Three Reasons We Receive Mixed Signals and One Way To Handle Them

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Three Reasons We Receive Mixed Signals and One Way To Handle Them
Concealing vulnerability, covering aggression and ambivalent feelings dysfunctional expression.

For a brief moment, I felt petrified.  From there, it turned to deep embarrassment. What? Am I crazy? Am I stupid? Did I totally misread the signs? Up to this point, we seemed to getting closer and closer and now you declare you have a fiancée?

Is this a familiar scenario? No, you are not stupid or crazy! You were most likely exposed to mixed signals.

What’s happening in these situations?

In the vast majority of situations, it’s commonplace that the communication happens via non-verbal channels. You can be sure you unconsciously read the signs: The posture of the body… The legs: towards you or out of the room? The arms: crossed or open? The hands: Fidgeting? Self touch? Were there gentle touches or a cautious avoidance of touch? The face: Smile? Was it a friendly or hostile look? Micro gestures: showing boredom, interest or outright flirt or averting eyes looking for an escape route? The voice: warm, cold, melodic, affectionate or intrusive?

These are the signs where our emotions are “leaking” due to the fact that they are not under our conscious control – at least not completely. There is a possibility to raise awareness about the bigger signs like hands, arms, legs and full posture. However, it is almost impossible to control the facial micro gestures.

From there, you receive a verbal message that completely contradicts your feelings.

Halt! Is there confusion or uncertainty? What part of the mixed signal should I believe: My gut feeling or my ears?

Why do we get mixed signals?

Naturally the exact scenario varies case by case. However, I can sort them into three categories:

1.) Someone showed vulnerability and as a self-protection tries to revoke it.

It is possible that you got entangled into situations when you revealed too much sensitive information about yourself to a hardly known new friend. Once done, you felt exposed as well as vulnerable.

You rushed to warm up a romantic relationship way too soon and suddenly realized that you are deeper into it than you would have liked to.

As a protection, you felt like you had to apply some limit so you turned around the advance with some verbal break.

It happens once in a while with every one of us and I find it quite innocent.

2.) Someone has a hidden agenda which is blanketed with superficial deceit.
This type of mixed signal is less innocent because its hidden agenda is more likely something against you: Aggression, rejection, exploitation or control. As this kind of behavior is not socially accepted, the communicator has to cover it.

(From Strings To Wings: Reveal and Override Emotional Manipulation)

Wide varieties of games are included. For example: “Darling….” When someone tells a belittling story about her husband in a sugar coated voice and asks: “Is it true Darling?” 

The whole manipulation armory belongs to this category: creating guilt, shame or anxiety in others with hidden aggression but concealing it with some loving and caring cover story.

3.) Someone has ambivalent feelings and/or dysfunctional communication
In the nineteen fifties there was a theory called the Double Bind Theory. Researchers found many mixed signals in families where one family member became psychotically ill; the contradictions could not been communicated and the ill family member was not able to leave the situation.

For instance, the mother shows affection to a child but hugs her painfully strong. They gave a message to someone to “Grow up!” and “I cannot leave without my child” continuously.

These seriously dysfunctional interactions need experts to work on them. Nevertheless, you can see how seriously dangerous mixed signals can become.

How can we handle Mixed Signals?

My strategy: untangling the different set of meanings and understanding the different levels of the communication.

Tell what you see.
Tell what you feel.
Tell what you need.
Tell what you want.
(Did you recognize Nonviolent Communication?)

I know it’s not always easy, but straight communication is the only way I see to:

  1. Correct a quick advance into a new situation or exposed vulnerability
  2. Fight against manipulation
  3.  Recover dysfunctional family communication

If you suspect that your problem might be caused by Emotional Manipulation here you find more information:

From Strings To Wings

More Effective Communication advice on YourTango:

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