Thank You for Misunderstanding


Just comin' off one of those disheartening weeks in which I felt totally misunderstood by everyone…

I know, I know, Mercury isn't even officially retrograde yet—though he does flip direction starting this Saturday (Jul 14) in Leo—but as we know, sometimes his communicative mischief begins ahead of time, during the pre-retrograde shadow.

I guess it doesn't matter what force outside of myself I try to pin the blame on. When you encounter multiple examples of inadvertently rubbing other people wrong, it doesn't take a genius to discover the common denominator. It must be me. Whether the recurring experience of being misread should be seen as a lesson on where I require additional in-the-moment consciousness, or whether it's all happening because I'm just an asshole (and the last one to know I'm an asshole), it seems pretty clear it's not simply everybody else's problem.

It sure feels like 'everybody else's problem' when my sincerely positive-and-productive intentions end up hitting another person's ears like I'm itching for a fight or angling for the righteous upper-hand. Why can they not see my heart? Why won't they give me the benefit of the doubt? Can't they see how hurt by their response I am? Well, if they don't care, then fuck 'em. I'm not doing anything wrong. If they want to twist my words and make me look like a bad guy, I guess there's nothing I can do about it. Can't win no matter what I say.

During a case of mixed signals, hurt feelings often beget more hurt feelings. As long as I assume I'm being unfairly perceived, I will hear each of your (supposedly) innocent remarks as one more dig against me. I will defend my tender misunderstood insides with spiky self-protective barbs. And if you're still 'just not getting it', I must point out where you are falling short. Perhaps, in this process, I hurt your feelings? Didn't mean to. Inside the cyclone of emotional transference and countertransference, it's hard to determine which way is up. Whose feelings were hurt first? Whose are hurt worse?

One obvious warning-sign I'm caught in this feedback-loop: You're trying to describe what's going on for you, and my immediate reaction is, 'But that's exactly how I am feeling!' My exasperation at discovering we are riding a parallel emotional wave rises up, as if you are hijacking my experience and threatening my status as 'the hurt one'. I may perform that I'm listening to you, yet remain so caught up in my own emotional narrative, I cannot help but hear my storyline overpowering each sentiment you utter. It's true that the similarities between our stories are uncanny… except that, in my version, I am the suffering one who demands to be heard.

The same warning-sign dynamic can also happen in reverse. I find myself launching into a critical litany of what you have done wrong, finger pointed squarely at your chest. But when I pause to take a centering breath, the humble observer inside me whispers an insightful truth: I am guilty of every misdeed and character-flaw I'm accusing you of perpetrating. What bugs me the most about you is exactly what I have not resolved in myself. The list of 'wrongs' is stunningly accurate... only, who do they belong to?

These are classic symptoms of projection, the misattribution of our emotional reality to other people or experiences. When we're blinded by unawareness that our lenses are showing everything through a filter of self-fulfilling prophecy, we cannot see our own behaviors clearly. This is an easy trap to fall into for most of us who, even if we're dedicated to a journey of self-discovery, are perfectly humanly imperfect and don't know what we don't know. When we confront resistance from others to something we're doing enough times that we start recognizing a pattern, that's a call to examine our behaviors more closely. Only the most pigheaded folks will insist this pattern is wholly external to them (if they're insightful enough to even notice the pattern at all). We've all got our pigheaded moments.

What I find especially frustrating is when my surface communications are so totally misfiring, they convey a tone that's nearly the opposite of what I was intending to deliver. After a collaborative or conciliatory gesture ends up being received as smug or combative, I often get angry. Like, why bother? I might as well become that self-serving and self-satisfied. It's sure a lot simpler than being considerate. My impatience with the additional effort evidently needed to get my message across to this certain person in this certain situation threatens to further contaminate my words with an unappealing gruffness.

The best of intentions, alas, does not excuse us from diligence in how we transmit those intentions. We may possess the heart of a saint and still sound like a dick when we pronounce our good-heartedness. Many of us strive to understand what motivates us, to move increasingly toward fuller self-consciousness and align our life-paths with the highest common good. This is an important type of ethical/spiritual work—to push through what threatens the personal ego, to attain a loving interdependence with All That Is—but it doesn't get the whole job done. Even with the purest motives, our moment-by-moment behaviors and on-the-spot communications can quickly fall victim to old habits. We might have expanded our consciousness to a big-wide-grand level of perspective; yet still, an outdated manner of disrespectful speaking slips by us or an aggravated wound triggers an act we're not proud of. There's a disconnect between intention and action.

Here comes the misunderstanding, and no wonder: My intention is, in fact, not accurately reflected in my behavior. And I have this other person, whose refusal to just take my good-hearted considerateness on faith since my words and deeds are obviously speaking something else entirely, to thank for pointing it out. Granted, I'm still going to need a few minutes (or a few days) to disentangle myself from my unconscious emotional reactions enough to see it that way. (That is, I probably won't be thanking anyone right off the bat for totally missing my point.) In the end, however, these are constructive opportunities for self-growth that deserve our gratitude.

Relationships, with our most cherished loved-ones and total strangers, are our single richest learning-ground. They teach us how to line up our insides with our outsides, by throwing us into such circumstances where what's really going on inside is not effectively making itself known outside. Because, of course, when we actually care about authentic interpersonal connection, we want the other person to get our real deal. Therefore, it behooves us to take these lessons seriously—to become ever more precise at expressing who we are, and deepening our relationships with others on that basis of authenticity.

Mercury will be retrograde through Aug 8… and, in Leo, increases the likelihood of miscommunications due to excessive pride or self-focus. Mindful respect for others' perceptions is a wonderful remedial measure.