I remember speaking with my therapist about some difficulties going on and she asked me what meaning I was placing on my problem. Unsure what she was talking about, I said "I don't know" and she asked again. What I didn't realize was I was adding meaning to something that didn't need a meaning.
We can see this a lot when an ex-partner texts us, when something difficult occurs or even during conflict. We can unintentionally add meaning to something which in turn can create a bigger emotional reaction internally. A common situation I see is when an ex-partner texts us and whether it's random or just saying hello, we can then become hooked into asking, "Did they mean to text me?" "Why am I having feelings about them again?" and a variety of other questions. By asking ourselves these questions we are assuming there is a reason behind the text or call, which in turn; can create feelings of anxiety, guilt, sadness, and/or confusion. The meaning we have placed on the butt dial or random hello text is that "they must want to get together or reconnect" where as, if we paused and looked at it as just a butt dial or j u s t someone wanting to check-in we may not become hooked into the what if's and meaning making. It can be helpful in creating space between a situation and our reaction or interpretation of the event.
We can also see this a lot in moments where there are natural transitions or shifts. While working with adolescents, communication with friends is a large contributor of anxiety and self-esteem. If a friend takes to long to reply or the friendship drifts due to natural causes (going to different schools, different interests or friend groups) many adolescents struggle with this as they place a meaning of "they don't like me, they don't want to talk to me, I'm not important" which creates emotions similar to what's noted above. By adding meaning to these situations which trigger an array of emotions we can then begin to isolate ourselves, engage in passive aggressiveness, end the friendship abruptly, etc. which can reconfirm the original worry or meaning.
When we start to challenge our thoughts and emotions, it can be helpful to challenge the meaning we are placing on a particular event of situation.
"Could there be another reason why they are/aren't reaching out?"
"Am I making an assumption?"
"What are the facts that support the meaning I'm placing?"
"How is adding meaning helping me cope with the situation?"
or "Am I adding meaning to something that doesn't mean anything?"
In the case of our friend not texting back right away or our ex-partner reaching out, if we look at the situation for what it is (the facts of it) without placing assumptions or meaning we position ourselves better to respond without becoming hooked into our emotions or thoughts.