The Sensitive Appetites and Passions

Dr. Patrick J. DiVietri OCDS, Ph.D., CPC, AAPC: Fellow

 

Appetite

“Appetite is an active tendency or faculty which inclines toward a given object or end; the conscious striving for an end known either spiritually or sensorially.[1] The appetite is moved by the presence of its object.[2]

At the heart of the complex understanding of man’s psychological constitution is the relationship of the appetites to the intellect and will and how they affect each other’s operation. “Since mental health is concerned about the intellect of man, it is essential for psychology to know how the appetites, reason and will affect one another.”[3]

St. Thomas describes that there are concupiscible and irascible appetites.[4] As we saw earlier in the definitions in chapter two:

Concupiscible appetite- the sensitive appetite that seeks what is suitable to the senses and flees what is evil to the senses.

Irascible appetite- the sensitive appetite by which the sentient being resists the attacks that hinder its good or inflict harm on it. Thus, the concupiscible seeks the good and to avoid evil and the irascible is concerned with the obstacle to fight or flight.

Passion

“A passion is motion of an appetitive power.”[1] Passion is “a movement of the sense appetite, which follows the apprehension of the senses, and is accompanied by a bodily transmutation.”[2] The name is derived from the Latin word “pati” which means to suffer or undergo, or literally to bear. “Passion refers an appetites reception of something in some way and the reception is an actual inclining or motion toward or away from some object. The “motion” of the appetite, brought us to the term “e-motion.” Passions occur with a bodily transmutation, i.e., the sensitive object causes some bodily change in the one undergoing the action.”[3] This motion causes “bodily transmutation, i.e. chemical and biological changes which we identify as “feelings. A passion is the same thing as a feeling or emotion. The three terms are synonymous.

There are eleven passions altogether, which fall under the heading of these two types. The concupiscible is divided into three couples: love and hate, desire and aversion (or flight), delight (or joy), sorrow (or sadness). The irascible, which arises from the concupiscible, has three groups: hope and despair, fear and daring (audacity), and anger.

We are going to consider some of the passions as they relate to pastoral counseling.

As we begin it is helpful to keep in mind that passions are stimulated by the imagination. Without any impression upon the imagination or senses there is no passion. They are in essence “blind” to anything but their one object. This will be discussed, as it is imperative to understand for many pastoral issues.

 

[1] III Sent., d. 26, q. 1, a. 1 and De malo, q. 10, a. 1, ad 1.

[2] Aquinas, Summa Theological, (I-II, Q. 22).

[3] Ripperger, Introduction to the Science of Mental Health, Vol. 1, p. 146.

[1] Fr. Chad Ripperger, FSSP, Introduction to the Science of Mental Health, (Sensus Traditionis Press: Denton, NE, 2007) p. 800.

[2] Fr. Chad Ripperger, FSSP, Introduction to the Science of Mental Health, (Sensus Traditionis Press: Denton, NE, 2007) p. 130.

[3] Ripperger, Introduction to the Science of Mental Health, Vol. 1, p. 188, See chapters 8 and 9, pp. 140- 216 for a necessary and sufficient discussion of the passions. What is contained has a bearing on every counseling situation.

[4] Summa Theologica, 1st part of the 2nd part, Q. 23, Art. 4.

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Maturity Involves the Struggle to Gain Personal Integrity

Dr. Patrick J. DiVietri OCDS, Ph.D., CPC, Fellow: AAPC

“A virtue is an habitual and firm disposition to do the good. It allows the person not only to perform good acts, but also to give the best of himself. The virtuous person tends toward the good with all his sensory and spiritual powers; he pursues the good and chooses it in concrete actions.” CCC 1803

The habits whereby the human will and sensual appetites are under the control of reason to thus enable the person to act accordingly are called moral virtues. Simply, the human person has to be the master of his lusts.

UNION OF THE ORGANIC POWERS TO THE SPIRITUAL POWERS (SEE FOLLOWING POWERS CHART)

1. Animals have organic powers
2. Only man has spiritual powers
3. All want the Truth since the intellect is made for the Truth.
Man at times does not want the cost the truth brings such when it reveals his sin or demands sacrifice of some good that he desires.
4. All love the good because the will is for choosing the good.
5. We know that a passion is “an intense movement of the sensitive appetite accompanied by noticeable organic change, as in anger or fear”
6. The passions are not the deepest truth. They are simply desires, feelings and emotions.
7. Right reason reveals the deepest truth
8. Passions may work against right reason. Virtues enable one to overcome passions and direct them to what right reason dictates.

