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  • Writer's pictureAmy G Nash

Have you checked on your interpretations lately?

Updated: Apr 2

We all do it. Take things personally. Misunderstand. Act as if all words and actions are based on what I would mean if I did that, instead of trying to discover (and learn) what the person really means.

These habits are far from harmless. They interfere with our relationships, can cause increased confusion, and even end friendships or marriages.

Why do we misinterpret? Usually, because of our home of origin, the way we interpreted things as a 5 year old, 6 year old, 7 year old, when our brains were immature, and our understanding limited. We saw the world through the lens of that child. Then we grew up. Somehow, we rarely thought to examine some of our belief systems, our conclusions, or our world views.

Therapist Jill Schwirzer says we have three choices when making an interpretation. Positive. Negative. Netural. The positive puts a spin on it that makes us happy. "They stopped talking when I walked into a room because they want me to join the conversation." A negative spins it downward. "They stopped talking. They must have been talking about me. It musta been pretty bad." And a neutral. "Oh, they finished their conversation."

I find individuals who are trauma survivors often become "negative interpreters". They have been hurt. Their amygdala is still elevated into fight or flight mode, sensing danger where no danger exists. Frequently they see the negative in others. Such behaviors ultimately lose them friends. Who wants to be around someone who is so sensitive that often, what you say or do brings criticism or complaints?

Not only does such behavior affect family or friends, the person themselves experience overwhelming emotions because they "believe" if they think it, it must be true. They trust their instinct, not realizing it is broken and giving them false information. Their lives are an emotional rollercoaster. In time, they isolate for fear of being around others who are negatively impacting them, or they find themselves alone, because their friends avoid them.

The good news? I can change. I can learn to step back, see the bigger picture, and find another interpretation. It requires learning self-soothing skills, such as deep breathing. It means I ask before I jump to conclusions, especially the negative and destructive ones.

If you are not sure about whether you are a negative interpreter, ask your friends. If more than one of them says yes, learn how to re-think, reframe, self-sooth.

You are the one who would benefit the most from such changes.


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