How To Stop Letting Misunderstandings Make You Miserable
“We are infected by our own misunderstanding of how our own minds work.”
— Kevin Kelly
This morning, I was sitting in my garden with some chocolate spice tea and my journal. The sun kissed my face gently with its warmth; the birds sang their sweet songs. Closing my eyes, I sank into my chair and enjoyed the moment.
My brief reverie was interrupted with the familiar creaking of the gate opening. This was followed by a few footsteps up the path but they stopped suddenly.
Opening my eyes, I saw my sweet blue friend at the bottom of the garden. Missing her usual smile, I knew something was up.
“Morning, Witchy! How would you like some chocolate spice tea?”
“I woke you up.”
“No! Not at all!” I smiled. “I was just enjoying the sun and the birds. Come, sit down and I’ll get some tea for you.”
As I rose, she put up a hand and stopped me. “Can you hear the sloshing from there?”
“Yes. Listen.” She continued up the path toward me. “Did you hear that?”
“No…I really don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Well, I was kind of upset this morning and Enchantra made me drink seven cups of chamomile tea.”
“Seven??” I could feel my eyes bulging out of their sockets.
“She’s a big cauldron.”
“Well, that’s true, but you say she made you drink all that tea?”
“Yes.” Witchy approached the pretty wrought-iron table on my patio and sat opposite me.
“That doesn’t sound like Enchantra. You’ve never mentioned her being pushy before.”
“Well, she was worried about me. And she made all that tea. I felt like I had to drink it.”
“Ah. I see. So she didn’t actually tell you to drink it?”
“What? I’m confused. So she did tell you to drink it?”
“But you just said ‘yes’ when I — ”
“Yes. And no.”
“What?? What are you talking about?”
“Yes, I did. And no, she didn’t.”
I’ve never met anyone else who can produce dizziness in another person simply by speaking. But Witchy did it without even trying.
“Oy vey.” 🤦🏻♀️
“She was being so nice to me. I didn’t want her to think I didn’t appreciate what she had done. And I didn’t want to waste the tea.”
“Well, a note about the tea…you can always put it in the fridge after it cools. You can even add some lemon balm leaves or some lemon wedges and enjoy it cold.”
“Mm, that sounds good.”
“It is. And as for the rest of what you said, I appreciate you not wanting to upset Enchantra or make her feel bad but Witchy, you’re not responsible for how anyone else feels.”
“Yes, I am. If she thinks I didn’t appreciate what she did, she’ll be upset!”
“First, we’re talking about Enchantra and I doubt she would be upset anyway. She’s been your cauldron for as long as you’ve been a witch. She’s wise and kind and ever so patient.”
“Well, that’s true.”
“But even if we were talking about any of your friends, anyone at all, including Enchantra and including me, too, you have no control over how other people feel or respond to anything.”
“Yes, I do! In fact, that’s why I was upset today! Last night, I was visiting my friend, Margaret. I brought up that pinhead ex-boyfriend of mine, Vladimir the Vampire and mentioned something he did to me. It reminded her of her pinhead ex-boyfriend who was awful to her, too, and it made her cry! I apologised for making her cry but it seemed the more I said, the more upset she got! She didn’t even seem to be listening to me anymore!”
“That sounds really awful for you, Witchy.”
“It was! I might as well have been speaking in my native witch language from the Transylvania Forest! Everything I said made her mad, and I couldn’t understand why!”
“It’s easy to misunderstand each other even at the best of times. It gets messier when one or both people are emotional.”
“If we’re using the same words, why do people misunderstand each other?”
“Witchy, look at all the times you and I have conversations where we got lost! It’s not the words we use, it’s the meaning we give them. You’re still learning English so sometimes you don’t understand certain sayings or words you haven’t heard yet. But for everyone, we assign meaning to words. The word ‘beach’ might make you think of happy days in the sun, playing in the water. And it might make someone else remember the horror of nearly drowning.”
“That makes sense. But why did Margaret get so upset with me and not even seem to listen?”
“Because when we get emotional, it can be difficult to think clearly. It takes a lot of skill and practice to learn how to separate our thoughts from our feelings. It requires self-awareness and an understanding of what’s going on inside us when we get upset. We have to learn how to take ownership of those responses. But until we learn how to do that, when emotions get in the way, rational thoughts fly out the window.”
“Now that’s something I would like to see! How does that even work? Do they actually come out of your ears? What happens if the window isn’t open? Do they open it? Or do they fly right into it and land in a little pile of letters on the windowsill? Oh, this is exciting!” She looked like a little kid on Christmas morning.
“Hate to disappoint you, Witchy, but no, nothing quite like that.”
