I need to talk to you about something. One of my friends recently interrupted a conversation with those powerful words. As she continued to speak, I felt the moment change into a long instant of mixed emotions. A feeling of dread and a feeling of excitement…different perceptions at the same time. I sensed there was something I had done. Something she didn’t like or something that had hurt her. Something that would be hard to hear. I wanted to hear what she said and didn’t want to hear it, at the same time.
Have you ever had that experience? I imagine that you have. If your friends are really “good friends,” you’ve had that experience. You’ve felt that strange instant, where time seems to stretch as you experience two opposite feelings at the same time. But, good friends will risk a relationship to share something that is or might be, in the way of having an even closer and more valued relationship. If you have friends like that, it says a lot about how much they care and trust you. And…they wouldn’t care and trust you if you weren’t someone who is already lovable and trustworthy.
Now, when a good friend tells you something you don’t want to hear about you, it can be a pretty painful moment. She takes a deep breath and the details of what hurt her come tumbling out of her mouth. You listen, and your heart beats faster. Then, that fight or flight feeling is starting to set in. You might have different perceptions of this event. You might feel defensive AND fearful of how serious this event might be to your friendship.
As you try not to panic, as you do all you can to listen and keep your emotions in check, she begins to cry. Then you begin to cry too, because you are sorry, and because you wish it hadn’t happened, and because you wish you could turn back time. You also try not to overreact, to not lash out, not to be the one that says FU and slams down the phone. After all, you may have hurt her feelings, regrettably, but now you have hurt feelings too.
You put down the phone, have a little cry, or…throw something across the room and call her a bitch. But when you’ve calmed down, and you run the replay over in your mind, you realize that what has happened doesn’t have to be the end of the world or the friendship. It’s two people having very different perceptions of a moment in time. What’s important now, is what happens next.
Perception is everything and perception rules our lives. Each of us has life experiences that result in a set of beliefs that drive our emotions, and our behavior, day after day. What I learned from my parents, and my life experiences is different from what you learned from your parents and your life experiences. Most of the time we co-exist and relate without our different perceptions colliding. Then something happens that triggers our hidden beliefs, and the emotions that surface in a rush take hold of us.
Many disagreements between people fall under the category of different perceptions, which we may refer to as a difference of opinion. An opinion is a judgment about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge. The definition of perception is a way of understanding or interpreting something, a mental impression. A more psychological definition is the neurophysiological process which an organism becomes aware and interprets external stimuli. Based on these definitions, different perceptions are a little deeper than a difference of opinion. That’s why strong emotions may lead to a difference in perception, which can lead to misunderstandings and broken relationships.
The reality of life is that we aren’t always in control of our behavior or our emotions. Other people don't always see our good intentions, and our natural tendency to judge makes us resent people who don’t.
A recent article in The Huffington Post stated that four out of five women have low self-esteem. Lack of confidence and feelings of unworthiness contribute to our beliefs that others mean to do us harm. Once we talk things out, we learn that it’s different perceptions that create conflict. You don't need to feel embarrassed or shameful if you unknowingly hurt someone. What’s important is what you choose to do next.