One of the things I struggle with on a daily basis is the fact that while I may be an extremely sensitive person, a lot of the people I encounter on a daily basis are not.
This doesn’t mean that they are rude or mean or even careless – it just means that our standards of communication are different, and our definitions of sensitivity do not align. A lot of times, I find myself reading into the communication styles of other people – their tonalities, their gestures, their choice of words – far more than I should, and the result is that I get my feelings hurt…a lot. From what I can tell, this is fairly common among a lot of people, yet we still haven’t come up with a good method of avoiding this communication mishaps.
The default setting for when this happens is to get offended. We expect other people to communicate in the same way we do, and when they send certain signals (such as a gesture or a tone of voice) which we associate with a negative response, we assume that they mean what we would mean if we used those same signals. This breaks down relationships and, in the long run, can make a person (yours truly) feel incredibly isolated and constantly misunderstood.
How do we deal with this, then? What can we do to interrupt these destructive patterns? I have a few strategies to get around these pesky issues, which I want to share with you today.
First and foremost, it’s important to give the other person the benefit of the doubt. This does not mean choosing not to be offended (we’ll get to that in a bit) when someone says something you don’t like. It goes a bit deeper than that: instead, it means that if and when someone says or does something that is hurtful, you assume that they didn’t mean to do it at all.
Sometimes people are careless. Sometimes they genuinely don’t know how to communicate, with you or anyone. And sometimes, the things that they do are entirely appropriate and welcome in their eyes – otherwise, they wouldn’t do it.
When someone does something that leaves you questioning whether or not they like you, or if it seems that they don’t care enough to be sensitive towards your feelings, it may help to assume that they are doing exactly what they would expect someone to do for them. When I think about it this way, I’m less upset and more intrigued. Maybe this person is treating me, in their eyes, really well – in which case I’m actually a little flattered that they took the time to do so.
Second, remember that we all communicate at a different frequency. A lot of things can be lost in translation from person to person, and only the best communicators get it right most of the time. When we take into consideration the message that’s being lost simply because certain personality types communicate differently, it’s a little easier to understand something that might come off as offensive or callous.
I make it a priority to understand how the people around me communicate. It’s a fascinating hobby, rather like people-watching, although instead of seeing the different types of people on the street, I watch their interactions to try and understand their personalities.
When I was little, my mom got really sick. While she was recovering, one of my family friends dropped off a card and some flowers, which was a nice gesture, although I didn’t really understand why someone would bring flowers to our house just because my mom was sick. However, I’ll never forget what my mom said about those flowers: she told me to remember that this person had brought her flowers, because if our friend ever got sick, she would want flowers and a card, too.
It really opened my eyes to the world of communication. Things that don’t mean that much to me may mean the world to someone else, and it’s different for everyone. I try to remember what my friends and family do for me, so that when I get the chance, I can communicate with them on their own frequency, instead of giving them only what makes sense to me.
Lastly, remember that being offended is a CHOICE. This is an unpopular statement, but also a true one. For some reason, human beings feel powerful when they are angry, and letting go of a good reason to get upset often feels like losing a good opportunity for fun.
As someone who likes holding onto a good mad (as we say in my family), I know how hard this can be. But the world is mean, my friends, and if you don’t choose to stay happy, you will probably spend most of your time being angry about something.
There are things to be righteously angry about, for sure – but those things are few and far between. We sensitive people need to learn the balance between being sensitive and having a thick skin, which can be hard because let’s be honest, it can feel like we are being asked not to care about the things that happen to and around us.
This does not mean that you should be a doormat and just accept anything that comes your way. But what it does mean is not giving other people power over your thoughts and emotions, and having the ability to choose where you spend your emotional energy. There is an immense amount of freedom to be found when you discover how to keep other forms of communication from getting in the way of your having meaningful and positive interactions with people who are not like you.
So many misunderstandings happen between even the most understanding people, simply because communication styles differ and vary from each individual to the next. It’s impossible to understand all of them, which is why it’s important to approach these misunderstandings from a place of love, and to accept that sometimes, these things just happen. Although we may not always be able to communicate effectively, it’s worth it to give it our best efforts – and to give others grace when they fall short, too.