I feel X, so you must Y
by Robert S. Vibert
Anyone who interacts with other humans is likely to run into what I am terming impositional logic. This is peculiar form of logic in which one person imposes an expectation on the other as the result of a feeling.
Here’s a simple example – someone feels sad, and so expects that others will do something to cheer them up. I’m not talking about wanting or hoping for something – with impositional logic there is an actual expectation involved, and often negative fallout is directed at the other person when that expectation is not fulfilled.
This negative fallout can range from pouting to outrage to outbursts to severed relationships, all because the expectation was not fulfilled, or not fulfilled in a “timely” fashion. Often, the expectation is not verbalized – it is simply expected, as a right.
Where do we get such ideas?
This concept that we have the right to expect something from another human just because we are experiencing a feeling might come, in part, from our childhood. Before we can express ourselves in language, we must rely on others (especially primary care-givers) to interpret our current emotional state and provide us with what we need (food, diaper change, tucked in for sleep, etc.). After some time of having our unexpressed needs met almost automatically, a habit or worldview of expectation can become part of our way of moving through life.
When a relationship is one of adult and infant, this sort of expectation can be “normal”. However, as people become more mature (supposedly) and interact on a more peer-to-peer basis, then unspoken expectations enter into the realm of impositions.
Sometimes we can impose expectations on ourselves. When this phenomena of impositional logic and expectations became apparent to me, and that little voice inside said “write about this”, there was an expectation that I would find the words I needed to compose this post. Fortunately, my self and my inner voice get along pretty well, so the process of writing was not fraught with implied doom if I did not succeed in this project. Meanwhile, the inner critic is watching the progress right now, and chuckling at how “rusty” the writer is, having been away from these sorts of written commentaries for several years.
But, enough about me – I expect that you are still reading at this point… even though I had not actually said that, yet. Now the cat is out of the figurative bag (much to his relief, I am sure).
Some expectations I have observed
The following is a short list to illustrate the concept of impositional logic a little more:
- I feel happy, so you should feel happy too
- I feel angry about ABC, so you should also feel angry about ABC
- I feel angry at you, so you should feel sorry
- I feel hurt, so you should beg forgiveness
- I feel love for you, so you should feel love for me
- I feel upset, so you should restrict your activities
- I feel threatened by BCD, so you should protect me from that
- I feel insecure, so you must compliment me
- I believe in the Easter Bunny, so you must also
When we fail to fulfill
I mentioned above the negative fallout that often arises as a result of not meeting an unspoken expectation. In the world of impositional logic, the fact that the expectation is not communicated is somehow irrelevant. A corollary logic is “if you loved me, you would know…” which is equally absurd, but quite commonplace. The negative fallout represents punishment for failure and is actually coercive in nature – the person who has not “complied” with the expectation may end up over-compensating in the future to anticipate and prevent being subjected to the fallout. They will attempt to guess what is expected of them and provide it, even though they eventually come to realize that the expectation is not always the same and the rules keep shifting.
How to deal with this?
No clear cut solution has appeared in front of me yet, but I remain slightly optimistic. I’ve tried telling people that I flunked mind-reading which sometimes buys me about 1 day of grace. I ask for all needs to be clearly communicated in advance or at least at the time, but that has a poor track record so far. The number of hours I have invested in trying to decipher unexpressed expectations in other humans has exceeded my counting, and still I get blindsided regularly. Perhaps one day the answer will be revealed, but I best not get my expectations and hopes up.
Copyright 2014 Robert S. Vibert, all rights reserved.