they’re not into following through or being emotionally honest with themselves or you. Let’s call it carelessness or thoughtlessness. A painful ‘whoops’. Unfortunately you will often find that someone who has the need to talk up the future and doesn’t slow their roll has a habit of it, which makes it intentional enough even if they claim not to be conscious of it.
Then there’s people who breeze up in your life with grand promises of getting back together only to shag off all over again and leave you restarting the grieving process. It’s like “Whoooooops! Here we go again! I can’t believe I’ve changed my mind. Oh dear! I really did believe I wanted to get back together. Oh well! At least I know now…till next time”
Or the ‘casual relationship’ with a friend that ended up hurting more than anyone else has.
Yes intention is all about doing something with conscious purpose and it’s easy to get caught up in analysing whether someone has good intentions or not, but it ultimately comes down to whether the outcome/result was intended and whether they have any purpose in the first place!
Let’s take the common example of being hurt after experiencing a breakup with a commitment resistant person – They probably didn’t specifically intend to hurt you and it’s a bit like saying they budgeted for level 5 hurt instead of level 10.
However, they did intend to leave the relationship. It was also their aim to safeguard themselves from being vulnerable, to do what they wanted and to ultimately lessen/break the ‘commitment’.
What we do impacts others.
Something may not be what we intended but that doesn’t change the fact that there are consequences to our actions. Being honest, considering others, seeing ourselves and what we do in relation to others gives way to recognising cause and effect.
To expect to end something or to act selfishlessly or thoughtlessly or without accountability or responsibility and for someone not to get hurt is quite frankly deluded.
That ‘ole chestnut of “I didn’t mean to hurt you” or “I’m sure they didn’t intend to hurt me so much” just doesn’t wash. It’s an excuse and do you know what the job of an excuse is? To provide a reason to justify an action that ultimately lessens the responsibility or even the blame.
While there are many people who have good intentions, what makes intentions become action or at least has you assured of good intentions is that thread of purpose. That person who avoids commitment, emotional intimacy, sticking to arrangements, turning in work assignments on time, pulling their weight on the team or who says and does things that detract from or even cause a great deal of pain to others, doesn’t do any of these things with the purpose or actions required to bring out a positive result.
For example, a commitment resistant person, no matter what intentions they claim, is never consistently acting with matched actions and words to create or honour that purpose. People who truly commit and are emotionally available conduct themselves with committed and emotionally available purpose. Equally, the person who intends to come to work on time but stays up late, keeps pressing the snooze button and takes a leisurely stroll into work is not someone with the ‘purpose’ of being on time.
These same people will swear up and down they have good intentions because aside from not wanting to see themselves in any remotely negative light with some responsibility on them, they actually believe that intentions are enough – they’re not, especially when the consistent habit is to under-deliver and contradict.
Just like it’s tricky to divide people into being ‘good’ or bad’, it’s difficult to spend your time trying to measure up someone’s intentions. The truth is that we only have to really go around playing Columbo about someone’s intentions when we seek to make excuses for them, to deny the reality of them, or to find a way to let them back into our lives with more intentions. We also just don’t want to think that we have been involved with someone who in their heart of heart didn’t have the greatest of intentions – we think it reflects on us.
If the actions aren’t there, the purpose wasn’t there, which means the intentions weren’t there either. Talk is cheap and that’s the danger of being words focused because in missing the action, you miss out on someone’s true intentions.
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