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How to Know When "It's Not You, It's Me"

Sometimes, when you feel wronged, the problem might be in the way you perceive.

Key points

  • Everyone's point of view is completely unique and subjective.
  • Sometimes no one is "right" because there's no objective truth to an argument.
  • Remember to consider your own sensitivities when you feel triggered or upset.
Source: Freepik/CC0
Source: Freepik/CC0

Every person on Earth sees the universe in a unique way, from a point in space that no one else can duplicate or occupy. There are billions of individual stories going on all around us all the time, and none of them is the same. How is it, then, that so many of us are convinced that our way of seeing the world is “right?”

Most of us navigate our unique relationships and conflicts with a perception that rarely shifts to accommodate other points of view; from it comes a general certainty that our way of seeing the world is correct and objective, while others are probably off beam. How can we ever step out of our own narrow perspectives to accommodate something more than we typically see?

First of all, don’t be embarrassed by your human limitations. After all, we probably are the only organisms on the planet to possess the knowledge that our perceptions might fall victim to subjectivity. Many people are able to step back far enough to recognize the edges of the frame, so to speak, and to perceive the constraints within which they see.

Each of us can, if we try, learn to locate the cause of our moods or our conclusions inside ourselves. Here’s one trick for noticing these limitations and constraints—one way you might be able to avoid becoming trapped in a false, erroneous certainty.

The walking wounded

Imagine you were wounded on the battlefield years ago, and you carry around a bit of shrapnel in your knee (which has long since healed). In fact, you rarely even think about your old war wound. One day, you are playing soccer with friends, and when the game is over, you experience terrible twinges of pain in your knee. Do you conclude that you have just re-injured your knee in the soccer game and seek out a doctor for this strange new pain? Or do you reason that the pain is probably due to the shrapnel that has been stuck in your knee for years and which might flare up every once in a while? In this example, the most rational conclusion would be to assume that your problems are due to a preexisting condition: the simplest, most parsimonious cause of the pain.

The same goes for relationships. Let’s assume that you are a person who is highly sensitive to feeling judged by others. You’ve known this about yourself for years.

One day, you meet someone new and, without warning, feel shocked by the things they say to you. You feel awful as if this new person is implicitly criticizing you with veiled remarks, and you want to defend yourself. Do you immediately conclude that you must be correct? Or do you question these perceptions just enough to take a few moments to evaluate the situation better? Do you wonder if you might be mistaken, given what you’ve come to know of your typical way of viewing the world? If you do, you may find a reason to believe that the other person’s apparently nasty remarks might actually be interpreted in a different, more innocent way.

So it goes. Each of us walks around with a set of preconceptions and predispositions imprinted on our minds. Often—and more often when we’re tired, or hungry, or already piqued by some pre-existing stressor—we react to these preconceptions more easily than we should. A family member makes a casual remark, and we hear them referring to us—picking on our vulnerabilities or insulting us in a familiar way.

If we could be objective in moments like this, we might be better able to remember our personal sensitivities; we might be able to clean up our salty replies and stop ourselves from snapping back before we do it. But, as I’ve said, human beings are limited to the information our senses can take in, and too often, we mistake it for a clear, objective view of the world.

The bottom line

Remember, when you feel a twinge, what it’s like to ask yourself if the pain in your knee is really a new pain or just an old war wound. Remember that we’re all more fallible than we’d like to be—more simply human than otherwise, it has been said. Remember, when you’re absolutely furious at someone and certain that you’ve been wronged, that your perspective might not be as fully informed as you think. We’ve all got old war wounds; remember that the next time you’re in pain to avoid making it worse.

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