How to Overcome the Tendency to Make Things Mean Things That They Don’t

Issue 32. July 21, 2023 ✨ Higher Power Coaching & Consulting

photo credit: Christian Rucinski

Have you been making things mean things that they don’t? I used to do that all the time. Typically, I’d decide someone’s behavior I didn’t like meant something about me. Something negative, that is. Then I’d act as if the meaning I placed on the situation was The Truth about the situation.

Recovery taught me I was doing that and how damaging it was – to me and to my relationships. I only have my perspective on things. I don’t really know what other people’s motives are. Sometimes I’m not even sure what my motives are!

Here’s an example. I lived with a boyfriend many years ago who would clean his eyeglasses daily and leave the paper towel on the counter. I took it to mean that he thought I would or should throw it away for him. I fumed and boiled about it for a long time. Finally I said something and he replied, “That’s not it at all. It’s a perfectly good paper towel and I’d like to use it again so I’m not wasting paper towels.”

WOW! Was I blown away! Here I was attributing shitty motives to his behavior, making it about me when it had absolutely nothing to do with me! That was when I was in my late 20’s, but somehow I wasn’t able to learn the lesson from that until I got into recovery.

Here’s another example. I sent someone a text to let them know I’m thinking of them. In my conscious mind, they came to mind and I just want them to know I’m thinking of them. But what happened when they didn’t respond in the next couple of days is that my mind made it mean they don’t care about me, or I’m much less important to them than they are to me.

A few days later they wrote back, “I love you! I’m so happy to get this message.” What was really going on is that they were busy. I made their delay in response (which I assumed was a non-response) mean something shitty.

Recovery showed me I’d been trying to read people’s minds and expected them to read mine. I can see now that when others couldn’t read my mind, I made it mean “they don’t love me” or some other equally shitty thing.

Instead of coming out and saying things like, “What did you mean by that?” or “I’m not sure what that means” I’d make up meaning for myself. Most of the time the meaning I’d make up had something to do with me being the victim and the other person being the perpetrator.

My mind still tells me f-d up stuff about people sometimes, I just know not to listen to it anymore. I also know to ask when I’m not clear about something or speak up when someone makes me uncomfortable. And to be direct when something isn’t okay with me.

Life gets to be about relaxing and having fun with the people we care about. We’re so much more likely to be able to achieve that when we stop making things mean things that they don’t.

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