Have you ever had a situation where only after some time had passed did you discover that someone had been upset with you? And when you finally found out, you were completely dumbfounded? You had no clue they were upset at the time. But later, something upended their cart, and all the pent-up emotions started gushing forth. Then, they start recalling some event in the past where you hurt them, and the details of their story do not line up with your recollection of the same event.
You don’t know whether to tell them you’re sorry or whether to tell them they’re completely nuts! You wonder how they have such a different memory of the event than you do. In fact, you recollect that they did something to hurt your feelings.
Sound familiar? I thought so. It happens all the time in personal, social, or work-related relationships. Each person carrying around hurt feelings about what the other person said or did to them. The interesting thing is, if there were a third party involved, they more than likely would have a somewhat different version altogether.
So why does this happen? It is called “Perceptions.” We all have them. But what creates them? Perception is individual. It is how you think about or understand someone or something through the senses (vision, hearing, touch, taste, smell). Heredity, culture, needs, peer group, interests, and expectations all influence our perceptions.
Not to get too deep, but perception is how we interpret the information we sense. The way we interpret the world in many ways dictates our sense of reality. Even if our senses are sharp, we will not understand the information we sense if our perception is skewed.
Let me give you an example. You disagree with a friend one day, and it’s not the first disagreement you and she have had. However, you decide to take the high road and apologize. And because in today’s world, everyone texts back and forth, you text her the following day and say, “You are sorry.” Expecting a response from her in short order, you’re surprised not to hear back from her. Yet, by evening, you still have not heard from her. What do you think your perception of this situation would be? It probably depends on your perception of that person and the relationship.
First scenario — You believe your friendship is in good standing. Therefore, you wait it out and give that person the benefit of the doubt, thinking they must have a good reason for not getting back to you yet.
Second scenario — You believe the relationship is on rocky ground. Hence, you start imagining that she is intentionally ignoring you, causing you to stew about it all day. You start thinking about other things you’ve experienced with this person. You then feed on your perceptions of this person, even creating a whole new argument in your mind with this person.
What is Reality?
Reality is the actual state of things. It’s how things are, whether we perceive them to be as such or not. Things in themselves are basically neutral. WE are the ones who supply the perceptions and our beliefs about them. Reality supersedes both our expectations and assumptions. How OUR reality appears to us says a lot about our perceptions.
So let’s go back to the two scenarios above. The reality of the delayed answer back from the friend is that she fell ill during the night and took some medicine to help her sleep. She had put her phone on silent so as not to be disturbed. She still didn’t feel well the next day, and because she didn’t feel well enough to call anyone, she forgot that her phone was on silent. It didn’t occur to her that anyone was trying to get a hold of her.
So if you put yourself in the first scenario, you go about your day as usual. You don’t even give it a second thought about why your friend has not answered you back. However, if you put yourself in the second scenario, you spend the whole day in turmoil. You probably work yourself right up into an unnecessary dither by incorrectly interpreting her delayed answer as a deliberate action on her part. Because of your already negative perception of your friend and relationship, the delayed response confirms your beliefs even though they are wrong.
Don’t confuse perception with reality
Can you see how your perceptions can influence your relationships? We get into trouble when we confuse perception with reality — we mistake how we understand something for the way that they really are. So even though our thoughts and feelings seem real to us, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are true.
Unfortunately, we do not often realize how our perceptions can cloud reality. They seem like the same to us. Yet, our perception is essential to recognize because it is the driving force behind our reactions to people and events in our lives.
It’s hard to change our perceptions because we see and feel things from our perspective and have difficulty seeing from another person’s perspective. Something that sticks in my mind is I remember popping over to my neighbor’s house one day, and as I was talking with her, I happened to look out her window. I stopped talking to her suddenly because I was so caught off guard to see my house from across the street. My house looked so different to me from that angle, and I remember thinking, “Oh wow, this is what my house looks like from over here; this is how she sees my house.”
We would do well if we could keep that analogy in our minds when relating with others. Depending on where you stand, you will see some things a certain way or see something that somebody else might not, and vice versa. So, knowing that we can change our perspective stands to reason that the perception can change along with it. Thus, perception is far from a fixed truth.
“Change the way you look at things, and the things you look at change.” – Wayne W. Dyer
If you suspect you might have formed some unhealthy perceptions in your life that are causing you to struggle with relationships and it is even hindering your success in the workplace, working with a coach is a great way to learn some techniques that can help you. I’d love to hear from you.
Hi, I’m Kris Henderson, LPC. I want you to know that I am here to help. Sometimes, all it takes is a simple adjustment of your thoughts and behavior to change a perception problem. If you want some personalized support, I invite you to contact me or schedule your phone call today. Together we can discover which strategy is likely to work best for you to work toward finding the peace of reality and not letting the wrong kind of perceptions stand in your way of success.
This article originally appeared at Counseling Solutions Of West Michigan