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Hope Forward: Surviving and Thriving through Emotional Pain: Is Being Understood Overrated?

Monday, January 16, 2012

Is Being Understood Overrated?

It depends.

It is so basically human to need to be understood. And so connective to be understood. But sometimes in seeking to be understood, we may do ourselves a disservice. I think this happens when the quest for understanding hinders our relationships or becomes the foundation on which we believe our self worth rests.

If we are excessively seeking understanding from others, why? And what are the origins of such a search? What are our motives? What are the outcomes? Do we think that if someone, particularly someone who has hurt us, or on whom we depend or love understands us better, that they will change? Perhaps if they just understood, they would do what we need, or stop doing what hurts us. (Sometimes they do!)

It's not always a given though. In here, in the therapy room, being understood, understanding yourself and others is certainly on the agenda. It does help bring relief, new ideas and a better way of living and being. But excessive understanding seeking can also be detrimental. Not everyone can understand us, and even if they do, this may not be enough for them to change. And understanding does not always mean agreeing. Sometimes, we may have to learn to live with someone even when they don't understand. Doing so might even bring a relief of its own, freeing us from pursuing something that we think will give us relief, when in fact, the relief can come from our own willingness to not have to be understood.

One woman I know had a life pattern of pursuing understanding from people. She desperately wanted people to understand her feelings and intentions as well as their own behavior and how it effected her. If they didn't, she felt deep despair, frustration and helplessness. Sometimes she persued being understood to the point where people around her often felt criticized, bothered, or pressured. In fact she herself recognized that she was often insistent with a tendency to over explain herself, argue her point or demand time to be heard. This was often was off-putting to those around her.

In talking about it for a while, she recalled a memory of being yelled at as a child by her parents for an invasion of ants in her bedroom. She told me that she was often yelled at as a child for things that she did not do or cause. Ants were common where she lived and they often invaded houses. She did not leave food or put signs up inviting them in. If only her parents understood this, she reasoned, they would not yell at her or blame her. Once we understood how she had been effected by not being understood as a child, we had some new light on her intense pursuit of being understood as an adult. In this way, being understood and understanding herself, did bring relief. She also came to understand the effect her pursuit of being understood had on others. It did not often have the desired effect.

She is less insistent with others now and somehow, has an easier time in her relationships. She has come to believe that others do not have to always understand her in order for her to feel good about herself or for her to know she is worthy, okay and correct.

It's an easier life she tells me now. And interestingly enough, she feels more understood.

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