There are many occasions in our lives that have resulted in us feeling angry or hurt by the words and actions of others. These feelings may continue to arise within us as an automatic response to any behaviour that we have interpreted as insulting, demeaning, humiliating, or otherwise negative, and they may get in the way of our communication with others. Our communication and relationships can be adversely affected when take on board feelings of upset and hurt: when we feel threatened, our responses to others can become hostile.
What are you seeing?
Are our perceptions always correct? The answer to that also lies in our perception!
We perceive the world through our sensory organs and our cognitions. Basically, we make sense of our experiences based on visual and other sensory input combined with prior understandings. These understandings have a foundation in our cultural and social backgrounds, blended together with how we have felt in particular situations. Given that we have unique pasts, we each have developed a distinctive view of the world and of ourselves. We have learnt to view the world in a particular way, and our beliefs about ourselves and others are formed from this stance.
Each person’s reality is unique. It has been built upon previous reality, which has been continually molded since birth. We have formed perceptual expectations about current and future events based on past personal experiences – what we expect to notice is invariably what we will notice.
Even when present at the same event, different individuals may perceive different aspects or nuances of the situation, resulting in a range of unique experiences about the event. We can notice this especially when discussing a movie or a book with others, or when recalling a conversation among people, and we hear a variety of opinions expressed, many of which represent opposing viewpoints about what has occurred in the story or conversation.
Which perception is correct?
Obviously there are many perceptions about everything. The way in which I view the world or other people’s behaviour is only my way of viewing it. If I am not standing in the shoes of another, I cannot possibly know for sure the intentions that have led to particular behaviour or statements that have been made.
Perception or Misperception?
Many of the problems in our communication and relationships stem from our perceptions about ourselves. We may feel that others are being unkind because of our perceived view about their words or actions. If we do not check out the perception with them, we may be completely incorrect in a belief that they have intended to hurt us.
We may perceive the words and actions of others as unkind when we have not really tried to understand the reasons behind what they have said or done.
An example of this may be a work colleague who says to me: “Are you still doing that job?”
I may take immediate offence at this remark with the suggestion that I am taking too long on the task. My perception is that my work colleague believes I am incompetent or being lazy or trying to string out the job longer than it should take. The moment I take offence at these words, I begin to create an entire story around the intentions of the work colleague, and my resentment kicks in. In response, I may lash out, or avoid this person, or I may choose some other form of retaliation to the offensive question asked by my work colleague.
Is my perception correct? Did my work colleague really mean to offend me? Is there a belief that I am really incompetent or lazy?
The only way I can possibly know for sure is to check it out further and to ask my work colleague about the intention behind the question directed at me. If I never check it out, I will continue on with my own perceptions and feelings of hurt and resentment about the story I have created.
I may be correct in my perceptions about my colleague, however there are so many other possible reasons that the question was asked: “Are you still doing that job?”
It is possible that in asking the question, my colleague might be thinking that the job I am doing must be so tedious; or wondering if there is a way that I might be helped; or feeling grateful that the job landed with me and not her; or expressing how much stamina I have in remaining focused on one task for so long; or wondering if I am being paid overtime, or there may be some other possible reason for asking the question. My personal perception is just one possible explanation.
Are your feelings getting in the way?
It is interesting, though not uncommon, that many people take on a negative perception about people’s actions and words. This perception arises from feelings of low self-worth. When we feel low about ourselves, we can interpret everyone else’s behaviour as diminishing us, and what we focus on, we draw more into our focus! Our feelings of low self-worth become intensified because we build so many more stories of validation about our personal perception.
Even though we may believe that we are entitled to our feelings of upset, jealousy and resentment, the bigger question is: How are these feelings benefitting me? Clearly, feelings of upset, bitterness or low self-worth are not helping me to feel better about myself, nor are they enabling me to be a better person. Furthermore, other people may not even realise that I am carrying these harsh feelings, so some of the reasons for hanging onto my feelings – being that other people deserve it – may be completely invalid.
It is in everyone’s interest that we hold our fire about the comments of others until we have checked them out further, especially if we are inclined to view them from a negative perspective. We would also benefit from finding ways to heal some of the past hurts that we still carry that result in our feelings of low self-worth. When we feel better about ourselves, we are in a better place to communicate with others in a more respectful way. The result of course is improved relationships.
Margaret welcomes your comments. You may have your own tips and some insights to share, or some questions or responses to this article.
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