The meanings we attach to situations will often have a profound effect on us and our lives.
Because these meanings can and do affect how we think, feel and behave.
We perceive something one way and attach a certain meaning to it and believe that this meaning is the truth and the true meaning, when in fact it is simply our own meaning we have given it, which may or may not be a valid meaning.
What does it mean anyway, “The meaning we attach to a situation?” This is the first thing to understand. A situation occurs, for example your boss at work may get angry because he/she thinks you didn’t do the job the way they wanted it done. What meaning will you attach to this situation?
There are many ways of seeing the situation, but we will often get caught up choosing one meaning only without selecting from a few possibilities. We might think:
- My boss is angry and this means he/she might fire me
- I can’t do the job properly.. this means I am useless…
- I am useless and this means I am useless at everything
- My boss is looking for ways to fire people, this means he/she will fire me
The above might be the meaning you attach to the situation and to the other person’s reaction to us. These meanings have the potential to lead us down a very negative path about our situation and what is going to happen. We might then end up feeling very anxious, stressed, depressed, angry and very unsure of the future. These reactions are directly caused by our own mental state where we attached such negative meaning to the situation that we then experience some serious and negative emotional reactions which can become damaging to our emotional and psychological well-being.
We, in fact become responsible for allowing all this to happen when we plant meaning into the situation and allow it to be set in stone.
If, on the other hand we have the same situation, but deal with it differently, give it different meaning, use more wisdom and be more thoughtful, we might come up with a different conclusion and might save ourselves from many negative reactions that then affect our well-being.
If, for example, instead of attaching such negative meaning to that particular situation we were to do it differently:
- “This project is crucial and my boss wants it done perfectly and he/she simply pointed out a couple of errors on my behalf and very nicely asked me to correct them, which is fine. I know how much the project means and he/she is right; I can easily correct my mistakes and it is his/her job to point these things out otherwise the responsibility falls on him/her, so it is essential to do it right. I understand that and support that. I can take criticism and in his/her place would need to do the same. I will apologize and put it right. All part of the learning curve, never stop learning, never become arrogant and think I am always right. I am happy to learn when I make a mistake and big enough to admit my mistakes because I know my boss appreciates honesty and humility. I hardly ever make mistakes, so this won’t count against me and I won’t be fired, it’s not that serious, it just needs to be corrected.”
When we focus “our meaning “ or “ our interpretation” of a situation and give it possible “false meaning” or invalid meaning the result can be harmful to our well being and for that reason if we learn how to monitor, examine, challenge and test our “self made meanings” we might find we are better off as well as wiser.
Here are some more examples where, if we attach a negative meaning to the situation, we might damage our self esteem:
- My friend is so angry with me; this means they no longer want to be my friend. No it doesn’t.
- A friend told me I have put on weight: This means I am unattractive now – no it doesn’t
- I haven’t heard from a friend in a long time: This means they don’t care about me. No it doesn’t
- My progress in therapy is slow: This means I will never get better. No it doesn’t
- My partner doesn’t pay me much attention: This means they don’t love me as they did. No it doesn’t
- My children are out of control – This means I am a bad parent – no it doesn’t
- My child gets angry with me – This means they don’t love me
- My partner is thinking of ending our relationship – This means: I am not worthy of their love –No it doesn’t
- I can’t master what I’m being taught: this means I must be stupid
- I am depressed: This means I will always suffer from depression
- No one seems to cherish me: This means I am unlovable
- No one listens to me: This means I am boring and not worth listening to
- I can’t seem to take control of my life: This means I am weak and incapable
- I am a writer and was rejected by a publishing company: This means I am no good as a writer- No it doesn’t
All of the above “This means” is our interpretation of the situation in relation to the meaning we gave to the experience.
This is a fundamental mistake and a possible mistake in perception that requires adjusting towards other possible meanings that are equally if not more valid.
It is a mistake to plant meaning without examining the meaning we are giving to our experiences and situations.
Is it your habit to operate in this way?
Do you always see the glass half empty in order to save yourself from emotional pain further down the line?
Why is this your habit?
Have you conditioned yourself to blame yourself in many situations?
Life doesn’t stop with our interpretations of life as we may have got it wrong. We therefore need to take this into account and test far more carefully if we want to stop damaging ourselves emotionally and psychologically.
The meaning we attach to ANY given situation will resonate within our lives and therefore it is necessary to take great care over these very meanings to ensure we are not damaging ourselves in any way.
For all the above reasons it is, yet again, vital to be consciously aware enough to monitor the self at all times in order to avoid unnecessary mistakes of perception, pain, anger, anxiety or depression.