I call it The Crazy Math. It's what we do whenever something happens and we take that thing and we add to it a slew of ideas we have about it and we interpret what we think that thing means.
For instance, a man once told me he was a terrible husband. I asked, “Why are you a terrible husband?” He said his wife told him so. I asked, “Did she say, 'you're a terrible husband?'” “Well, not exactly...” he replied.
After digging a little deeper, we discovered what really happened. That morning she had said to him, “I don't like our mattress.”
Then, after she said it, he started doing The Crazy Math. He concluded that it meant he was a terrible husband. And he truly believed it. He believed it, and he got hurt by it, because in his calculation (in his interpretation of A+B+C=D) she said she didn't like the mattress (A), PLUS he picked out the mattress (B), PLUS he paid for the mattress (C), EQUALED he's a terrible husband (D)!
Can you see how this can create a nasty snowball effect?
Injuries like this happen to us all the time. They occur when something happens (or doesn't happen), or when someone says something (or doesn't say something).
- Something happens: we get dumped and we do The Crazy Math on it. We conclude it means something else: I'm going to end up alone. And then we get hurt.
- Something doesn't happen: they didn't text us back! and we do The Crazy Math on it. We conclude it means something else: they don't care about me. And then we get hurt.
- Someone says something: Are you really going to eat that? and we do The Crazy Math on it. We conclude it means something else: I'm too fat. And then we get hurt.
- Someone doesn't say something: they forgot our birthday and we do The Crazy Math on it. We conclude it means something else: it wouldn't have happened if they loved me. And then we get hurt.
The point I hope you're getting is that the injury is not what happened (or didn't). The injury is what we experience because of The Crazy Math we do in our interpretation of what happened (or didn't). The interpretation is what causes the suffering we're stuck with after the event happens.
The interpretation is what causes the suffering we're stuck with after the event happens.
It's the belief we take on (I'm unloveable or they don't respect me or that shouldn't have happened, etc.) that creates the snowball of hurt that be caused that is not inherent in the event.
Something really can just happen and no injury comes out of it.
It's pretty easy for us to recognize that I don't like this mattress means I don't like this mattress. And that it doesn't mean I'm a terrible husband. However, when we're the one doing The Crazy Math, it can be much trickier for us to see it.
Are you really going to eat that? doesn't mean I'm too fat. What it might mean is, I really want to eat that, so please tell me you're not going to! Or, it might mean, I'm so stuffed, I can't imagine how you possibly could have room for more. Can you see it?
When they didn't text you back might mean that they are on a phone call, or that their battery died, or that they're busy doing something nice to surprise you.
The good news is a lot of healing can take place when you take a look back, and notice where you've done this in the past. You can try taking another pass at calculating what happened. Also, if today you notice you're doing The Crazy Math on something, you can stop yourself from adding things up in a way that hurts you. That way, you will prevent yourself a lot of needless suffering.
Hopefully, you can take some solace in the fact that you are not the only one who does The Crazy Math – it's just a part of being human.
Are you doing The Crazy Math? Please share your stories in the comments below.
Caren Field (MA, LLPC) is a professional individual and couples counselor with a master's degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. Her latest project, a series of workshops called Liberating with Honor, is designed to teach people how to heal themselves (and others) from past injures and how to set themselves free! Find out more here: https://bit.ly/tptp-lwh
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