Feeling misunderstood happens to all of us from time to time. After all, we humans aren’t always the best at communicating clearly. So we frequently find ourselves in situations where we need to explain or clarify our thoughts or actions.
We get it. Being misunderstood is just an occasionally frustrating part of the human bargain.
But nothing stings quite like the feeling of being misunderstood by someone we care about.
When someone who we think should get us makes wrong assumptions about our feelings or misinterprets our intentions, the needle can quickly move from frustrating to exasperating.
And if you’re anything like me, we can quickly jump to conclusions.
We think if the other person would just try a little harder, they could be nodding their head knowingly – assuring us that they can, in fact, see our very souls – instead of looking blankly at us with an expression that says, “HUH?”
We think they aren’t listening. They don’t hear what we’re trying to say. They’ve twisted our words or mistaken our motives.
It’s tempting to give up and slip quietly away wondering why we can’t seem to connect. If we’re particularly dramatic, we may even fling ourselves down somewhere to journal (or blog) about how terribly lonely it is when NO ONE understands us. (Yes, NO ONE! Feeling misunderstood is one of those emotions that can rapidly catch fire and spread.)
But what if the problem of being an enigma has something to do with us?
What if there are things we could do differently that would take the sting of feeling misunderstood down a couple of notches?
Things that don’t rely on someone else trying harder. But on me and you taking another look at how we might be contributing to the problem.
Here are four warning signs I’ve learned to look for when it starts to feel like a meaningful connection in my life is going a little haywire.
Oh, and please feel free to chime in at any time with a loud, “Me too!” or a soft, “I get it.” So we can all start feeling a little less misunderstood right now thank you very much.
1. The mask is slipping.
This is the hardest one for me to confess, so it’s topping the list. If you’re a peacemaker, people-pleaser, or helper at heart, you know how tempting it is to smile and agree that everything is fine until everything isn’t.
We compromise and acquiesce because it makes us happy to make others happy.
And over time others come to know us as the “agreeable” one. The person who will almost always go along to get along. Then one day we try to express our true opinion or desire or need, and it comes as something of a surprise. We might be met with disbelief or disagreement (kryptonite for the peacemaker.)
So what can we do? We can learn how to be authentic and let others in on our thoughts and feelings all the time – not just when we’ve been pushed too far.
2. Thinking that mind reading is real.
Whenever our complaint starts with, “She should know how I feel about…” that’s a sure sign that we’re relying on the mythical skill of mind-reading.
Whenever we believe that another person should know something before we’ve shared with them all of the necessary information, we can know that we’ve tapped into this notoriously unreliable means of communication.
I can’t do it. You can’t do it. So we’ve got to steer away from making assumptions and jumping to conclusions based on what we think someone else is thinking.
Instead, we need to ask more questions. Listen carefully to the answers. And keep sharing information until we know we’ve heard and been heard.
3. Retreating from disagreement.
It’s easy to let the sting of feeling misunderstood cause us to retreat from a difficult conversation or circumstance. To give up and claim that it’s not worth the effort because the other person will never understand.
So why bother? Because relationships are more important than being right.
And sometimes our desire to be right – and to have someone emphatically agree with our point of view – is the display of understanding that we’re looking for. But demanding agreement as a sign of connection doesn’t work. In fact, it can drive people further away.
We need to learn how to stay in the conversation and believe that agreeing to disagree is how we build better relationships.
4. Mistaking love for a Vulcan mind meld.
Somewhere along the line, we hear the message that love equals being fully known and understood by another. That “when two become one” we suddenly develop one heart, soul, and mind that – if not in complete agreement – shares complete understanding.
But no one feels understood all the time – even those folks who appear to be soul mates.
I know it might seem true when we hear adorable anecdotes about people who finish each other’s sentences. Or movie quotes like “You complete me!” But to rely on another person’s ability to absorb everything we’re thinking and feeling as if these thoughts and feelings were their own is to miss one of the most satisfying parts of journeying through life together – discovery!
Embracing the joy of discovery flips the idea of being misunderstood on its head and says, “Yeah! I’m a little bit of a mystery sometimes! And that’s OK!”
After all, wouldn’t life be boring if the people we love never had a single question about us?
We don’t have to wait for others to take some of the sting out of feeling misunderstood.
No, we can’t get inside someone else’s head and simply move a few things around to change the way they think about us. (Wouldn’t THAT be nice?) But we can notice the signs that tell us how we might be contributing to the problem of feeling misunderstood.
And when we do, we just might find it stings a little less the next time someone scratches their head and wonders what’s up with us. Because we’ll know we don’t have to wait around for them to get us. We can do our part and feel more connected to the people we care about by rearranging some things happening inside of us.
“Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable. Be honest and transparent anyway.” ~ Mother Teresa ~