Understanding What Others Think

It’s a pretty dangerous thing to rely on the reactions of others to gauge where you are in your life or how you might even feel about yourself. I’ve always been a person-pleaser. I’ve struggled with finding the right words to elicit the right responses at the right times. It has become almost an obsessive game of control in believing my words, my actions will have this reaction from or that change in a specific individual.

In the past, it has made me feel superior, as if it were something on a list I needed to cross off to ensure I had a good day.

The flip side of this is taking inventory of every word that might be shared with me or be about me. What do these words mean? Why did they say that? What am I doing to cause that person to say those words? What can I do to change me to control what they might say in the future?

All dangerous thoughts, I now understand.

Hugh Prather, in his first book titled Notes To Myself: My struggle to become a person, writes:

If someone criticizes me I am not any less because of that. It is not a criticism of me but a critical thinking from him. He is expressing his thoughts and his feelings, not my being.

Before, I thought I was actually fighting for my own self-worth; that is why I so desperately wanted people to like me. I thought their liking me was a comment on me, but it was a comment on them.

This is an important thing to remember, although it is hard as anything to hear another person’s words about you and keep them on their side of the fence and not invite them over for a nice game of dress-up to make them into what they never really were in the first place.

What if we were to appreciate those other comments people give us for what they are: thoughts shared by a friend who is struggling to become his or her own person? By sharing those thoughts, aren’t they themselves trying to understand and process his or her own feelings about something that has happened?

Perhaps if my reaction is not filled with motivation to change that friend, they will have the room to work through that emotion without trying to figure out why I would react in the way that I did. When that happens, the conversation is no longer about working through an emotion but about the misdirected reaction to the words that were used to express that emotion.

So how does this translate into what I might be able to do today? Whenever I am in conversation with anybody today, I will breathe at least once before responding and try to remember that their words are not about me but about them. And if I don’t work at trying to change them with the words I offer, then I’m doing a far greater thing for them by simply giving them the space they need to understand their words and their feelings in the safety of my presence. . . .

2 thoughts on “Understanding What Others Think

  1. What a great post. It was as if you knew some of what I am struggling with myself. Over the years I have learned that I get a much better outcome if I respond rather than react to a situation or a comment that a person might make. Reaction is made up of adrenaline, emotion and very little thought or logic. Sometimes this is needed such as in emergency situations, but even Rsure personell are called “First Responders” and not “First Reactors”.

    By responding, I use more thought, logic and understanding than adrenaline emotion and oftent he feeling of “I’ll show/tell them” which is really non productive at all. By learning to use phrases such as “What you said hurt me because…….” instead of saying ” You are crazy and have no idea what you are talking about.” It puts the onus on me and not the other person, thus making them less defensive and more willing to listen.

    The one thing your wrote that I felt may be a little optimistic in some cases was “By sharing those thoughts, aren’t they themselves trying to understand and process his or her own feelings about something that has happened? Yes, in an ideal world but sometimes other people are just reacting rather than responding themselves and unfortunately some people can (ok almost all of us at some point) can be down right mean without meaning to.

    Great post. Hit close to home thanks for sharing.


  2. Your post made me think of The Four Agreements, a book I think most people should read at least twice a year! Agreements #2: Don’t Take Anything Personally and #3: Don’t Make Assumptions are directly related to what you’re talking about.

    I’m at the other end of the spectrum from you and Michelle. I’ve become very good at Not Taking Anything Personally. Sometimes that’s a good thing and sometimes it’s not. I usually assume that a person’s issues with me stem from issues within themselves. Then I spend a fair amount of time in self-reflection to see if there really is anything about my behavior or comments that I need to change. Usually not because I think I was wrong (ha) but because I think there could be a better way of discussing it so as not to bring out the other person’s insecuritites or issues.


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