Empathy

The Importance of Feeling Understood – How Empathy Cures

Do you believe that you’re fundamentally different, weird, or impossible to understand?
Are you terrified to share your opinion when you’re not sure if others will agree with you?
Do you find yourself able to understand and empathize with everybody else but yourself?

If any of the above apply to you then you may walk around with a feeling of being misunderstood or incapable of being understood.  In my experience, this expectation usually reflects of history of not being empathically understood by people closest to you.

It may not seem like a big deal – being empathically understood – but it is!

In order for us to feel comfortable within our own skin we need to know that what’s happening inside our minds and bodies makes sense.  We learn that our thoughts and feelings makes sense through interactions with others.  When we express ourselves and the other person shows a sincere curiosity to understand our perspective and communicates that understanding, we get to internalize the idea that we are understand-able.

A lot of messages get communicated when we feel understood…

…we are worth someone else’s attention and curiosity

…the other person has enough emotional resources to pay attention to us for a prolonged period of time

…we are entitled to someone else’s efforts to understand our perspective

…there is nothing wrong with how we see the world

These lessons all play a vital role in developing a sense of empathy towards ourselves and others.

What happens when others do not help us feel understood? Nothing good!

The experience of expressing oneself with the hopes of being understood only to feel ignored, pathologized, blamed, or guilty is profoundly shaming.  Shame ensues when the bridge of hoped-for understanding between two people is crushed by one person’s failure to make the other person feel understood. Shame feels like:

  • Suddenly being seen from the outside instead of from the inside.
  • Being ‘less-than’, broken, unfixable, exposed, confused & passive.
  • Experiencing the other person as all-powerful and correct to humiliate you

When you are in a relationship where you regularly feel misunderstood then the risk for experiencing shame increases.

If you do not feel understood, serve as your own advocate.

If any of the points at the start of this post apply to you, then there is one important thing to do: be your own advocate.  If you understand the nature of shame and how it arises from not being understood, then you can use this knowledge to your advantage.  The next time, you hesitate to express yourself for fear of being misunderstood, arm yourself with the knowledge that if the other person does not make an effort to understand you, then this reflects on that person, NOT you.  You do not have to keep internalizing the sense that there is something wrong with you.

Of course, there is another way to combat a history of not being understood and that is to get into therapy where you do feel understood.  Having a therapist who is your ally in understanding your experience goes a long way towards protecting you from the detrimental effects of being misunderstood.

Jay Reid is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC).   He is specifically trained to identify histories of emotional abuse and help clients reclaim their own lives through being deeply understood.  If you think you might benefit from this type of experience please contact him for a free 15-minute phone consultation.

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