Few experiences sting quite as much as being misunderstood. Why is that?
Two reasons come to mind: 1. Feeling judged in a way that is uncomplimentary and unfair, 2. A sense of betrayal.
It is easy to get caught up in caring about or even depending on the judgements of others. This is no surprise. A helpless infant relies on caretakers. Unfortunately, even the most attentive of caretakers will, inevitably, misread or ignore that which a brand new human wants and needs. Although the infant’s brain cannot conceptualize the failed transaction, the seed is planted that, in the words of Mick Jagger, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”.
If missteps are severe and persistent, the infant may grow into adulthood with little trust in the responses of others. To some extent, this is a universal malady. This uncertainty paves the way for a desire to please and a fear of being found to be unknowable (in a bad way)
This is not to deny the existence and exercise of rebellion and/or independent originality. An argument could be made that these traits are the opposite side of the same proverbial coin.
When examining life stages, there is hope, that with maturity, an individual will become increasingly self-reliant and self-assured. It makes sense that, with age, a being would recognize the joy of authenticity and the fallibility of human judgement.
Yet some remain stuck, for a variety of reasons. Some never discover what they are all about. This situation breeds an acute awareness of the need for the approval of others — especially those who contribute to one’s sense of well-being.
There are hermits and the occasional acetic who choose to avoid human contact. For most, the need and desire for affiliation falls somewhere along a continuum. The discovery of similarities provides a sense of security that is not always so secure.
In her book, No One Understands You and What to do About It, Heidi Grant Halvorson, presents the idea that humans are “cognitive misers”. By this, Halvorson means that our brains do not appear to retain that which we judge to be unimportant.
Thus, the semi truism that first impressions tend to remain set in stone. This is common in groups and with individuals where instant analysis holds a higher value than taking the time to understand where another person is coming from. “I understood him/her from the moment we met”, or some variation of that is heard with considerable frequency.
What is an individual to do when misperceived in ways that are disadvantageous? First impressions hold power in all interpersonal interactions. Most people have no idea how they are coming across to others. Almost a half century ago a psychiatrist, Norman Paul, who practiced in Cambridge, Massachusetts, videoed his patients so that they could learn exactly that — the impression they gave, knowingly, or not, others during initial encounters.
The culture of today is, increasingly, one of convenience. There is a propensity toward speed, and, the preference for instant solutions. This has appeared, among others, in the worlds of medicine, nutrition, and beauty. Why spend time learning more about your anxiety when you can take a pill? Why endure the tedium of learning about healthful nutrition when there are so many programs that offer quickie solutions in the form of fad diets? Don’t worry about signs of aging — just use this cream, take this supplement and your youth will be restored.
It is easy to fall into the trap of questioning oneself when another (especially if it is an individual who is perceived as an authority) raises questions about who one is — the validity of an individual’s core. An individual’s essence is unique and sacred. Of course growth is stimulated when one stops to question beliefs that are taken for granted. It makes sense to at least listen to information received. However, individuals fare better when attention is paid to what feels immaterial as well as to what resonates.
Much has been written about the differences between Gandhi and Hitler. Gandhi, supported freedom and growth. Hitler was a murderer. They grew out of different cultures and in altogether different homes. It is easy to imagine how each of these men would have provided feedback on the value of another human being. It is compelling to bear in mind who is passing judgment and the source of that individual’s motivation
It is not uncommon to believe that one’s “soul mate” should and does understand all. The disappointment that accompanies the “challenging” opinion of a personal heartthrob can feel like genuine betrayal. In fact, perfect synchrony only occurs in fiction. A beloved should not be held accountable for what he/she misunderstands.
Those who wish to be understood must attempt to correct false impressions. Since, as stated above, the brain is a cognitive miser, it is a good idea to create a path toward dissonance. In other words, bombard the misinterpreter with evidence that what is believed does not make sense.
Better yet, if possible, create a situation where the two of you must work together as a team. The collegial relationship will push your partner toward wishing to better understand you and the outcome will enable him/her to rewire his/her preconceived ideas as to who you really are.
When an individual feels misunderstood it is helpful to take into account that the other person may be responding to his/her own issues. The reaction that is received will have little to do with you in those circumstances and may represent a sensitive issue with which the other person has been struggling.
It’s confusing because it is, so often, easy to be unsure about exactly what is going on. When in doubt, one may spare oneself the hurt by acknowledging the complexity of the situation and the possibility that more is occurring than what comes into view.
In any case, as a real sense of self-value develops and one becomes more independent emotionally, the opinions of others will lose some of their importance.
Sometimes a disagreement is simply that. It is not a measure of caring as much as a discovery that most things are multi-faceted. Those who understand that, have fewer hurt feelings and a more secure understanding that variety makes life more interesting.
Cates, J.L. “Taking Some Sting Out of Being Misunderstood” jodyleecates.com
Chozick, A.(09/01/2019) “Malcolm Gladwell Goes Dark” nyt.com
Halvorson, H.G. (2015) No One Understands You and What to do About it amazon.com
Singal, J. (04/10/2015) “The 5-Step Approach to Not Being Misunderstood Anymore” thecut.com
Steber, C. (11/22/2017) “11 Habits That Can Cause People to Misunderstand You for the Worse” bustle.com
Suresh, N. ((11/20/2015) “Why We Feel Misunderstood” innerspacetherapy.in
Wise, S (08/29/2014) “The Joy of Being Misunderstood: How to Handle Pain” huffpost.co.uk