POWERS OF THE HUMAN SOUL

Look to the following chart and we find it demonstrates the powers of the human soul, which are common in animals (organic powers) and those, which are unique to the human soul (spiritual powers). The struggle for sanctity and happiness involves the struggle to unite the two powers. It is the ability to act according to right reason that principally determines a man’s character. The intellect’s object is to know the truth and left unimpeded will seek to know what is real and rightly ordained. However, it’s capacity to perceive the truth and reason has been obscured by original sin. The will can only choose good. However, the will is able to ignore one good in the favor of another or not consider a thing at all. Thus those goods of the senses such as pleasure or love may be contrary to right reason and yet still chosen because right reason is essentially ignored.

spiritual powers

 

 

The Naturally Good Listener

 

Dr. Patrick J. DiVietri, OCDS, Ph.D. CPC, Fellow: AAPC

Many people are naturally good listeners at least when they want to be. The naturally good listener has an active mind that summarizes what is being said.   This common sense process may center on three simple questions that are very helpful to anyone who wants to be a better listener. This approach is a synthesis of the keys to attentive listening because they are contained in the attitude necessary to sincerely ask these questions.

When listening, ask yourself:

“What is he/she communicating or telling me?”

  • This question moves the focus from the listener to the speaker and what is being said versus what the listener would like to say.

“What feelings might be involved?”

  • “Are the feelings what the speaker wants me to address?” The more the feelings are involved the more patience and understanding are required before a response can be made. The speaker must somehow come to know that these feelings are understood.

What response does he/she want from me?

  • This is the critical question that needs to be kept in mind because it involves the reason that the person is speaking to you in the first place.

What do you want from me?

People speak to us for a number of reasons and many communication problems stem from the listener’s failure to recognize what the speaker wants from them. The listener’s response might be quite true and good but it may not be what the speaker is looking for. Experience shows us that when speaking to another person people generally want one or a combination of the following responses.   The speaker generally may want the listener to do the following:

  • Just listen and understand
  • Console and support
  • Help Clarify
  • Confirm
  • Agree
  • Solve a problem
  • Act upon self or another

Just Listen and Understand

People always want to be listened to and to be understood.   This must happen for other things to follow. It is the most important response to give. When both parties feel mutually understood tension and discord are diminished. This is true even when the two do not agree. The likelihood of anger erupting is greatly diminished. A priest used to tell the story of how his parents never got angry at each other. At first I thought him to be naïve. However, he proceeded to describe how they conducted their conversations. He said that his parents did something that he had learned to do during his courses in philosophy. One of the rudiments of philosophical discourse is obviously debate. A basic component of debate is that the first party states a position. Before the responding team could offer a rebuttal they had to first state the position of the first party clearly and faithfully. The first party would then acknowledge whether the second team was able to express the essential elements of the first position. Also, in debate, the first cross-examination can only contain clarifying questions. These are the questions that allow the first party to elaborate on points that the listener needs to better understand. After this process is done, the first party confirms the proper understanding and then the rebuttal or opposing position can be presented.

It so happened that this young priest’s parents naturally did this. They always made it a point to understand each other before responding and making sure that their own understanding was consistent with what their spouse intended. As a result, even when they disagreed upon any point, neither party felt insulted because the other did not take the time to sufficiently understand them.

Console or support

People often want consolation and support. A burden seems lighter when shared by someone who cares. This combines with being understood to establish most of what people want most of the time that they speak about anything that is important to them.

Help clarify

People sometimes want to get things out so they can see them more clearly. In this case people simply want to bounce things off of someone else. They come to get some order so that they can make a decision or get their thinking straight.

Agreement or confirmation

People sometimes want someone to confirm that they are right. Sometimes people just want others to agree with them. However, understanding does not mean that one agrees. E.g. “I understand you feel like punching your spouse, but I do not agree you should do it.”

Help solve a problem

People sometimes want you to solve the problem. They want solutions and directions. This is the dynamic that causes the most trouble when someone tries to solve someone else’s problem when the person doesn’t want that kind of help. We will address this next, in “When solving a problem becomes a problem.”

