Seeing Others as a Threat and How to Change It

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Our nation is increasingly becoming divided into opposing groups.  Yes, most of us have a tendency to feel most comfortable when we associate with people who look or think like ourselves.  People who look or think differently than we do, make us uncomfortable.  So, we stay away from them and isolate ourselves even further with our own kind.

Our isolation from others is intensified as we subscribe to popular media which confirms our point of view.  People outside our group may have a different point of view but we are not exposed to it.  Then we begin surmising what other people think.  People who dress like Muslims might think like or (gasp) be terrorists.  People who are trying to emigrate to the United States might think they can be freeloaders.  These stereotypes all come from seeing people outside our group as a threat, which popular media perpetuates.

It is the way we see people not like us that creates fear and hate—not the actual reality.  Yes, some people from our group as well as some people outside our group are terrorists and freeloaders, but most people are not.  Yet we continue to have a perception of people not like us as a threat.

To change our perception, we must be exposed to people not like us in positive contexts.  One way to develop positive images is through travel where we interact with others—this could be travel within or outside the United States.  Another way is to view positive images and stories about people from groups other than our own in popular media (social media, television, magazines, newspapers), schools, churches, even stores.

We need to reach out and speak to people other than those in our own group.  But, most of all, we need to listen to them.

 

Why Judge?

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               Judging is a great destroyer of relationships, and it can destroy your self-confidence as well.    Yet we all do judge others.  When someone looks or behaves differently than we expected, we judge that person negatively.  We expect others to be like ourselves, do what we want them to do, or have the same standards that we have.  When they don’t, we push them away with a disapproving look or a criticism. 

               What’s more, we judge ourselves as harshly as we judge others.  We assess whether we are living up to our standards.  When we determine that we are falling short, we beat ourselves up.  Not so good for feeling self-confident.

               So why continue to judge?  Because we think we can control other people (or even ourselves) through our judgments.  We become impatient when a person is walking in front of us too slowly. We say, “Why don’t you ever listen”, when we want someone to listen to us.  We conclude that a person’s way of parenting is not the way we think it should be done.  We become angry when someone expresses an opinion we don’t agree with.  All of these judgments just make us or the other person feel bad. 

               To not judge just switch your focus.  Instead of seeing someone with your eyes, see them through their eyes.  They see the world differently than you do and that is ok.  These differences really do not have anything to do with you.  A person is not walking slowly, not listening, parenting a certain way, or expressing an opinion to purposely annoy you.  It’s just the way they see things.  So you can let them be and not react with a judgment (even one not expressed).

               Letting go of judging oneself is especially difficult but can be done if you take note of a behavior that you would have liked to take back but then not wallow in regret.  Everyone who is human makes mistakes and learns from them.  But not everyone beats themselves up because of the mistake.  Again, switch your focus to see the goodness that is still in you even when you have made a mistake. 

               Loving oneself and loving another is to let go of judgments.  A love that empathizes and accepts takes the place of judgments.

Don’t Just Say “I Love You”. Show It.

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You may think saying “I love you” is all that is needed in your relationship(s).  But, if you live each day as if it could be your last with the person(s) you love, you will find many ways to show your love rather than just announcing your love.

Here are some proven ways to show your love.

Give Reassurance and Emotional Support

               Both men and women feel loved when their partner gave assurances that he/she would always be there and supportive.1   Give your partner security by saying you are there for them when they most need it.  Show emotional support by being attentive though making eye contact and actively listening by repeating back a bit of what you heard.

Touch

Don’t let a day go by without touching your partner.  Maybe it is a hug or a kiss, or a shoulder rub.  Touch does not have to always signal, “I want sex”—it can signal, “I care about you.” 2   In fact, contrary to stereotypes, men in long-term relationships who get lots of kisses and cuddles report being more sexually satisfied.3

Be Positive

               When you are cheerful and optimistic, your replies are comforting for your partner.  This positivity also includes being patient and forgiving, showing a cooperative attitude during disagreements, and avoiding criticizing your partner.  Researchers have found that both men and women can show this equally in relationships and it is much appreciated by both genders.4

Do Things Together

               Sharing household tasks, working together on a mutual (fun) goal, walking and talking (but not about problems), and having a night out all communicate that you love to be with your partner.  Although one study found no difference in the men and women using this way of showing love, one other study did find that men tend to using this strategy more than women.5, 6

Show Appreciation

               When your partner does something you like, make sure you say so. And, often, just out of the blue, compliment your partner by saying what, specifically, you love about him/her. 

Do Things for Your Partner (Especially Surprises)

               Have a plant or flowers sent to your partner at work.  Wrap a warm blanket around your partner when he/she needs comforting.  Pack a suitcase for each of you and take your partner on a surprise weekend trip.  A lot of what love is all about is the attraction, caring, and intimacy you are showing through these actions.7

  1. Dainton, M., Stafford, L., & Canary, D.J. (1994). Maintenance strategies and physical affection as predictors of love, liking, and satisfaction in marriage. Communication Reports, 7, 2, 88-98.
  2. Marston, P.J., Hecht, M.L. & Robers, T. (1987). True love ways: The subjective experience and communication of romantic love. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 4, 387-407.
  3. Heiman, J.R., et. al. (2011). Sexual satisfaction and relationship happiness in midlife and older couples in five countries. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40, 4, 741-753.
  4. Dainton, M., Stafford, L., & Canary, D.J. (1994). Maintenance strategies and physical affection as predictors of love, liking, and satisfaction in marriage. Communication Reports, 7, 2, 88-98.
  5. Dainton, M., Stafford, L., & Canary, D.J. (1994). Maintenance strategies and physical affection as predictors of love, liking, and satisfaction in marriage. Communication Reports, 7, 2, 88-98.
  6. Schoenfeld, E.A., Bredow, C.A., & Huston, T.L. (2012). Do men and women show love differently in marriage? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 38, 11, 1396-1409.
  7. Rubin, Z. (1973). Liking and loving.Y.: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.