Misinterpreting Problems Based on Past Experiences

“If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.” ~Abraham Maslow

This quote from Maslow is a great example of confirmation bias. Basically, what this is saying is that we interpret or misinterpret the circumstances of our lives based on our past experiences. Here’s an example.

Jennifer went through several bad relationships. But a new trend was developing. In the past, it took weeks for a doomed relationship to officially end. But the last two relationships ended abruptly because Jennifer broke it off quite unexpectedly. Marie, Jennifer’s best friend, noticed this and asked her about it. Though Jennifer couldn’t explain what was really going on, Marie was able to piece together the whole picture by looking at her past relationships. Jennifer usually began to get suspicious in the relationship, thinking that things were going too well which must mean that something was wrong. Marie learned that every time Jennifer’s previous boyfriends brought her flowers “for no reason,” it was actually because they had cheated on her. Once Jennifer learned of the infidelity, the relationship would drag on for weeks and would make Jennifer a complete wreck as she desperately tried to salvage it.

Marie discovered that both of Jennifer’s last two relationships had been going extremely well, until she suddenly broke up. The trigger, in both cases, was when the boyfriend had decided to do something special for Jennifer so they surprised her with a bouquet of flowers, thinking it was a kind and caring gesture. Because of Jennifer’s past experiences, she interpreted the gift of flowers to mean her boyfriends had cheated on her, when they actually had not.

Due to Jennifer’s past experiences, she falsely interpreted getting the flowers from her last two boyfriends as admitting infidelity. She interpreted it the only way she knew how based on her prior relationships. It makes me wonder how many times I’ve misinterpreted something based on my past experiences and never realized that I didn’t have the right information.

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