Act upon myself or someone else

When someone wants you to change your behavior or to perform some action then they will know you understand because they see the action. They may want you to act upon someone else. E.g. A wife who wants her husband to do something to change the behavior of their son.   She will know that her husband understands when she sees that he has talked to his son.

A person may want you to do something about your own behavior. E.g. A wife wants her husband to be more attentive or to do things around the house. She will know that her husband understands when she sees that he starts picking up after himself, doing the dishes, cooking, helping with the laundry and whatever other tasks may be on the list.

Music and Contemplation (1)

Dr. Patrick J. DiVietri, Ph.D., MA, CPC, OCDS

It is in consideration of the relationship between music and contemplation that we can more clearly see the role of music as a means to expresses things so difficult for words alone and aid in the formation of human beings. Music and morals are allied in principle. To listen to music is to contemplate something beautiful ….something eminently true since it mirrors the infinite beauty of God, Himself.[2] The happiness which comes from true contemplation is often defused in art that is beautiful.

The art of composing possesses a value in exciting devotion and prayer. Cole holds that music can reach into the depths of personality, change men’s hearts, and express the law of nature within the soul.[3] For him, the true purpose of music is to express the external proportions of God’s universe which transcends mere sense impressions. It can do what words alone cannot do. Cole states:

“Might one listening to the inner relationships of a work by a Mahler or a Stravinski, to use some modern examples, exercise and strengthen the intellect to more easily contemplate the divine? Likewise, might not the beautiful as contemplated dispose one to realize that there is more to life than simple or exclusively the goods of the senses? Could not a sonata or concerto suggest through the intricacies of a well written melody joined to harmony and rhythm dispose one to desire a life of greater virtue, indeed a life of perfection? Would not such a life contribute to one’s ultimate happiness?…To the extent that music brings one to the taste and joys of contemplative activity and life, it leads one to the purpose of the virtuous life, for moral virtues anticipates and disposes one to the contemplative life, naturally and supernaturally.”[4]

With music man can boldly give glory to God,[5] not as the mystic who stands in silence before the dark majesty of God, but rather as the musician who stands in the light and sound of music. The musician stands as Hezekiah stood before God knowing what fate he truly deserved but knowing the mercy God had shown and would continue to show. He stood in the pit of the grave and sang out:

“You have preserved my life from the pit destruction, when you cast behind your back all my sins. For it is not the nether world that gives you thanks, nor death that praises you; neither do those who go down into the pit await your kindness. The living, the living give you thanks, as I do today. Fathers declare to their sons, O God, your faithfulness. The Lord is our savior; we shall sing to stringed instruments in the house of the Lord all the days of our life.”[6]

It is this boldness that lives in the song of the musician. The boldness to sing out to God and demand that God respond in like form. At his best, the musician sings to God for his entire life in hopes that he might hear Our Lord’s sweet voice sing to him on the day of his death. But in truth God does not keep the artist only for that day but allows him to hear something of the melodies that await us all.

[1] DiVietri, Patrick J. Ph.d., A COMMENTARY ON THE CANTATA CARMELITUM, Dissertation presented to the Graduate School of the Humanities, American Commonwealth University, San Diego, 1997, Pp. 15-16.

[2] In Boethius. de Trinitas, 5,1, ad 3, De institutione musica, in Source Readings in Music History, selected and annotated by Oliver Strunk, (New York: W. W. Norton and Co., 1950), cited by, Cole, p. 74.

[3] Cole, Basil OP. Music and Morals. (New York: Alba House, 1993,) p. 59.

[4] Ibid. p. 87

[5] Ibid. p. 85

[6] Isaiah 35:17-20

Keys to Listening

 

Dr. Patrick J. DiVietri Ph.D. CPC, OCDS

Listening is a simple and natural skill that can be very easy for some people and at times very difficult for many people. The more carefully we listen the better our chance to understand. Distractions, bias, impatience and our own personal frailty may make it more difficult to listen well at times. A good disposition for listening contains at least some of the following qualities:

Attentiveness

Nothing communicates love like ones full attention to another or the attentiveness, which notices a person’s needs and disposition.

Willingness to understand

Understanding is always preempted in time and importance by the willingness to understand. One may not understand but their will to listen helps them to be attentive and make efforts, which edify the speaker.

Open-mindedness

Open-mindedness is an important part of prudence and one must keep an open mind while listening even when disagreement is likely or already present. Without it the listener tends to close out the speaker and understanding becomes very difficult.

