By Sarah Hamaker

When my oldest daughter was in kindergarten, she was convinced a classmate didn’t like her because he would knock her book off the table and bump into her several times each day. The teacher observed that the boy wasn’t being deliberately mean — he simply liked Naomi and was rather clumsy, as so many kindergartners can be.

My daughter’s confusion wasn’t unusual. “When we are young, we are more concerned with ourselves,” says Melissa Divaris Thompson, a licensed marriage and family therapist and co-founder of Honest Mamas. “We learn through time to be more polite and regard others and their feelings.”

Every child — and adult — struggles with how to interpret others’ motives, often assuming the worst. It’s natural to think everything is personal, but we need to step back and look objectively, says Lynn R. Zakeri, a clinical therapist. Zakeri uses the example of someone cutting us off in traffic. Rather than simply assigning negative motives, she says, “we have to go that extra step to say the person might be running late or did not see me in his blind spot. Being a victim can become a habit.”

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