Assumptions and the Problems They Cause

Updated on June 4, 2018
denise.w.anderson profile image

A former School Psychologist, Denise writes from her professional experience, as well as emotional health issues within her own family.

We create more problems than we realize when we don't check things out before we assume that we are correct.
We create more problems than we realize when we don't check things out before we assume that we are correct.

Have you ever acted upon an assumption only to find out that you were terribly wrong?

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The woman entered my classroom at the end of the day with a couple of grocery bags in her hand.

"These are for my daughter's birthday," she said. "Her teacher lets the students hand out birthday gifts during their snack time. I wanted to make sure she had them when it is her day to do so."

Nodding my head, I watched her put the sacks up on top of the cabinet in the back of the room. I needn't worry, I was only there for the day, and they would be there when the regular teacher returned.

That night, as I was securing a substitute job for the next day, the opportunity arose to take the same classroom again. I quickly accepted the job, and patted myself on the back that I would know the classroom procedure, and it would be a "piece of cake!"

The next day, as I was looking at the teacher's plan, I saw the note about the child's birthday. She said that handouts would be provided. I nodded, thinking that the one's brought the day previously were already there.

When the time came for the snacks, I retrieved the bags from the cupboard for the child and watched as she distributed them to the students. One girl in the class protested, "These are the same as mine!" I minimized the distraction, thinking that perhaps the girl thought she had been copied.

At the end of the day, the woman once again came into the room. She was not happy with me! The student that had handed out the birthday favors was not her daughter! Her daughter had come to her crying, devastated that I had allowed someone else to hand out her birthday gifts! She wanted to make sure that I let the regular teacher know that someone else would need to provide that which I had freely given to another!

If we have not yet checked out our assumption, acting upon it can be a disaster.
If we have not yet checked out our assumption, acting upon it can be a disaster. | Source

Assumptions are a part of our everyday life

Assumptions are a normal part of our everyday life. We assume that when we get up in the morning, our lives will continue on as they have in the past. Part of these assumptions are based on faith, our knowledge of natural laws, and the way things work in our society.

Some assumptions, however, are based on what we call "conjecture" or us extending our actions based on what we think might happen in the future. The problem occurs when we act on these assumptions without checking out their validity. In the experience above, I had not written down the child's name when the woman brought the sacks of handouts into the room. I assumed several things:

  1. I would not be there the next day
  2. The regular teacher would be the one dealing with the issue
  3. It would be readily evident whose birthday it was

When I came in to substitute the next day, I made another assumption, that the child who was listed in the teacher's notes was the same one that the gifts were brought in for.

Each one of these assumptions carried with it an enormous weight of consequences. The end result was that I embarrassed myself, the child who was supposed to hand out the gifts, the child who actually did hand out the gifts, and the parent.

I left the school that day with my tail between my legs as I contemplated what happened. I had left a note for the regular classroom teacher so that she would understand, thinking that there wasn't anything else I could do; however, at 4:00 a.m. the next morning, I knew that I needed to do something more.

"In addition to stimulating our repentance, the very experience of enduring chastening can refine us and prepare us for greater spiritual privileges."

— D. Todd Christofferson

Assumptions are the reasons that we do things

Assumptions are the reasons on which we base our actions. We assume many things without ever thinking about them. How can we tell when an assumption may be a problem? There are red flags that come up in our conscious mind ahead of time. Any of the following issues are a signal that we need to check things out:

  • Not hearing all of the information

When the woman brought the bag of gifts into the classroom, I could not remember her name. I had seen and talked with her on several occasions, but did not remember who she was. Rather than embarrassing myself by asking, I rationalized that I didn't need to know. When she put the gifts up on the shelf, I rationalized that I didn't need to know her daughter's name either. As a result of my rationalizing, I did not receive all of the information I needed to know.

  • Pausing before acting, and seeing a negative consequence

In the corner of my eye, before handing the birthday girl the gifts during snack time, I saw the girl who actually belonged to them reacting to the situation. Had I stopped and talked to her, I could have found out what was actually happening. Instead, I rationalized her reaction away, thinking that she was just jealous, or that the other girl was copying what she had done previously.

  • Feelings of impending doom or dread

My gut reaction was that something bad was about to happen, but I didn't stop and take the time to check things out, I rationalized that I was just nervous, and that my emotions were close to the surface because I had been in the room the previous day. I was more concerned about following the teacher's instruction and keeping with the time line given than about doing what I knew I should have done.

