Do you ever read the comments on your posts and think that the commenter has taken a different message from the post than what you intended to convey?
This is something that’s fascinated me for some time now. I’m not talking about the odd person misinterpreting here and there, which is bound to happen. I’m thinking more along the lines of multiple readers understanding a post in a way that doesn’t match what you were trying to write. At that point I don’t see it as misinterpretation; there’s something deeper going on.
One thing that I’ve noticed across multiple posts and multiple commenters is that people are concerned I’m being hard on myself. I find this so interesting because that’s just not something I tend to do. I’m very clear on what’s me and what’s illness, and while I can get frustrated with having to deal with the effects of my depression, I don’t judge, blame, or criticize myself for them. I don’t have a strong self-critic, and most of the time I don’t have a lot of the negative cognitions that are common in depression. Also, I take the view that it’s far better to aim low and be pleasantly surprised than to aim high and be disappointed.
So, I don’t feel like I’m being hard on myself, and I don’t think it’s something I’m in denial about, either. Yet it’s something that people take away from my posts on a fairly regular basis. That makes me wonder – where is this disconnect coming from?
There are probably many reasons why this might happen, not just in this particular instance, but in general. A few that I can think of are:
- The writer is implying something without realizing it
- Something is written ambiguously
- There is a lack of detail in the writing, leaving the reader to try to fill in the lines
- The reader is reading what they expect to read rather than what’s actually there; for example, assuming the writer would be reacting to something in a common way, or in a way that’s typical for their situation (or their mental illness)
- The reader is extrapolating based on what they already know about the writer
- The reader may be thinking about how they would feel/react in the situation being described in the post
When it comes to the question of whether I’m hard on myself, I think there are a few different factors that come into play. One is that when I write about the negative effects of my illness, I may not make it clear enough that I fully attribute those effects to the illness rather than some sort of personal failing. It’s also common for people with depression, or mental illness in general, or even perhaps people across the board, to be self-critical and hard on themselves, so readers may be expecting it, and as a writer, I haven’t countered that expectation. I think there’s also the fact that people are trying to be supportive, and perhaps reading between the lines to think of things I might need support with.
Another example is a post I did recently on feeling disconnected from blogging. I didn’t say anything about doubting the quality of my blog, because it wasn’t something that was even an issue for me, but a lot of people’s comments showed that they got that message from my post. I know a lot of people do go through phases of questioning whether their blog is good enough, and I think, at least to some extent, people read into my post that common experience that they would have expected. I haven’t gone back and looked, but I would say that at least half of the people who commented took away that message that wasn’t intended to be there, at least from my perspective as the writer.
I also wonder, if I had somehow written it differently, whether that same message would still have been received. Then again, it’s not necessarily easy to anticipate that people will see something in a post that isn’t even on your own radar as a writer.
I’m not saying any of this intending to criticize readers at all. Once something is published it goes out of the writer’s hands and into the world, to be interpreted as people will. What really fascinates me is what happens in that space between writer and reader, and how and why it happens. For the most part, I don’t think it’s just one simple thing; probably it’s a more windy, complex path.
Have you ever noticed a disconnect between what you intended to say the message that people seem to have taken away from it?