Have you ever been in the middle of a situation, possibly a crisis, and you are explaining the circumstances to someone else, possibly a provider of some kind, or maybe just a friend or partner, and they say to you, “I understand.” And you know that they simply DON’T understand because:
- The person is a man and you are talking about a pregnancy issue
- The person is a front desk receptionist scheduling your next appointment at the cancer center where she works but does not have cancer (and admits this after telling you she understands…)
- The person has never used a drink or drug in their entire life, and you are in recovery, struggling with urges to use
- The person has never gotten a tattoo (but has gotten blood drawn, and that’s the same, right? lol) and you have full sleeve and are talking about how much it hurts to get one done on your elbow
Of course you have. Everyone has. Everyone has had someone that they simply know does not understand say that they do. And how does it make you feel? Angry? Frustrated? Sad? A thousand other yucky and uncomfortable feelings? Yes. Of course it made you feel that way. Because it’s a crappy thing to say.
There are so, so many ways to connect with someone else, but saying “I understand” when you don’t is simply not the way. EVER. As a matter of fact, it will often drive a wedge in between two people. It is hurtful and makes the recipient of the phrase feel unheard, misunderstand, and unimportant. Saying “I understand” when you really don’t is like saying “Calm down” to an angry person. In the history of angry people, I can assure you that that has never, ever, ever worked.
So instead of saying “I understand”, try saying something like, “Oh, that sounds scary” or maybe “I can’t even imagine” or how about, “wow…that sounds hard and you’re doing such a good job getting through it.” Or a million other things that can help someone to feel heard, understood, and important.
And even if you think you do understand, it is still a risky thing to say. And likely, you understanding precisely what the other person is going through, is simply not possible. We can never truly understand what someone else is going through because everyone is totally and completely unique.
So instead of trying to be like someone and instead of trying to let them know how alike you are, try honoring their unique and special journey that was designed specifically for them. The fact that we are all different IS something that everyone can understand.
And you, yes you, deserve to feel heard, understood, and important. And you deserve to feel good about giving that back to someone else.