  • Over concern with pleasing others

I wanted the girl who was celebrating her birthday to have a good experience to the point that I ignored my gut feelings. The classroom teacher had said that a handout would be provided. It was. Therefore, to please both her and the birthday girl, I went forward with what I thought was the right thing, even though I was questioning whether or not it was.

  • Questioning my own feelings of self worth

During the entire experience, I was questioning my own feelings of worth as an individual. This questioning left me uncomfortable enough that I ignored the red flags that came up, thinking that they were just a part of my own personal discomfort. Had I been more sure of my own feelings of worth, I probably would have seen the situation for what it was.

In order for us to move on after own own mistakes, we simply need to forgive ourselves.
In order for us to move on after own own mistakes, we simply need to forgive ourselves.

When assumptions cause problems

When we make a mistake because of an incorrect assumption, we need to do everything we can to rectify the situation. That may mean going to the person we have wronged, and asking for their forgiveness, providing restitution, if possible, and making a commitment to do better in the future.

In my case, I went to the store, purchased some handouts, birthday handout bags, and a card to give the woman who was upset that I had given her birthday gifts to another. I spent the next hour putting together the gift bags and praying that she would forgive me. I wrote her a note, hoping that when I took it to the school, I would be able to talk with her personally.

Unfortunately, I was not able to do so. I left the items in the office after talking with one of the employees. I walked away knowing that I had done what I could to make things right. One day, when I go back to that school, I am sure I will find out! Even then, I knew that I had to forgive myself and move on.

When assumptions cause us problems, the best thing that we can do is look at the situation for what it is, a painful learning experience! Then, we ask for forgiveness, provide restitution, if possible, and make the decision to be more careful in the future.

This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2017 Denise W Anderson


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    • denise.w.anderson profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise W Anderson 

      3 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      That is a good way to put it, Claire! We do not know the future, nor what other people are thinking. It is best not to assume that we do. Assumptions only lead to pain and heartache. I appreciate you sharing your insight.

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Excellent article, when I was in CBT, my therapist used to say I didn't have a crystal ball so I should stop making assumptions!

    • denise.w.anderson profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise W Anderson 

      3 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      You are right, RTalloni, we have all made assumptions. Hopefully, we can learn from our painful mistakes, and make life better for ourselves and others in the process. I appreciate your comments!

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      It's so easy to make assumptions, but it can be quite dangerous. We've all done it, and hopefully learned from the experience. Thanks for outlining your situation in a useful way!

    • denise.w.anderson profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise W Anderson 

      3 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      That is a great way to describe the feeling we have when we are wrong about our assumptions, Dianna! Having egg on the face is certainly embarrassing! We wish we could just crawl in a hole and not come out until everything is blown over. Unfortunately, that is not what happens, and we have to deal with the painful consequences of our actions. I appreciate your comments!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      3 years ago

      I've made a few assumptions that led to having egg on my face. I have learned to listen before making any decisions or voicing opinions.

    • denise.w.anderson profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise W Anderson 

      3 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      That is a great idea, Glenn! I know that it has caused me major problems in the past, especially in my relationships. I am getting better about recognizing it when it happens, but not as often as I would like! I appreciate your comments!

    • Glenn Stok profile image

      Glenn Stok 

      3 years ago from Long Island, NY

      That story you used as an example definitely clarifies the problems created by making assumptions. I know that I've had my share of mishaps in life. Now that I read your article I realize that each time it was a result of making an assumption.

      Going forward, I'm going to make as effort at catching myself and avoid assuming things when I know that I don't have all the information.

    • denise.w.anderson profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise W Anderson 

      3 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      Thanks, Dora. You have become very wise! I, too, am learning that it is best to be careful and avoid making assumptions. The older I get, the more valuable are the relationships I am forming with others and the more careful I need to be! I appreciate your comments.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      3 years ago from The Caribbean

      I know that I haven't perfected it yet, but I can say that the older I get the more I realize the need to avoid making assumptions. Even in good faith, like in your classroom situation, we can be unintentionally wrong. I like your advice to be cautious and check things out.

    • denise.w.anderson profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise W Anderson 

      3 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      I think we all do, Bill. It is a necessary part of our learning processes! Thanks, as always, for your insightful comments!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      3 years ago from Olympia, WA

      I would hate to count the number of times I have made a wrong assumption. All we can do is move forward and try to learn from our off I's time to learn. :)


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