Several years ago I hired someone who took all my old family home movies (VHS) and converted them to a digital format. My kids have long since flown the nest, both of them successful, loving humans. Converting the videos was about minimizing “stuff” I kept holding onto, symbolic of me ruminating in a past long gone, stuck like an old record skipping.  There was also celebration and forgiveness available in coming to peace with the younger version of myself.  After all, hind sight is 20/20.  My intention was to preserve the videos but I was also going through a harsh period of self judgment and sitting with an emerging theme of being misunderstood and/or misunderstanding others.  As the first video flickered to life on my lap top I  wondered, “what was it like to be parented by me?” “Who was I back then?” As I watched myself parent, I was equally alarmed as I was pleased. But before I delve into that, let me add another bit of context to this conversation.

One of my favourite thoughts to contemplate is actually taken from a quote written by the Scottish Poet Robert Burns or as he’s know in our house, “Rabbie Burns”.

“O wad some Power the giftie gie us, to see oursels as ithers see us!”

Me Through Your Eyes

In plain English… “to see ourselves as others see us is indeed a gift” and there is power in being able to comprehend the value in how we are perceived in the world.  My old home videos provided exactly that. What I know about me as a mother is how deep my love runs for my kids. Every single thing I do I do with them in mind. I would take a bullet for them as evidenced by a situation where I thought my kids went missing from my yard only several short years after Michael Dunahee disappeared.  I was fortunate to have lived across the street from Lorna Crozier and Patrick Lane, two gifted writers and award wining poets who influenced my life in ways they’ll never know.  I found the kids in their home, having been brought over there by a harmless, well meaning elderly neighbour who often chatted to the kids as he strolled down our street with his cup of whisky in his hand. Patrick politely described my reaction as a fierce lioness defending her cubs.  A rather nice way of describing a rather alarming reaction that had me scream and lunge at Bob, “what the hell are you doing with my kids” before grabbing the two of them into my arms and falling to my knees sobbing, adrenaline coursing through my body.  In that moment, Patrick generously saw me, heard me and got me, a lioness reacting instinctively to danger.

From my adrenaline haze I unconsciously intended to kill with my words but Patrick gave me grace that day, choosing to see innocence in my intention and softening the impact of my cutting words in the gentle, brilliant way that he did.

Intention vs Impact

It made me think about less fortunate situations where I’ve spoken or acted with love and great intention and it landed with horrible impact. Ouch. We humans do this all the time AND we don’t spend enough time exploring the gap between what we intend to convey and how we’re received. Think about texting and emailing.  How many times have you read a text or an email and been instantly irritated by what was written?  How many times have you reacted and responded with your emotion? Defending yourself, triggered, angered, “how dare they!” I’m not saying you’re not right some of the time, I’m just saying that when we receive communication we read it using a tone that WE add that may not necessarily be the tone in which the message was written. In other words, our emotions of the day, our beliefs about ourselves, our insecurities and pre existing relationship to self can wreak havoc in that space in the middle creating breakdowns in our personal and professional lives.

So what can we do when we read and react? Calm down, breath and take longer than usual to respond. Challenge yourself to explore other intentions… how else might I read this? What tone am I using when I read this? This takes self control, patience and permission to practice and the discipline to stick with it.

Messy Middle & “Youing”

Now let’s explore that messy gap in the middle, the space between words out of a person’s mouth and those words landing in your listening. The place where assumptions and interpretations live. Do you catch yourself filling in that messy middle and making up stories about what other people are experiencing and/or conveying?  Here are some of my favourites, “It’s obvious you’re irritated”, “I’d be mad so you must be mad”, “you are too sensitive”, “you shouldn’t let people do that to you”.  I like to call this “youing”.  Neuroscience tells us that we are more likely to enter a stress state when we are being told what to do, or how we be in the world. “You look angry” and from my own personal experience nothing pisses me off more. Ha, see how that works?  My thoughts become very positional, I begin to defend in my head, “you have no f’ing clue what it’s like for me over here”, “you don’t know me”, “you are so far off base. Or, I just get deeply resigned.  “I’m deeply saddened and disappointed that you don’t know me.” No matter the flavour or reaction, I stop listening.  I am deep in my head, my body doing what it does when I’m triggered, defending.

New Possibility

We all have sensitive spots, negative beliefs about ourselves and the world around us. Some are obvious to us and some are much less obvious. How others see us, experience us, the impact that we are, is our access point to change.  Our beliefs and insecurities (whether we cover them up or not) impacts the accuracy of our listening. When we shift our beliefs and heal our insecurities a very interesting thing happens, we begin to hear different things in conversation that may not have been available to us. This opens up new opportunities, new possibilities for conversations, situations and relationships and access to people outside your norm. Think about it… What would that be like for you? Would you go on more dates? Experience more joy and satisfaction in your professional life?  Take a few minutes to imagine the possibilities.

The disconnect between who we think we are versus how others perceive us can be painful, profound and powerful, explore it gently.

Reference and Further Reading here: