I often encounter people who are convinced that the way they react to another’s words or deeds equals the intent of the other’s actions. Sometimes that is accurate but in many instances that is anything but accurate. A quick example of this was recently told to me by one of my patients. Dan (not his real name) was watching his very creative 7 year old son play with an imaginary friend verbalizing out loud what he and his “friend” were saying. Dan was quite enthralled with his son’s creativity when his son spotted him watching the play-acting. Dan didn’t want his son to feel embarrassed so he just smiled and walked away. Later his son told him that he felt his dad was making fun of him which was not close to accurate.
More commonly I hear adults assuming what the other meant and then treating their hypothesis as if they are facts. We all constantly interpret what others mean which is not the problem as I see it. What is a problem is the absolute assumption that one”s interpretation is spot on.
I realize there are degree’s of the “likely”meaning of someones actions or comments that are easy to read, but the notion that one is absolutely sure of one’s interpretation without any other possibility strikes me as problematic. As a therapist I attempt to stay open to the reality that I may be inaccurate and frequently find that in fact I was wrong about the assumptions I made. We all make assumptions which is normal. It’s just the lack of humility or rigid or grandiose assumptions that one is right that, in my mind, is problematic. Just because a feeling or emotion is induced by reacting to someone else doesn’t make that emotion a fact. Feelings are not facts, they are reactions.