Human communication requires us to fill in many blanks. When we speak with others, we are forced to make guesses about their intentions, choice of words, tone of voice, and more.
In most of our dealings with other people, there is not much we can do to change this. If we are in a store, we normally accept the context of being a customer buying something and expect little more from the salesperson than a pleasant demeanor and basic good manners. If we are the salesperson, we know that we have to offer those qualities and can only hope that our customers will reciprocate. If they are rude, there is little we can do.
No matter where we are, our speech and interactions with others are determined by the context. The context may be a doctor’s office, a bus stop, a hunting camp, a school, a store, or a floor of cubicles in a large corporation. When the context is public, professional, or otherwise well-defined, most of us do not have too much trouble conforming to expectations and playing our predetermined roles in a suitable manner.
When the context of our speech and behavior is more private, however, it also becomes less well-defined. Private interpersonal communications cannot rely on the public norms that support us in stores and offices. Our private lives require a different sort of communication from our public and professional lives.
During private or intimate communications, our need to make guesses about our companions’ intentions, choice of words, or tone of voice becomes both more significant and more difficult to do.
When we blindly fill in the blanks while communicating with a close companion or friend, we inevitably make mistakes. Moreover, the mistakes we make will tend to compound or snowball causing us to build up a consistent and mistaken understanding of our friend. Generally, these compounded mistakes will snowball along the same courses of mistakes we have made in the past. If we are insecure, we will tend to fill in the blanks with interpretations that confirm our insecurities.
What makes all of this even more problematical is our friend is forced to do the same thing with us. If you are insecure and start mistakenly withdrawing from them, they may start to believe you are being arrogant or cold due to their mistaken interpretation of you.
I want to emphasize that we are talking about mistakes here. In Functional Interpersonal Meta Linguistics (FIML), a neurosis is defined as an “ongoing mistaken interpretation.” Mistaken interpretations keep going on within us (and becoming neuroses) because we keep reconfirming them again and again by our mistaken interpretations of what our friends are saying to us. FIML is a method of correcting these kinds of mistakes and thereby of eliminating neuroses.
How many mistakes does it take to form a neurosis? I believe we can and often do start forming neuroses from as little as a single mistaken interpretation. Once the ball starts rolling down the hill in one direction, it will keep going in that direction.
How many mistaken interpretations do we form in a day? I believe we form many mistaken interpretations during any day that we interact with friends. Some of these mistaken interpretations will be positive and some negative. Most of them will seem normal to us or even pass by unnoticed.