Being misunderstood is painful. It can leave you feeling helpless, shameful, impatient and angry, especially at the person you want to share with. Most of us experience this on a weekly if not daily basis. You know that feeling, when looking into the eyes of another person and seeing the look of utter confusion, or worse. Often this leads to a deep sense of hurt, resentment and ultimately loneliness.
We all have an innate desire to be understood, a human need. In an overwhelming world, we want to share our feelings, thoughts and perspectives with the people closest to us. Some of us are “verbal processors," needing to sort things out as we speak. There is also the desire for emotional release and validation. When we feel a lack of understanding, disconnection grows. We tend to push people away, while needed them to understand at the same time, confusing and scaring them and us at the same time.
It may seem so basic, but a large part of my work with clients is learning the art of good communication. We often first examine feelings that lurk beneath the anger and irritation. In becoming aware of when a cycle of always thinking nobody understands you emerges, I encourage clients to be honest with themselves about why they may be creating the cycle. Consider:
Are you afraid of being judged?
If you had a troubled childhood, this one is a so common. Always needing to be good to make things go more smoothly. Yet, there were still times you got in trouble which meant that you had to be “more perfect”. This can mean that as an adult, you hide certain things about yourself, because that is what your learned to do.
But if you are cherry picking what bits of you to reveal to others for fear of being judged, you are not showing them a full picture they can understand.
Are you fearful of intimacy?
Have you learned that letting people close to you means that they will inevitably abandon you? If you are always busy, busy, with no down time you may be unable to sit still with your own thoughts and avoid spending quality time with people. You are know as someone who is always very positive and never gets upset. How often do you show people you trust them know you more deeply?
Do you trust others?
Fear motivates much of how we feel and behave. If you couldn’t trust the adults who raised you, this fear is in you. If you are projecting an energy of wariness, and people sense you won’t trust them, they might not feel that the effort to understand you is something you even want. Its like you are wearing a sign declaring “I won’t let you close," but still expecting them to try.
Are you possibly codependent?
This is the hope that if someone else totally understands you, you will then feel better about yourself? Or maybe in relationships and friendships you change your personality and hobbies to match the other person? Codependency is an addiction to seeking approval and validation from others to the point you can lose sight of who you are. And if you don’t know who you are, it’s hard for anyone else to know and understand you.
Do you know how to effectively communicate?
Do you speak in a convoluted way where you constantly contradict yourself? Or always say the opposite of what you actually mean to say? Perhaps you are agreeing to things that actually you don’t really believe, out an urge to be polite and accepted (again, a codependent habit). This all results in people having the entirely wrong idea about who you really are, your authentic self. No wonder you feel misunderstood!
Ok, so now that I am aware of some of these things, how do I get people to understand me?
This is the good stuff and the hard part.
My Top 3 Ways to Be Better Understood By Others:
1. Get to Know Yourself Better-Become a “Me Detective”
So many women don’t know what they need, what they like or how they feel. These same women can wax eloquently on the all of the above for the 15 or so closet people to them. The more you understand yourself, the more clearly you present yourself to others, the more they can understand you.Notice what things actually make you happy during a normal day versus what things you assume should make you happy. Start paying attention to how you really feel about things. By the way, feelings are usually more specific than sad, mad, glad or powerful. Just Google “feeling wheel” to explore the vastness of your emotional life. It will get you ready for…
2. Learn to Communicate More Clearly
How do you speak with others? Perhaps you ask a lot questions so you don’t have to answer any. Do you agree with things you don’t like? Do you change the subject to avoid discomfort or conflict? Notice if you begin sentences with “You make/made me feel…” or “You always…”.
The “I Statement Formula” is very powerful:
I feel ______(a feeling from the above-mentioned feeling wheel which you can google or download here)
when you ____ (a specific negative behavior)
What I need (would like for)you to do instead is _____________(specific positive behavior).
I feel ignored when you come home from work and start playing with the kids before even saying hello to me. What I need/would really like instead is if you came home and said “hi” and gave us a chance to talk about our day.
This is an example of assertive communication, the middle ground between passive and aggressive styles. Due to many, many women speaking from the passive style for years, assertive communication often is misinterpreted as aggressive. But more on that in a future post!
3. Work on your self-esteem.
If we want to be understood by others we need to believe that we deserve to be understood. And for that we need a healthy sense of self esteem. Many of us mistake self confidence for self esteem. They are very different aspects of self. Notice I wrote. sense of self esteem. Self esteem cannot be measured as self confidence can. Self esteem is not conditional on anything external to you. As Dr. David Burns, author of Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy and Ten Days To Self Esteem (which is a nifty title, but which usually takes a bit longer) states; “You decide to like yourself because of your strengths rather than hating yourself because of your weaknesses. You stick up for yourself and defend yourself against your critical inner voice. For many people who feel inadequate, this can be an extremely important first step.” Make a commitment to notice and challenge the inner critic in your head. Start noticing the good things about yourself. If embraced, you will make progress toward what we all desire, unconditional self-esteem.
“You realize that self-esteem is a gift that you and all human beings receive at birth. Your worthwhileness is already there and you don’t have to earn it. It suddenly dawns on you that you will always be worthwhile simply because you are a human being. It ultimately makes no difference if you are fat or thin, young or old, loved or rejected, successful or unsuccessful. Unconditional self-esteem is freely given.” David Burns
There are many great books on self-esteem, so some research can help, as can a therapist.
So are you saying a therapist can help me feel understood?
Definitely. Therapy is all about forming a strong relationship with your therapist in a trusting environment. Sometimes all we need is the experience of what a trusting relationship is to then be brave enough to create more of that understanding for ourselves outside the therapy room. I can also help you sort out what is true, and what is just your inner critic stopping you from being your best self. Best of all, therapy can help you change that mental soundtrack of ‘nobody understands me’ to ‘someone wonderful understands me! That somebody is you!
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