Being KNOWN –seen and heard and understood by the people in your life is one core aspect of connecting– AND it’s a source of the ability to genuinely relax and be yourself. The absence of being “known” is often the source of anxiety and depression. So whether a client or associate or friend of mine says: “my wife/husband just doesn’t understand me” …. “my boss/subordinates don’t seem to really know or trust me”….”my friends don’t fully comprehend the struggles I’m having”….”my kids don’t get where I’m coming from when I enforce the family rules”…..You may have your own version of these laments. They are common. They speak to the pain and/or discomfort of the individual sharing the thought and to the confusion about the clear disconnect between self and another person who is important in their lives.
What’s going on? To say there’s a communication break down is far too simplistic. And to say the responsibility of the disconnect rests solely on the shoulders of the person who is complaining feels perhaps unfair — however, the best starting place is typically with each of us as individuals……Consequently when you feel misunderstood, the starting place is SELF even when it feels painful and unfair.
My discovery — after many years of work as a therapist — and after almost as many years navigating my own life and relationships — is solving the dilemma or the conflict or the misunderstanding at least STARTS with each of us “exploring” the feeling of being “not known.”
Think about a specific relationship — one where you feel the other person does not truly, genuinely know you, understand, “get you.” Now consider the following questions:
-How open am I with this person?
-Do I share, when appropriate, my feelings about myself and the relationship we have?
-Do I share my periodic pain, confusion, struggles in life with this individual?
-Does this individual really know my basic and strongly held beliefs, ideas, opinions?
-How much do I withhold?
-How do I truly feel about letting this person see me, understand me?
-How comfortable am I with revealing hard to express feelings — maybe unpopular feelings?
-Do I want to be “seen?”
Most of us do want to “be seen”….and far too many of us are fearful of allowing that to happen. Bottom line: not sharing creates distance, misunderstanding, conflict and ultimately, disconnect. If you fear truly letting others see and understand who you are, it might help to know that many, many people share the fear of self-revelation. But breaking out of the fear of letting others see who you really are equals more intimate, comfortable, relaxed and lasting relationships. To have another really, truly, genuinely know you is a major source of happiness and well-being….and you are the person “holding on” to the information needed for the connection.
Clients frequently share an amazing amount of UN-SAID things with me….. and as therapy progresses, they discover that when willing to take the risk — thoughtfully delivered genuine feelings can lead to resolution of long standing conflict and result in close, connected, loving relationships. Don’t dive in. Take time to consider what you can/want to share to be more connected.
I suggest this exercise to clients. Construct an “anxiety hierarchy” — number a page of paper 1 through 10. Number 10 represents the absolutely hardest thing you would like to say. Number 1 represents the easiest thing to say. List things 1 through 10. Then as you prepare for a challenging conversation, remember you start with the least difficult and slowly work your way to the most difficult. In fact you only need to share ONE THING at first. Evaluate how it felt/worked before moving to the second statement. And the conversations can be delayed or managed over multiple conversations. You are going slowly…..learning how it feels to do deeper sharing….and to experience deeper connecting.
The pay off is a better relationship….and your reduced anxiety and depression about not being seen and heard. It’s not easy but it’s worth it. And if you need help, always give yourself permission to ask someone you trust for the help you need.