Being misunderstood is something we really don’t like as humans, especially if we are of the people-pleasing variety.
Beginning in middle school and continuing through college and into adulthood, I have heard comments such as, “I waved to you but you walked right by me”, “you totally dissed me”, “Why don’t you ever say hi to me when I pass by?” and so on.
Some of my most embarrassing/humiliating/humbling moments include scenarios surrounding these phrases. These moments include missing high-fives, not acknowledging someone i’ve known for awhile, calling a long-time friend by the wrong name when I first see them, and failing to shake people’s hands. And these are just the scenarios I am aware of, and many times because other people have told me about my faux pas after-the-fact. I am sure there are countless other incidents that I am unaware of.
Even when it’s a good friend who knows about my vision, I still find myself feeling deflated in these situations, like I failed in front of that person. I know it’s illogical because it’s not something I can control, but it’s like this punch-in-the-gut reminder that I’m flawed. That something is not right.
This could be why I find myself dreading the “greeting” part of service at church– the 2-minutes where you are supposed to greet all the strangers sitting near you. I always miss their’ outstretched hands and feel totally rude and awkward. I sometimes sneak in late, hoping to have missed that segment.
Regular doublevisionblog readers will notice that I haven’t written a post like this in quite awhile– one where I am actively struggling with RP-related acceptance issues. And this is because, for the most part, on a daily basis, I no longer struggle with it.
It has been a longer road to acceptance for me than for others out there. Incorporating new habits, such as cane use, definitely brings up new challenges related to acceptance.
But in order to embrace new habits, I’m realizing there are some old habits that I first need to lay to rest.
Worrying about how others perceive me is an old habit that is dying a really slow, painful death. It’s one of those habits that sneaks up on me when I’m least expecting it.
It snuck up on me a few days ago when a good friend and I were telling funny stories about being misunderstood. She told me about how she used to take her contacts out before school when she was in high school because they were hurting her, and even though she’s not visually impaired or anything, she definitely couldn’t see that clearly without her contacts. She told me how this one friend used to think she was totally stuck-up because she didn’t make eye-contact with her when passing in the halls.
I laughed and said I could definitely relate. She said, “oh yeah, I’ve had to go to bat for you many times when people from church have said things.” I got that punch-in-the-gut feeling but tried to act nonchalant in my response. “Oh really? People have said things?”
“Oh yeah, lots. I’ve had to explain that you literally didn’t see them. It was mostly when you first started coming to church here.” It’s always in moments like these when I want to run and hide and sit alone in my self-conscious sauna of shame.
In this sauna, I say crazy things to myself like, “well, fine, I will never set foot in this stupid building again so no one can ever misread anything I do or don’t do anymore.” But, of course, if avoiding being misunderstood were the goal, I’d also have to refrain from going to the grocery story, my daughter’s school, restaurants, movies… I’d pretty much just have to stay inside my house all the time.
While this conversation did sting, I do have to say that my response in the moments and days that followed was that of someone in a much healthier place than similar incidents in the past. Two or three years ago, a comment like this would have caused immediate tears, followed by days of self-loathing and ruminating over the conversation. This time, it just bothered me slightly.
It bothered me enough to mention it aloud to my husband and one other person, but I was able to reiterate the story matter-of-factly, without breaking down. I will admit there were several moments in which I had the urge to call my friend and demand to know the names, phone numbers and addresses of each person who had said something to her so that I could shower them with cards and phone calls, telling them how friendly and very normal I am. After it dawned on me how weird that would be, I decided I just needed to know their names so that I could see if they are now friends of mine and, if not, whether they still think I’m weird, rude and stand-offish. Not that she ever used these terms, but those were just some of the conversations I began to create in my head. I started imagining that every single person I know had come to talk to her about me, and the things I imagined they said were most likely far worse than what occurred in reality. At least I hope so because I really envisioned some snarky remarks.
Since these imaginary dialogues were more draining than helpful, I decided to dig deeper into my own thoughts and emotions. My discoveries enabled me to process the original conversation for what it is– simply a scenario that challenged me into deeper acceptance.
It also made me think about how much confusion and misunderstanding could have been avoided if I had simply carried my cane when I first started showing up to church. Sure, there still would have been questions and conversations, some behind my back, but they would have stemmed from a base of understanding rather than utter confusion over being “dissed” by me.
There are so many misunderstandings that I can avoid with people I encounter daily, whether at my kids’ schools, stores, parks, etc., simply by being upfront and using my cane when needed.
I started thinking about my avoidance in this area while reading, “Falling Upward”, in which author Richard Rohr comments on how much self-created pain we deal with while trying to avoid any discomfort in life and how the self-created pain usually ends up being far worse than the pain we were trying to avoid in the first place. It’s so true. My old habits have caused me a lot of pain. And while I know that new habits, such as regular cane use, come with their own challenges, I have to believe that they will be less tiresome to face than a constant battle with myself.