We All Want to be Understood

“All of us are caught up in what Brooks calls ‘the loneliness loop.’ What drives us ultimately, is the need to feel understood by others.”  3/7/11 Newsweek article on David Brooks & his new book The Social Animal

loneliness, understanding,misunderstandings, connectionsSometimes the impossibility of communicating accurately is overwhelming. Feeling understood is basic to connection. Everyone longs to be understood. Not being understood creates a great deal of loneliness. Being able to understand two people really well always involves complicatedness.

Complicatedness means that two opposite things are often true at the same time. A daughter’s heart is broken because neither of her parents showed up for something important to her. They in turn are tired of feeling ignored and taken for granted. They all feel misunderstood. As someone who works with people in difficult situations, I can see that both perspectives matter.

Too many people come at relationships as win/lose. When someone gets stuck in how you see the other person there is often a lack of respect. Lack of respect is why all relationships die.

Consider how complicated it is to see someone accurately:

Imagine a man who has struggled to recover from being badly humiliated in childhood by his father. He has worked his whole life to be gentle and honorable, NOT like his father. His partner was upset by a small thing and shamed him in front of other people. Shame lead to the man shutting down, giving up and withdrawing. Meanwhile the partner is completely baffled about why she is being punished over something petty. It’s easy to imagine the loneliness they both feel.

Counseling becomes an opportunity for the partner to learn that it’s not the incident itself, it’s the shame that was a big deal. The partner has heard the story of the father in childhood & would never have made the connection to humiliation. This connection defused the intensity of emotion which leads to greater understanding for both.

True understanding can be very illusive because of defensiveness and because it requires a good deal of time to learn the complicatedness of who somebody is…….time to hear stories about each other is a rare commodity in our crowded world.

We are a culture that takes a lot of shortcuts. Shortcuts, polarization & avoiding emotions suffocate understanding.

There is a lot of loneliness in our world. People go to cancer treatments alone. Kids join gangs so they are not alone. People work too many long hours to avoid their loneliness. Kids are bullied & feel alone. Understanding requires the time for stories, while embracing the complicatedness of two points of view.

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One thought on “We All Want to be Understood

  1. julia says:

    There is the need to hear the other and not lose yourself. Over empathy. Your experience, emotions, pain ‘trumps’ mine. That can also lead to loneliness with the other person. Is that lack of respect for self?

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