Self-control

One must control one’s own mind while listening in order to stay with the person’s reasoning. This means keeping emotions in check as well as not thinking about a response while waiting for a breath in order to interject. When we think about our response we tend to stop listening to the speaker. We think we understand because the words are familiar but the meaning may be different for the speaker than for ourselves.

Patience

It is difficult at times for someone to find the words to express themselves. They may also be saying something that annoys us and patience helps us to listen.

Sensitivity

We must watch the face and body of a person while they are speaking. Much can be expressed physically that does not show in the words alone. It is not only what is said but also how it is said. Emotions may play a part and we have to consider the feelings that might be involved.

What do you want from me?

 

Dr. Patrick J. DiVietri Ph.D. CPC, OCDS

People speak to us for a number of reasons and many communication problems stem from the listener’s failure to recognize what the speaker wants from them. The listener’s response might be quite true and good but it may not be what the speaker is looking for. Experience shows us that when speaking to another person people generally want one or a combination of the following responses.   The speaker generally may want the listener to do the following:

  • Just listen and understand
  • Console and support
  • Help Clarify
  • Confirm
  • Agree
  • Solve a problem
  • Act upon self or another

Just Listen and Understand

People always want to be listened to and to be understood. This must happen for other things to follow. It is the most important response to give. When both parties feel mutually understood tension and discord are diminished. This is true even when the two do not agree. The likelihood of anger erupting is greatly diminished. A priest used to tell the story of how his parents never got angry at each other. At first I thought him to be naïve. However, he proceeded to describe how they conducted their conversations. He said that his parents did something that he had learned to do during his courses in philosophy. One of the rudiments of philosophical discourse is obviously debate. A basic component of debate is that the first party states a position. Before the responding team could offer a rebuttal they had to first state the position of the first party clearly and faithfully. The first party would then acknowledge whether the second team was able to express the essential elements of the first position. Also, in debate, the first cross-examination can only contain clarifying questions. These are the questions that allow the first party to elaborate on points that the listener needs to better understand. After this process is done, the first party confirms the proper understanding and then the rebuttal or opposing position can be presented.

It so happened that this young priest’s parents naturally did this. They always made it a point to understand each other before responding and making sure that their own understanding was consistent with what their spouse intended. As a result, even when they disagreed upon any point, neither party felt insulted because the other did not take the time to sufficiently understand them.

Console or support

People often want consolation and support. A burden seems lighter when shared by someone who cares. This combines with being understood to establish most of what people want most of the time that they speak about anything that is important to them.

Help clarify

People sometimes want to get things out so they can see them more clearly. In this case people simply want to bounce things off of someone else. They come to get some order so that they can make a decision or get their thinking straight.

Agreement or confirmation

People sometimes want someone to confirm that they are right. Sometimes people just want others to agree with them. However, understanding does not mean that one agrees. E.g. “I understand you feel like punching your spouse, but I do not agree you should do it.”

Help solve a problem

People sometimes want you to solve the problem. They want solutions and directions. This is the dynamic that causes the most trouble when someone tries to solve someone else’s problem when the person doesn’t want that kind of help. We will address this next, in “When solving a problem becomes a problem.”

Act upon myself or someone else

When someone wants you to change your behavior or to perform some action then they will know you understand because they see the action. They may want you to act upon someone else. E.g. A wife who wants her husband to do something to change the behavior of their son.   She will know that her husband understands when she sees that he has talked to his son.

A person may want you to do something about your own behavior. E.g. A wife wants her husband to be more attentive or to do things around the house. She will know that her husband understands when she sees that he starts picking up after himself, doing the dishes, cooking, helping with the laundry and whatever other tasks may be on the list.

 

 

 

 

Four Phases of Listening Well

 

Dr. Patrick J. DiVietri Ph.D. CPC, OCDS

1)      Understand what the speaker is saying

This applies to the literal content and the personal intentions or meaning on the part of the speaker.  Listen intently to what is being said.  Taking notes will help capture the literal expressions and enable clarification of meaning.  One can then ask clarifying questions.

When as student takes notes in school they focus upon what is being said by the other person.  They are intent on understanding.  They are not concerned with giving the teacher/superior direction.  They are careful to be exact to grasp to meaning that is intended by the speaker.  They would ask questions to clarify their understanding.  They would reflect upon the implications of the information and how it relates to other things that they know.  They would study it later and draw conclusions. This is the exact same process for understanding someone who seeks counsel. 

