Friction, Fuss, And Flare-Ups

Friction, Fuss, And Flare-Ups

By Caroline Schumsky, LCSW, MS

Hey, I’m not always right; but when I am, it’s usually all of the time.” And furthermore, if confusion is the first step to knowledge, then I must be a genius. You think you’re confused? Imagine being a celebrity who works hard all her life to become famous; then spends all her days wearing dark glasses to avoid being recognized. Huh?

Our brains are quite simple when it comes to trying to make sense of something. It simply wants to know why people do what they do, and guess what? If it does not have a clear, rational answer, it will make up a motive. And, sorry to say, but those assumptions are almost always…you got it: wrong. Really wrong.

Don’t you just love being misquoted and misinterpreted? Not really. Sooo, how do you get a reading on someone’s feelings? Why is it that you got such a different signal from the one she was trying to send? Hold on. You may think you are coming across a certain way, only to find out that he perceived you in a totally different one. And on top of that, the way you see yourself is not the way others see you. Care to test that?

Okay, then describe yourself. Share some of your traits and what you think your personality is all about. Now ask a friend to do the same about you. Ahhh. Did your friend share your view of yourself? How close did your friend come?

Let’s be real for a moment, shall we. How honest are we about how we feel. When was the last time you said to someone, “What you just said hurt my feelings.” In addition, we are all clouded by our own past experiences, feelings, and, yes, even prejudices.

Believe it or not, when we meet people, we unconsciously (and even consciously at times) ask ourselves: Is this person a threat to my self-esteem in any way? Suppose he is wealthier than you, or she is perceived as being more attractive than you. No doubt society places enormous value on those traits for men and women. To protect ourselves, oftentimes we judge those people more harshly as we fear the competition – and sometimes for good reason.

“All I know is one of us is right; and the other one is you.” Uh, oh. We must learn what signals we are sending and if they are truly the ones we wish to convey. Being difficult to read may seem appealing and intriguing at first; but that makes you very hard to understand. And being understood is one of the most powerful human needs we have.

Want to be truly known for who you are? Try my handy-dandy helpers to avoid those disconnects. First things first: Please be clear. Ambiguity nearly always leads to confusion. Don’t be afraid to “check it out” to make sure she got it down pat. Does he understand what you want, need, or asked for? Ask.

So you sent a text message and email and he suddenly seems kind of defensive. Perhaps he got it all topsy-turvy and tangled yet again. That brings us to my second rule: Please try to use mediums that still use social cues. I know there aren’t many. But think of how many miscommunications result because there is no eye contact, tone of voice, or even facial expression. If she didn’t catch what you were pitching, pick up the phone and call. You know why they are called cell phones? Because we have all become prisoners of them. Try actually using it to have a conversation, like the cavemen did back in the day. Speaking of which, did you ever spend 15 minutes searching for your phone in your car, using the phone as a flashlight? Lol.

At least speaking in person avoids the dreaded staring at the phone for 20 minutes waiting for that text reply that doesn’t even come. Don’t ever trust information that is relayed by a third party. But I heard it from a friend of a friend of a friend. Oh my. Your “friend” who is retelling the story may innocently interpret excitement as frustration or even anger. Please go to the source.

And lastly but most importantly, always err on the side of positive intent. Unless you have hard evidence to the contrary, go through life assuming that others have positive intentions. If someone is truly trying to hurt you, of course you will deal with it in the most gracious way you know. But until the cold, hard facts are in, it’s okay to be curious and ask your friend flat out: “Why did you do that?”

Ask questions, please. Do not worry about appearing “stupid.” Then try to put into your own words what you think your friend said to you. And please remember: Facts and opinions are not the same thing. Don’t only look for “facts” that confirm your beliefs about someone already. He’s late again and there you go assuming that he’s busy socializing when, in fact, his train really did get delayed this time.

If you look at problems as a puzzle you both need to do, it takes the burden off who is right or wrong. Instead of becoming obsessed with her hearing you, try asking how she is feeling and why she feels the way she does at the moment. We used to hold teddy bears for comfort and a sense of belonging. Now we have smartphones. Sweet friends: Your phone has already replaced your camera, watch, and calendar. Don’t let it replace your family.

Caroline is a licensed psychotherapist, crisis counselor, and writer with an office in Queens.  She works with individuals, couples, and families.  Appointments are available throughout the week and weekends.  She can be reached at 917-717-1775 or at or at

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