It’s tempting to test the people in our lives, to see how well they meet our expectations and demands. But it’s a good idea to recognize that (and when) we’re doing it, and a great idea to break this pattern.
Often when we’re testing (whether consciously or sub-consciously), we’re setting others up to fail. Often when we decide they’ve failed our tests, we respond punitively, meting out various forms of punishment to express our disappointment.
If we’re honest with ourselves, sometimes it’s as if we want those we test to fail, perhaps to justify to ourselves a basis to feel like a victim with the right to make the disappointer pay. It’s as if we’re saying, “Ha ha! I got you! I knew it! You failed my test! Now, I’m going to exact a price.”
When we test, we’re behaving manipulatively. Often the subjects of our testing are unaware they’re being tested, because we usually don’t tell them. Usually we like to keep them in the dark to see what they’ll really do, how they’ll really respond without our prompting—as if this will tell us their “true” versus “coached” reactions (as if the latter will be illegitimate).
But think about it—every time we do this, it’s as if we’re making those we test the unwitting subjects of our private experiments. When their responses fall short, we express our wrath as if by administering electroshock punishments in various forms of retributive feedback. We risk leaving them feeling ambushed and worn down by these “interpersonal electroshocks” that may seem to come as if out of nowhere.
When we test we’re being “passive aggressive” by creating communicatively “unlevel” playing fields, inasmuch as our non-transparent, opaque communication and agendas leave those we’re testing communicatively and informationally “in the dark,” which is an abuse of their vulnerability.
For all these reasons testing has only negative impacts on relationships. It is never productive or constructive. It is possible and necessary, when we find ourselves testing (or tempted to test) to recognize it, catch and remind ourselves to find more honest, transparent, respectful ways to express our needs, concerns, anxieties, insecurities and vulnerability.
We must actively confront our self-delusion that our testing will yield a response from those we test that will be truer and more meaningful than our transparent communication will yield. To the contrary, by virtue of its manipulative properties, testing always yields less true, less meaningful responses than our straightforward communication does.
This gives us many good reasons to examine our propensity to test in relationships, and to dedicate ourselves to stopping it.