The Other Driver Probably Thought I Was a Jerk – The problem with our stories

 In Communication, Negative emotions

Have you ever been misunderstood or misunderstood someone else’s intentions? It’s because there’s a problem with our stories we tell ourselves.

As I was approaching the roundabout, I touched my brakes to slow down. All I heard was the grinding sound of the anti-lock braking system as I started to slide. I looked to my left and noticed a car coming and quickly realized that we would be at the exact same spot in the roundabout in the next second. I switched to the gas pedal to give some power to my front tires so I could at least steer to the right. I stayed next to the other car’s side in the roundabout and exited to the right as they continued around. Our cars never touched. Phew!!

I knew it was a close call, but I was also thinking of what must have been going through the other person’s mind. They may not have realized that I couldn’t stop and that I did my best to avoid running into them. Instead, they probably thought I was a crazy driver that didn’t look where I was going and didn’t yield to oncoming traffic. 

Later that day my husband was recounting his experience at that same roundabout. Some crazy driver had pulled out in front of him without yielding so he had to hit his brakes to avoid a collision. What a jerk!

I had to laugh as I shared my story from earlier that day. I told him, “Maybe that driver encountered the same icy patch as me. Maybe they couldn’t stop.” This new insight gave my husband a reason to reconsider the situation.

I’m always amazed at how often we tell ourselves stories, and how often we assume the worst. I’ve learned that this is a normal part of our survival instinct. The problem is that our negative interpretation of the situation can leave us feeling frustrated or upset (and sometimes saying or doing something unhelpful). But once we learn that our brains naturally jump to the worst conclusion, we can notice it happening and realize we can change our stories. Even if we’ll never know the true intentions of the other person, we can ask ourselves;

  • Do we know this story to be true?
  • What assumptions are we making?
  • Is there another explanation?

These questions can guide us to see other possibilities that have less impact on our mood.

Give it a try this week. See if you can notice when you jump to the worst conclusion and use the questions above.

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