Her face fell. “Well, still…I knew Margaret had a pinhead ex-boyfriend who hurt her. I should have known not to bring up the subject. I’m a terrible friend! If I hadn’t brought up Vladimir, she wouldn’t have felt bad and cried!”
“It’s not your fault she got upset.”
“Yes, it is! I was the one who brought up the subject! So it’s my fault she cried and got so mad!”
“None of that is your fault. She has some emotional wounds to clear up.”
“Yes! Like the one from when I made her cry last night!”
“That’s not what I mean. Obviously, the issue with her ex-boyfriend still hurts. She needs to do some work to heal that wound. That’s the only way it’ll stop hurting. She’s the one in control of her emotions and her responses, Witchy, not you.”
“That makes no sense.”
“It makes perfect sense! Think about it! What if I told you to get angry right now? I mean, really, frighteningly, awfully angry? Right now, Witchy, come on, do it!”
She stared at me, blinking.
“Is it working? Are you angry yet?” I gave her my best fake-intimidating look.
“Uh…no. Actually, if I weren’t still upset about Margaret, I’d probably laugh at you ’cause you look kind of ridiculous.”
“See? You had the choice to get angry or not. You had the choice to stay calm. You even had the choice to laugh at me. Or you could have started thinking about Vladimir or anything else that might have led to you being upset. But you didn’t.”
“So why do I feel like it’s my fault that Margaret cried because I mentioned Vladimir? I should have known; it’s happened before!”
“Because that’s what she’s taught you. You’ve learned that this is her response. So if you ever wanted to make her cry on purpose — ”
“I wouldn’t do that!” Witchy interjected, shocked. “That’s mean!”
“I know you wouldn’t. Hang on, there’s a point to this. If you wanted to make her cry, you could bring up Vladimir because you’ve been taught that that’s how she responds. But if she decided she didn’t like responding that way anymore, or if she knew that’s what you wanted and she didn’t want to give it to you, she could show a different response.”
“But what if she still felt like crying anyway?”
“She could feel like that on the inside but not let you see it on the outside. She could act like she doesn’t care.”
“But I’d still be upsetting her. I just wouldn’t see it. So it would still be my fault.”
“She could also decide that it’s time she stopped crying over a pinhead ex-boyfriend who isn’t crying over her. Or she could decide to be angry with him. Or she could be grateful to him for showing her what he was really like. The point is, it’s her choice, Witchy. You can’t make anyone feel anything. You might have learned that if you say or do something in particular, you’ll get a certain response. But that doesn’t mean you had anything to do with it.”
“Okay. I think I get it. But Margaret doesn’t. She still thinks I’m the one who upset her. She’s mad at me now. She thinks I said a whole bunch of things to be mean, but I didn’t!”
“I sure don’t!”
“I mean, I understand how you feel. And I understand the situation. The thing is, you did the best you could. You didn’t say anything mean or hurtful. I know your heart, my little blue friend. And if Margaret is truly your friend, she will know it, too. Hopefully, she’ll calm down and once she’s not emotional anymore, she’ll think about what happened and realise you didn’t mean any harm.”
“And what if she doesn’t? What if she stays mad at me?”
“Then she’s not being fair to herself or to you. It might be easier for her to blame you for her misery than to look at what’s really wrong and heal it, but it won’t make her happy in the long run. And you don’t have to stay friends with someone who isn’t nice to you and who blames you for their problems.”
“That would make me sad. I like Margaret.” Witchy’s bottom lip quivered a little.
“I’m sure she likes you, too, Witchy. Give her time. Maybe she’ll remember what a good friend you’ve always been. And if she doesn’t, then I guess she’s not meant to be your friend. It’s sad when that happens, but that’s just how life is sometimes.”
“I hope you never get mad at me like that!”
“Why would you even think about that?”
“Because we don’t understand each other a lot!”
“That’s true, but we don’t get upset about it. We respect each other in the way we speak and we keep talking until we figure it out. Misunderstandings are a normal part of communication. It’s how we handle them that matters. Like, if you see that someone is being emotional and not hearing you, or if you’re the one who is getting upset, you can always step away and return to the conversation when the emotions have settled.”
“So you won’t get mad at me and stop being my friend sometime when I make you dizzy?”
“Not a chance, my friend. I can’t imagine my life without you in it. Dizzies and all. I love everything about you.”
Her blue skin turned a soft shade of lavender as she blushed. I rose and picked up my journal. “Now, how about some breakfast to soak up all that chamomile tea? It just won’t do to have you sloshing all day!”
Witchy grinned and followed me into the cottage, where we enjoyed a simple meal together as good friends do.
READ: This Is Why Negative People Can Make You Sick
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