Self-Compassion And The Importance Of Being Understood

The Importance Of Being Understood

Self-Compassion serves many purposes.  It helps relieve the pain associated with anxiety, self-doubt, criticism, body image issues, diet, and shame, and it helps us develop strong core values that we can lean on in hard times.  One of its most undersold, but extraordinary abilities is to help us feel understood.  Wonder how important this quality is?  Almost every relationship issue that I have been privy to in nearly 15 years of working every side of the field of psychology has had “not being understood” ranking as high as the most prominent issue, but never lower than the third most important issue.

We need to feel understood to be sure that others love us for who we are, and can make sense out of our actions.  What hurts worse?  Making a mistake or having someone feel that our mistake was intentional and malicious?  Of course, the latter is worse.

Obstacles To Understanding

The problem with depending on others to understand our experience is that there are so many variables that can get in the way.  For instance, other people have certain triggers or things in the world that are so upsetting that they become overwrought with emotional conflict, and can barely handle their experience, let alone see our side. 

A great example is politics.  Most of us loathe talking about this subject, but it is helpful here.  If your friend adored his grandmother, who passed away recently, and his grandmother loved being a Republican or a Democrat above all things, then it may prove difficult to have a conversation with him in which your views seem contrary to those of his grandmother’s. 

Another example is that you enjoy having a drink, but your girlfriend/boyfriend’s parent died of liver disease related to alcoholism.  No matter how valid your point of view, this person may be too connected to this loss to have an objective conversation about this topic.

So, it becomes clear that not only can we not depend on others to understand us all of the time, but that we can depend on them to not understand us a lot of the time.  This is sad, and I grieve this for you, especially if the subject matter concerns something that makes you feel vulnerable, but because it is a fact of life, this grieving must be followed by a supportive action, so that you do not feel helpless.  This is where self-compassion comes in.

Using Self-Compassion To Be Understood

I use a simple mantra to come up with the compassion I need, when I am feeling misunderstood.  It goes as follows, “I accept that life makes it hard for others to understand me sometimes.  I mourn this loss, and wish for myself the kind of understanding that they would give me, if they could.” 

It is simple, but powerful.  You accept being misunderstood, so that you do not have to carry this misunderstanding anymore.  You grieve it to acknowledge how hard it is to be misunderstood, but also to remind yourself that you deserve understanding.  Lastly, I keep the positive connection to myself and others by wishing myself the unconditional understanding that I know the people, who love me would provide, if they could.

If these feeling are particularly painful, I go through the self-compassion process of acknowledging the pain, locating it in my body, softening around it, naming it, watching it pass, and bringing kindness to my experience. 

I follow this work up with the self-compassion phrases: May I be safe. May I be kind to myself. May I accept myself just as I am.  May I give myself the gift of understanding, even when understanding is out of my reach.  May I live with ease.  If the pangs are still with me, I imagine the train passing by, and place my worries on the red caboose.  I watch it disappear into the distance.

Understanding Is For Everyone

No matter if you are at fault or innocent of all blame in any given situation, you always deserve understanding and kindness.  It is what gives you the resources to seek out better circumstances or to apologize for your offenses without getting lost in shame or self-criticism.  Because the greatest gift people give us is understanding and kindness, it feels like there is no greater punishment than to be without these things.  Follow this self-compassion practice, so that you are never without it again.

365 Days Of Self-Compassion.  Day 158.  In The Books.