Sometimes I get so wrapped up in a bad feeling that I cannot discern how the bad feeling started and I cannot see the way out of it. During these times, I wonder where the existence of feeling lies, and how other people find it and separate it from the actuality of events in their worlds.

I know that I have allowed certain situations in my life to create deep-seated mistrust of reality. I am sure that people are saying words they are not actually saying, and I read more between the lines than is actually there. In a way, I think my background in the theatre has exacerbated this seeking for subtext; in preparing a script, I have been urged to understand what it is the character is not saying as much as what she is saying.

This manner of interacting with the world, of being certain that I do not have the whole story and if I just push further into it I can find the one piece of evidence that will turn its outcome, is unhealthy, and I know it is unhealthy. I see it for what it is, and I long for the days in which I believed that everyone said what they meant all the time.

But when I am chin-deep in the reaction to what someone never said, I can only feel bad, the worst sort of it: because my feeling is illogical, all of my attempts at logic as a way out frustrate and depress me.

So my earnest question for you is: how do you separate what someone is saying from what you think they might not be saying?

Published by Halsted M. Bernard

An ever-molting black swan. Reader, writer, library director, over-enunciator. Listening + Unlearning. Opinions are my own. She/her. #BlackLivesMatter

18 thoughts on “subtext

  1. I don’t know the answer to this,but I sure do Identify to the question.
    If you find out the answer,please post it.
    I think the only people who are really secure about this are
    egomaniacs who don’t care what other people think.

    Good luck.

  2. I may be oversimplifying here, but.. this is not a question that can be answered properly in a general context.

    I think that not only is the dialog of the actor(s) involved, but also the individual actors involved in a particular conversational interaction are important factors to consider when attempting to detect the presence of or a complete lack of subtext in a conversation.

    Factors to consider — if a stranger/acquaintance says to you that your outfit looks “really comfortable” — should you imagine that really meant “you look outstandingly obese today”? Or should you maybe imagine that it only means you look like a well put together person who looks very comfortable/happy in whatever outfit is actually in question? Consider also that many people might not be able to even define the word ‘subtext’, let alone use it in conversation.

    So, I guess I’m also saying if you know the person in question, trust them a bit to stick to saying what they mean. If you don’t know the person in question well, and what they say doesn’t matchwhat they really mean should you be responsible for having to decipher the difference?

    Personally, I worry significantly more about what other say about me when I’m around — imaginations can really run wild with that one.
    You are not responsible for deciphering the difference, and I am quite certain you have better things to spend time thinking/worrying about.

    And trust your gut, it is better than most of us realize.

  3. My spin is a little different than Deans, but comes from the same place. Sometimes I need to have the confidence to just let things like these go. Often it’s just something that’s rooted in insecurity and it will pass. If it’s not and it represents something that genuinely needs fixing, it helps to know that I can always come back to it again later when I have a little perspective.

  4. My mom said, “What other people think is not your business.” It’s true, you know.

    I do that too though, where I’m so upset that I forget why I am upset.

    I try not to analyze too much or I get nutty….er

  5. Have you ever read “Feeling Good”. It helped me a lot, and mostly what it says is that your feelings are generated by your thoughts. Most of us tell ourselves a lot of things that aren’t true, or at least things we don’t know are true. If you manage your thinking, you can at least somewhat manage your emotions and reactions. A lot of depression is generated by lies our mind tells us about ourselves and our situations.

    Also, I learned to stop always asking myself what other people think and feel, and instead ask myself what I think and feel first. For example, I used to dwell on whether or not my partner was satisfied in our relationship. Well, that’s a good way to avoid thinking about whether or not I’M satisfied! So now, I just worry about my satisfaction, and trust that our communication and relationship are good and that he’ll tell me if there is an issue.

  6. When I read “The Four Agreements”, the one that resonated with me the most was the one I paraphrase as “the words people say have more to do with them than they do with you”. This frees you from wondering about what underlying message they’re not-saying, because in most cases what they’ve said is more self-involved than not, and there is no hidden meaning you need to spend time worrying about. I think this jibes pretty well with the other excellent comments you’ve already seen on this subject.

  7. I had similar issues when I first met up with my now husband decades ago. He told me that I had to trust that he was telling me what he meant, straight, no subtle meanings. If I had a question, I should ask. I should not stew over what I was worried he wasn’t saying. Takes effort, but if you always take people at their word, they’ll learn to make sure that their words are an accurate reflection of what they are thinking. I second the Four Agreements. I’ll go investigate Feeling Good too.

  8. I learned to take people at face value. I refuse to play the ‘guess what I really mean’ game. If they want to tell me something, I expect them to tell me straight out since it is their responsiblity to ensure I receive the message. I have neither the time nor the desire for playing mental guessing games.

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