pause rather than panic

In the last two years or so, I’ve had some intense moments of misinterpretation and misunderstanding. It’s mainly happened with strangers or people who don’t know me all that well but it’s stuck with me. One person interpreted my nomading as escapism and avoidance of connecting with loved ones….. while I was on a trip to see loved ones including one they met?! They were so convinced they were right and I left completely baffled. In debriefing with my friend about it, he immediately laughed and couldn’t believe I paid any attention to it. I didn’t find it funny.

For some reason, being misunderstood is a feeling that cuts deep for me. It’s part of why I think I spend so much time trying to understand others, be present, and share my thoughts. When this falls through, it sticks with me. I can name the 3 times this has happened and turn them over in my mind. It’s taken determined patience to sit with them in a staring contest like state.

In my search to understand why it bothers me so much, I’ve been asking close friends if this has happened to them and how they reacted. In times when I’m in my head, I find casting a wide net of opinions helps me pull from a more collective life experience of folks I respect and trust. While it gave me perspective, it didn’t give me insight into myself.

Last week on a call with my career coach, the topic came up and suddenly I stumbled my way into remembering the fact that I grew up with severe speech impediments. I was constantly made to repeat myself and spent hours in speech therapy trying to somehow get what was stuck in my head out in a way others could understand. It wasn’t until I was 9 or 10 that the hard work paid off. The lateral s stayed with me the longest but even that eventually faded.

While I can draw a line connecting how overcoming my speech impediments and my flat footedness (another annoying thing I spent years correcting) to my ability to work hard, I’m learning there are cons and in recent years those are becoming more apparent. My performance anxiety and sensitivity to being misunderstood are very much results of this same “fixing” process I went through. Imagine not being able to speak during crucial childhood years without knowing that you were likely messing up what you were trying to say? Strangely, I think this is also what forced me into the world of writing as a form of processing :).

When I’m particularly sensitive or precious about something now, it makes me pause rather than panic. I wish to examine it, understand it, question it. That’s the ideal obviously as I still get worked up just like any other person. In quiet moments of reflection though, I’m finding a usually fleeting but growing ability to turn the feelings over in my mind without getting lost in them. I’m sensitive to being misunderstood! Boom! With awareness comes action and reflection.

I’m no zen master though. I cried in a friend’s car 2 weeks ago on and off seemingly out of nowhere because I was feeling so misinterpreted by the same friend I was sitting across from. It wasn’t until later that it hit me why. I like to imagine my 9 year old self being baffled when this happens thinking that everyone would understand my intentions if they just could understand my words! Sigh. What gives me hope and what keeps me on this path of understanding is the fact that generally even those who I feel misunderstand or misinterpret me have been willing to engage until we find a common perspective. It’s a beautiful, vulnerable, and tough thing to wrestle through with someone.

What else am I sensitive with? What am I not sensitive enough to? & my favorite: what sensitivity do I want to protect? I fear apathy and desensitization more than anything.


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