By Joan Levy

Licorice looks up as if he has done something wrong and doesn’t know what. Photo by Léo Azambuja

Licorice looks up as if he has done something wrong and doesn’t know what. Photo by Léo Azambuja

Have you ever been in a situation where suddenly someone became very upset with you and you can’t imagine why?

We think the way we feel comes objectively from what just happened; from what someone did or said. But in reality, the whatever-it-is-that-is-happening gets mediated by the meaning we added to that event. We have no idea our perception has put its own spin on that event, because it happens without our conscious awareness. And once we feel a certain way, this very quickly becomes our reality.

For instance, I knew a man who told me about a woman he had recently met and who invited him over for a home-cooked meal. Everything seemed to be fine when she asked him if he liked the mashed potatoes. Now some of us like our mashed potatoes creamy smooth and some of us like them smashed and chunky. Well, he preferred the latter. He answered he was enjoying the meal and her company but he did not really like the potatoes as she had served them. Her temper suddenly flared and she told him to leave. Which he did, not understanding what the heck had just happened.

What had happened was, he innocently and honestly answered her question. But she added her own meaning that “he didn’t like or appreciate her” to his answer. She felt rejected, and protecting herself with anger, she made him leave.

“What Is” plus “Added Meaning” equals “Feeling” and “Action”

Take out the “Added Meaning” and you get a different “Feeling” and usually a very different “Action” then becomes possible.

The way that we “Add meaning” to the “What Is” of our experience does not come out of a hat. As children, when we experience pain, suffering, disappointment, punishment or loss, our assessment of the situation is limited to child mind. Remember, a 5-year-old standing in a group of adults can only see knee caps!

If my mother is short-tempered and impatient, we think we are stupid. If my father needs agreement to feel respected and we ask questions, he can get angry or tell us to shut up, and we think our opinions or our needs aren’t important.

We come up with a self-referenced, incomplete or untrue explanation, which acts like a pair of psychic glasses prescribed to what we figured out, and then we keep seeing the same story over and over.

So, if you suddenly find yourself upset with something someone just said or did, try taking off those childhood psychic glasses. Release the spin. Now look again at what just happened from the vantage point of a grown-up-you in the present moment. I bet your feeling will change! And your connection with the other person will improve too!

  • Joan Levy, MSW, LCSW works with individuals and couples, addressing and integrating the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual aspects of the healing process. Her work lovingly and swiftly guides and inspires people more fully into the clarity and richness of who they really are. She can be reached at,, or at 808 822-5488.

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