2)      Clarify the speakers meaning

On page 157 we referred to an aspect contained in parliamentary debate, during the first cross-examination, at which time there are no rebuttal arguments presented.  Rather, one may only ask questions which help to clarify the affirmative speakers meaning.  There is often a confirmation question, which solidifies the understanding.  This is the essence of good listening skills and is at the heart of 95% of counseling interventions.  In a relationship this will greatly reduce anger because each person will feel that the other person is listening and understanding them even if they do not agree. 

The ability to express the speaker’s meaning in reasonable terms and manner fosters the feeling of being understood in the speaker.

3)      Ascertain desire of the speaker

The next critical point is to ascertain what the speaker wants before responding.  The first two phases are the most important and will have the greatest impact upon the speaker.  It will bring the majority of healing and consolation.  However, the most common practical problem lies in responses by the listener, which are inconsistent with the desires of the speaker.  People often understand what the other person is saying but fail to grasp why it is being said and what is wanted.  As a result the response causes problems and produces a sense of misunderstanding.  E.g. Husband, “I understand you.”  Wife, “If you understood what I was saying, you wouldn’t respond that way.”  There are many wonderful and loving responses that are frustrating because they are unnecessary.  Thus the point here is to ask the speaker to state what they want and why they are saying what they have said.  Until this is clear, it is usually unwise to offer a response.  

4)      Respond in conformity with the desire

Once it is understood, one may respond appropriately.  If it is not possible to respond as the speaker desires some discussion or explanation would follow.  A prudent step in this case would be to ask for some time to reflect on the matter.

 

When have you felt like this before?

  Dr. Patrick J. DiVietri Ph.D. CPC, OCDS

People have defenses, which protect them from bad memories.  It is not a good idea to barge into a person’s psyche and dispel their defenses and leave them vulnerable if a better means of coping is not in place.[1]  One must proceed in a respective manner consistent with the way the Holy Spirit operates.  That is, to respect the disposition of the individual.  The reminiscence must take place in a natural way.  Otherwise harm can come to the individual.  This is one of the problems with the approach of psycho analysis and other practices which bypass natural reminiscence.

A simple method of doing this is to ask the question, “When have you felt like this before? Or “What does this remind you of?”  This allows the person to consider the present feeling and allow the memory to come into view.

The memory which causes the feeling is already in the imagination.  However, it is not in that part of the imagination which appears “visual” to us.  The imagination may be likened to a computer screen where the file has only so much data that is visible and the rest needs to be “scrolled” down in order to see.  However, the appetites can read the abstract form of the data that is in the imagination and if it contains the object of the appetite, the passions moves.

It is common for people to recognize the associations between the present and the past.  How many times has a marital squabble included a, “you remind me of my mother?”  So the simple questions about memory, “What does this remind you of?  When have you felt like this before?” allow someone to “scroll” down in there imagination.

For example, Mary and John have arguments because Mary feels that John criticizes her and thinks that she is an idiot.  John states that he has no such feelings or thoughts about Mary but rather has the highest respect for her education and intelligence.  When Mary was asked, “When have you ever felt like this before?” she answered that her family was very well educated and considered her to be the weak link.  Despite her high intelligence scores and academic prowess she was made to feel that her opinions were of little value because her family would always contradict her and dismiss her ideas.  Thus when John pointed out disagreements with anything that Mary would say, it played upon that previous disposition.  The counsel was:

  1. Mary and John needed to recognize that the emotion was related to the old wound.  It helped for Mary to stop and consider what her feelings reminded her of.
  2. Mary could then talk to John about how these memories affected her.
  3. John would naturally change somewhat when he began to understand how these hurtful memories magnified or even distorted the present experiences.
  4. His compassion for Mary came to the fore.
  5. Mary was to forgive the family
  6. Mary needed to try to understand that John’s intentions and actions were different than her families.
  7. John was to be understanding, loving and patient
  8. John was to be sensitive when discussing issues with Mary so that he expressed himself with the awareness that she could feel the effects of the old memories.  This was very important for Mary’s sake.
  9. Healing immediately began because Mary was able to separate the past experience from the present.  She could see that she was freed from the past.
  10. She could also see the kind understanding and patience of her husband and this created to new memory.
  11. The psychological wound of the memory which contained the injustice was altered by the forgiveness.
  12. Repetitions would be required for the memories to dissipate into insignificance.  Something that happens repeatedly over time as to cause psychological wounds does not easily change in the moment of insight.  Time, patience and love are called for.

