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Discovering Self-Compassion

3 Reasons to Give Someone the Benefit of the Doubt

If you’re hesitant to give people the benefit of the doubt, you’re not alone. It’s common for people to believe and expect the worst, especially if you’ve been hurt in the past. Whether you’re dealing with someone who’s going through addiction recovery or you don’t know what to make of a new friend, giving someone the benefit of the doubt can take some effort. However, most people find that it’s better to only be disappointed once in a while than to be cynical and negative all the time, a notion that the Huffington Post agrees with. Here are three reasons why you may want to start giving the people in your life the benefit of the doubt more often.

1. Your Beliefs Can Create a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

Your beliefs about people and the world can turn into a feedback loop. The more positive an outlook you have, the more positive your experiences will be, and the same is true for how a negative outlook can affect your experiences. When you go into a certain situation and you act in a way that reflects your expectations, those expectations often become a reality.

For example, let’s say you’re about to meet a friend of a friend. You’ve heard stories about this person before and have listened to people say that this person is selfish. When you meet them for the first time, you’re probably going to expect them to be selfish. Even if they aren’t actually selfish, everything they do or say will feed your expectation of them. However, if you meet them without assuming they’re going to be selfish, you may see them in a different way. By simply changing the way you expect people to be, you can greatly improve your relationships.

2. You’ll Forgive Yourself for Your Mistakes

When you give people the benefit of the doubt, it also becomes easier to give yourself the benefit of the doubt. By being forgiving of others, even when you may not agree with everything they do or say, you also become more forgiving of yourself. If you’re not able to give people the benefit of the doubt, you may be forcing yourself to meet those same high standards that you set for others. Or,
you may be upset because you feel like a hypocrite for not meeting those standards. When you’re gentle with other people, you’ll be more gentle with yourself, too.

3. You’ll Understand People Better

According to The Emotion Machine, most people feel that when someone makes a mistake, it has more to do with their internal self than external factors. We assume that mistakes are caused by personalities, not situations. In psychology, this is called a fundamental attribution error. Luckily, it’s possible to move past this bias in an effort to understand people more. Ask yourself the following questions to help get to the root of the mistake:

• Would I have acted differently if I were in this person’s shoes and if I had their past experiences to draw from?

• Are there any factors in the environment that may have affected this person’s choices? Is it possible that I’m not even aware of some possible environmental factors?

• How would a majority of people act if they were in the same situation?

This is a way of practicing empathy that’s called perspective-taking. When you consider the person’s perspective, you admit that there may be factors that you hadn’t considered before that affected their decisions and actions. This makes it easier to see things from their side and give them the benefit of the doubt. It also will become easier for you to stand in another person’s shoes down the road.

For many people, it’s more fulfilling to assume the best than to assume the worst. While there are people in the world who are selfish, negative and ultimately bad, consider them the exception, not the rule. When you give people the benefit of the doubt, you end up learning a lot about yourself while making their life a little easier. You may not meet fewer bad people in your life, but you will get to know more great people.