Contradictions by definition are confusing. We say one thing, then do another. These inconsistencies are particularly distressing when it is how we act with each other. It is as if when we are speeding along we signal to turn right but execute a sharp left.
Deception is the name of the game in football and other sports when two teams compete. The deceit is when we want the opponent to go this way while we go that way and score a touchdown or goal. There are head fakes and jukes or, in other words, contradictions.
When we interact with other humans, there are often unconscious fakes and jukes. For example, when we need to be loved the most, we act the most unlovable. When we want to be close, we move away. We get upset at the very person we need the most. We want to be cuddled, but don’t you dare touch us. If held, we squirm away.
No wonder there are so many moments of confusion and hurt. The bafflement comes because it would only make sense if we wanted to be loved, we would be lovable. If we desired proximity, we would move closer. It would be rational to shower the ones we love with kindness and patience. If we needed calming, we would be stilled in embraces. Life would be simple if this is what we all did all the time.
Human behavior becomes a contradiction when it changes from the positive to the negative due to emotional insecurity. The natural reaction of the insecure is to seek protection of distance either in miles or in emotions. The farther away they are, the more removed they are from potential hurt. They have learned from infancy that if they get too close, their source of security moves away.
Understandably, when we see someone walk away, we let them go. We get the hint. When someone is upset we know enough to match anger with anger. When someone does not want to be stroked, we respect their space and follow their lead to step back and close off as well. Their interpreted rejection of us is met with our own protective look away, folded arms and crossed legs.
Human behavioral plays of contradictions have been instinctively learned and practiced since babyhood. While they confuse, their intent is not to deceive but protect. These supposedly illogical moves are perfectly clear if we understand why we do what we do. In a way, the objective of both a player and a person is to be safe. The former wants to escape the physical pain of tackling, and the latter seeks to be free from the engrained emotional pain of rejection.
Defensive players learn early not to go for head fakes. Instead, they are to stay on their toes and keep their eyes on the other guy’s hips. Security is the fundamental need of everyone. Knowing this is the same as keeping our eyes on the opponents’ hips. If we put all behavior up against this standard of security, then our natural tendency to fall for the contradictions would lessen.
Athletes know they are juking. Unfortunately, we frequently do not recognize our contradictions, let alone why we are running away, getting irritable, rejecting touch and shunning intimacy. Consequently, when we see others coming toward us, we speed up our escape.
Insight into one’s own emotional reactions is not easy or always possible. It can be painful. Because the automatic response of insecurity is to flee, even talking about the contradictions can propel others away.
Therefore, to sustain relationships, we need to be able to take some hits and understand the contradictions. We have to realize that stepping away is actually a call to be followed — unless they don’t want to be followed.
Therefore, because there are so many contradictions to stay in the game, we can’t go for the head fakes.
Joseph Cramer, M.D., is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, practicing pediatrician for 30 years and a hospitalist at Primary Children's Hospital and the University of Utah. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.