[1] An example of this disregard took place in relation to an operation in California during the 70’s.  During the weekend encounter the individuals were confronted in such a way as to break down many of their defenses.  They felt the euphoria of the psychological purging and outpouring gave credibility to the experience.  However, a high rate of mental breakdowns took place in subsequent months for those who attended the weekend.

Willing and Attentive Listening

    Dr. Patrick J. DiVietri Ph.D. CPC, OCDS

Willing and attentive listening is the central dynamic of communication skills.  The primary concern is the speaker and what he or she is trying to communicate.  Listening enables one to see situations more clearly and thus help another person.

We know that one’s emotional disposition improves from being understood. When something is expressed its intensity lessens.  Solutions become clearer when someone else listens to the problem.

Good listening facilitates better understanding.  This enables someone to respond in a way that shows he/she understands.  New information and opinion are secondary to understanding what the other person is saying.

Listening expresses love for the other person.

Listening shows the importance and value of the other person.  It is a form of courtesy and respect.  We can easily see the therapeutic value that it has when we consider that the counseling profession is dominated by this one dynamic.  People come to a counselor so that they can find understanding.  The counselor listens with the major objective of grasping what the client is saying.  This principle dynamic begins to assuage the stress that the client is experiencing.  It helps when one can express themselves, can be understood by another, and that the other person can put that understanding into their own words.

Listening well acknowledges a respect for human dignity.

We can show that the person is worthy of our full attention and all else seems secondary at the moment.  When my son was very young he would approach his mother or me as we were focusing upon something else and want to talk to us.  However, he would not begin speaking until he had our full attention.  To accomplish this, he would place his little hands on both sides of our face and turn our heads toward him so that he could look us square in the eye.  If we slipped back, he would repeat this.  He tended not to do this in front of others so there wasn’t any reason to correct him for interrupting and he was so sincere and what he was asking for was simple.  “I want your attention. What I have to say is important.”  He was right.  It was important because he was important to me.

A further example is obvious to married couples.  If a woman has something to say, she is rarely impressed with her husband’s allocation of some cursory portion of his attention while he is preoccupied with the TV or the newspaper.  Women and children have a gift for reducing something to its simplest form.  “What is more important to you, what you are doing or me?”  “If it is me, then show it.”    However, when it comes to love and what is valued, actions still speak more loudly than words.  It is important to express one’s devotion with words but those words must be demonstrated through affection and actions.  The first act of love is attentiveness.

Active Listening

    Dr. Patrick J. DiVietri Ph.D. CPC, OCDS

Active listening is a very popular concept, which we often hear about.  A brief description of one approach is presented here for a point of reference and information.  Again we will find the components to be quite natural to a good listener.

Focus on the person and what is said; minimize outside distractions.

Watch the nonverbal expressions.  Ask yourself, “How is it said?” “What is the facial and body language?” Remember that it is difficult to put emotions into words.  Emotions are naturally expressed in body language and it is easy to misinterpret expressions and body language

Accept the person even when what is said is not accepted.  Understanding does not mean agreement with the other person is saying.  For example, one may understand how a person came to commit a crime but not agree with the decision or the rationalization. The acceptance is first toward who the person is and secondarily for what they do.  Eventually, though, we know that when what one does becomes habit and habit forms character and character defines what we have become.

Remain open-minded to what is being said even if you do not agree.   This allows you to hear more, consider and understand their point of view better.  It helps to look for the good in what one is saying or for those things that seem reasonable.  If one disagrees try to understand how the person came to the position that they hold or what good that person sees in their position.

Verify what you understand.  Do not presume and jump to conclusions based upon your own experience.  Don’t guess without verifying.  There is a danger of transferring your emotions into their meaning.  Therefore, try to confirm what you think is being said.  It is common for your perceptions/conclusions/emotions to differ.  People respond differently to the same stimuli.  It may help to repeat what the other says if necessary.  A natural response is to try to put what they are saying into your own words.  Sometimes say exactly what is said.

Look for positive interpretation.  Everyone acts intending some good so it helps to try to see other person’s point of view and meanings