giving the person that says that they only want a casual relationship the benefit of the doubt

When people tell me stories about their relationships or their interactions with people where they experienced a great deal of pain, the stories are often peppered with, “I kept giving him/her the benefit of the doubt.” I’ve been in situations like these many times where I’ve wrestled with the uncertainty that can come with either not being able to take a good reading of your gut or that comes with knowing that if you accept what you see, that you may have to take action or acknowledge certain things. Much of the time and energy is spent trying to pin ‘good intentions’ on a person or at the very least analysing the intentions. The uncertainty tends to grow the less we trust ourselves in general and the more that we’re inclined to throw our self-worth into the mix and question ourselves and what we’ve done to ‘provoke’ what we’re doubting.

It’s critical though when we make decisions that have the potential to impact our wellbeing and to potentially keep us in a toxic situation where we’re not adequately representing or protecting ourselves, that we get clear on what we’re doing and ensure that we’re not doing something else entirely, because often we’re not giving the benefit of the doubt – we’re giving the benefit of the equivalent of magic eraser combined with over-empathy.

Benefit of the doubt – an acceptance that a person is truthful or innocent if the opposite cannot be proved. (source Oxford Dictionaries).

What we tend to focus on is whether we can ‘prove’ that the person in question is guilty of having malicious intentions. Aside from the fact that we cannot ‘prove’ what another persons intentions are or were (that’s up to them to do), what we forget is that who a person is is self-evident and that they show us their intentions. We sometimes take ‘seeing the best’ in people too far and interpret giving the benefit of the doubt as denying what we saw, heard or felt.

It’s healthy not to run around assuming that anything that we don’t like has bad intentions behind it or to assume that other people’s behaviour is about us and put our worth behind their intentions. We can give the benefit of the doubt when it’s needed and appropriate that the interpreted meaning or particular outcome wasn’t intended, but then the person is either going to give you reasons to justify your doubts regarding dodgy intentions or give you further evidence to justify your concerns.

We’re not giving the benefit of the doubt when we pretend that something didn’t happen or we start coming up with all manner of stories and excuses in an attempt to shut down our misgivings and silence our inner voice. We’re definitely not giving the benefit of the doubt when what we felt uncertain about the presence of, is actually continuing to happen and potentially has other things that back up our initial feelings and concerns.

Acknowledging that something happened and giving the benefit of the doubt are not mutually exclusive. We have to acknowledge what happened and how we feel in order to gauge whether the benefit of the doubt is warranted or whether we need to represent ourselves more adequately. We often choose to give the benefit of the doubt not just because of some uncertainty we may feel but a tendency to feel anxious and over-empathetic to those who bring out our Florence tendencies. Instead of recognising our own feelings and even possible danger, we choose to analyse, fix/heal/help and in turn our confusion increases and it becomes increasingly difficult to get a reading not just on our feelings and general wellbeing but also on what the other party is or isn’t doing.

When we give the benefit of the doubt, it’s never a bad thing to question where that comes from, not because trying to see the ‘good’ and not assume the worst is a bad thing (quite the opposite) but because denying the existence of stuff and giving ourselves a hard time instead is never a good thing.

Is the uncertainty there because you typically struggle to recognise your feelings and opinions?

Is it because you don’t want to see the truth because it would scupper your hopes and expectations and cause you to have to take what you currently perceive to be a ‘difficult’ action?

Is it because you feel bad for feeling uncomfortable or just recognising what you experienced? This would mean that you’re making a judgement about you – what is it? Why aren’t you judging the situation instead? Are you blaming you?

It’s good not to assume that everyone has shady intentions but it’s equally good to recognise your feelings, as well as situations, and behaviour from others that call on your gut, ping or even bust your boundaries, or show a conflict in core values. Sometimes we have to admit that due to the fact that we spend so much time second guessing ourselves over certain people, our whole interaction with them is one big fat benefit of the doubt that we’re definitely not benefiting from. Sometimes we’re actually giving the benefit of our overactive imagination and our difficulty in trusting ourselves. There’s no need to keep doubting and doling out benefits – the evidence is there. It’s that whole being a CSI collecting evidence but not wanting to process it.

People unfold and who each of us are is self-evident. When we give the benefit of the doubt, it’s not there to write off our boundaries; it is there to give ourselves and the other person the time and opportunity to see that we were right not to assume the other possibility and for them to show through the evidence of their subsequent behaviour and how they treat us, that continuing to trust / engage with them and to not assume or decide that they have shady intentions, was and is a good thing.

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