When I began my work in helping clients cope with anxiety, I figured it would be mainly working on their inner dialogue and thoughts they have about themselves and the things that are occurring in his or her life. In a short time, I realized a huge impact that anxiety has is on how people interpret and communicate with those they love. The misinterpretation that can occur within an anxious person’s mind can cause serious damage to a relationship, despite the true intention of a disagreement or statement. One party can feel that the anxious party is “putting words in their mouth” by assuming the message meant something much worse than it was intended.
An example I have seen of this in my work with families is with a daughter and anxious mother. The daughter was going to a friends house and it happened to be around dinner time so she asked her mother if she could eat dinner at her friends’ home instead.
While the mother said yes, she also interpreted her daughters question to mean that she did not like her mother’s cooking and she didn’t want to have dinner with their family.
The daughter felt completely blindsided by this misinterpretation and felt scared to communicate that the situation was in no way like the mothers’ interpretation.
If one can misunderstand us so severely, it can discourage future communication from being attempted. It is always necessary to get back on the same page before moving forward with the conversation or relationship. This can be extremely detrimental to a relationship when it happens time and time again and is never resolved.
I have worked with couples and families who have gone years thinking their loved one meant something very hurtful when they had no such intentions. Our own life experiences contribute to how we process what other’s say to us, and if we don’t clarify what someone meant, we will go on thinking that person meant to hurt us. Over time, this can harbor serious resentment and growth apart from one another.
Counseling is a good step to take if you feel this happens in any of your relationships, but you also have to be open-minded and accept that your anxiety plays a role in how you may be misunderstanding those around you.
I have helped partners and family members to learn how to better communicate so these important messages don’t get lost in translation, and it is crucial to clear up these misunderstandings to have a healthy relationship where both parties know what the other is attempting to communicate to them. Our anxieties play a huge role in these misinterpretations, and finding out how that happens can be extremely beneficial to both sides of the relationship.