From small conflations do mighty hulking monsters grow …

And with a mental flourish that feels like the withdrawing of a table cloth from under the cutlery, I see the lie that had been hiding in plain sight within my view of the world …

I have a problem with the way I respond to NOT recieving prompt acknowledgement that validates either my contribtion to a shared dialogue or my being who I am (want to be?) in the world.

The fact of the matter could be (for example) that I text a friend with something important to me and I get no reply. My response is often to react as if I’ve been told by that friend that what I sent in my message is either worthless or possibly even worse – something unlikeable. So, somehow I make a leap from no reply -> I am worthless / unlikeable.

Sticking with my self imposed theme of little things that make a big impact: I learned a really useful distinction recently (as part of my participation in the Landmark Forum, more on which you can read here) and it really helps in this situation or others like it.


My usual interpretation of events doesn’t hold, isn’t true. Unless I make it true for myself. And if I do that I make it true for others and then I end up making it so that they have to live with the consequences of that lie sitting in the middle of my world view. Typically I come across as being a little (or a lot) emotionally volatile or someone that demands a lot of attention from the people around me.

This makes any kind of human relationship more difficult. As I value connections with people over everything else in life, over the years I’ve learned to mitigate the effect of this tendency on others. This has involved rather spectaclar feats of mental gymnastics to plan, build & prepare a set of internal mental rules that govern my behaviour so I can tell what would be “going too far” in terms of asking for reassurance from other people. So that I can regulate my “neurotic” fear-of-abandonment-driven impulses and ensure that only a safe percentage of them make it out into the world of what other people can see.

Honestly, if anyone reading has had the dubious pleasure of listening to me explain my rationale behind what I do, what I don’t do, what is fair, what is unfair to the people in my life, you’ll know what I mean. It sounds exhausting and that is because it is! It is almost like a form of mental OCD.

As I learn the discipline of separating what happened from how I interpreted what happened I gain so much mental space it is unbelievable. As I learn to just look my emotional reactions in the face and sit with them I find I can deal with them instead of having to create ever more elaborate traps to capture them. Who’d a thought life could be simple, eh … ?


It is that simple and also that hard to spot something you’ve learned to live with every day or your life so that it filters down to a place well beneath your awareness. That is the other thing that strikes me – often I don’t even realise my emotional reaction to an event is governed by some unmarked and spurious interpretation of bland events. 

I am reminded of reading about Lukacs’ theory of second nature as a meaning-of-life-seeking undergraduate student. Something that is not ‘natural’ but has filtered into our social agreement so deeply that in practice, it has become as immovable as the essential as nature itself. The changing of it is easy, the trick is in allowing yourself to see it as something you can change in the first place …

And finally – this: this track. This resonates with me, or rather who I’ve been.


4 thoughts on “From small conflations do mighty hulking monsters grow …

  1. This is an interesting post; I definitely have the same issue, often about the very same types of perceived slights or invalidations that you describe. I am very sensitive to the idea that I am unliked and unwanted in social situations.

    However, despite how many times I am told or tell myself that this is an unproductive and irrational extrapolation, the overly logical part of my brain tends to back up my emotive brain and say, “But just because it’s unproductive doesn’t mean it’s not true.” What if there IS objective truth in what I perceive, rather than just my issues at work? What if people really, at least sometimes, don’t like me or value my contributions? I guess it’s akin to the saying, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean people aren’t following you!”

    Obviously we can’t ever know for sure what others think of us and what their actions (or inactions) signify– but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a truth there, that might not always be what we’d like. And when we engage in social communication, we are by definition playing a guessing game that involves trying to interpret and integrate the cues we receive. What are your thoughts on that conundrum?

    1. Hi Jen,

      Many thanks for reading and taking the time to reply – it is most welcome 🙂

      I understand where you are coming from with reflecting on what the objective truth of the matter is. Is it the case that someone actually dislikes me or thinks I am unworthy of a reply is a question that crosses my mind often. Before taking the Landmark courses I could have spent hours debating that question, gathering evidence to support / disprove my hypotheses. And, because it is my natural inclination to do so, I could still do that now. However, I choose to try and avoid it.

      My aim is to minimise the guessing game as much as possible and to call myself on when I am engaging in it. I see it that I have choices: I can
      (i) create my own interpretation of what is happening and let this determine how I wish to be in that situation and therefore the context I create for other people to encounter me within
      (ii) Acknowledge that my interpretation is just that and decide outside the context of a potentially erroneous interpretation how I wish to be in that situation and therefore the context I create for myself and the other person
      (iii) have a straight conversation with the person in question about what is going on

      With (i) how I wish to be is dictated by my emotional (or whatever it is) reaction to something that I can’t verify. That doesn’t seem very fair to the people in my life and is not productive to me.
      With (ii) I take on board the idea that how I wish to be can be independent of what other people think of me. I can choose to be loving even if the person I am with is grumpy or standoffish. My behaviour does not have to be dictated by anyone else (though I recognise it is frequently hard to achieve this!)
      With (iii) it is possible to engage with the other person about their perception and this is often really useful in clearing up misunderstandings. However, in the case of a long friendship it might be insulting to question the other person’s commitment – it depends on the context.

      As a footnote to this – the stuff I learned on the Landmark courses has really helped with minimising guessing games and shifting my perception around objective reality and how much access I can ever expect to have to it. In short I am now prepared to act on the assumption that, as human beings, we create our worlds entirely through language and have no access to an objective reality. I manage this about 10% of the time, but even that helps a lot in dealing with my mental baggage.

      1. Wow, I am really impressed by your response and you’ve given me something to contemplate! I really like your blog and enjoy all the thoughts you have to offer.

      2. Dear Jen, what a lovely thing to say! Thank you so much, that has made my day. I am finding the exchange really useful – I hadn’t crystallised my thoughts that far until you questioned me on it.

        Feel free to get back in touch once you’ve contemplated some more – I feel this conversation may have some mileage in it 🙂 my email address is somewhere on this page and if you are local to Brighton / Lewes then a chat over a coffee is a possibility 🙂

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