As the 1965 hit by The Animals, once said "Oh Lord, please don't let me be misunderstood". I'm sure we all have moments, or indeed massive periods of time when we feel like nobody really understands us, people just don't seem to get how we're feeling! The trouble is, even more of us don't realise how feeling like this can actually lead to a massive bouts of loneliness that doesn’t even go away when you're surrounded by others. Sadly this makes us more determined to hide away from people and creates more of a feeling of not belonging or being liked.
So why do we feel so misunderstood?
Maybe you find it hard to trust others, or worry that if you let someone close they will eventually hurt you? It could be you're afraid of intimacy in general. And yes, even if you are the friendly, outgoing, life and soul of the party this could still be a root issue. Many of us social butterflies are intimacy phobic. Never letting people too close to you, then expecting them to understand you doesn’t work. It’s like expecting someone to bake you a cake but not letting them anywhere near an oven.
Of course it could just be we're afraid of being judged. If you had a horrible teacher, or an overbearing parent when growing up, you might have been made to feel that you weren’t good enough no matter how hard you tried. This can all lead to you being an adult who hides certain things about yourself in order to not be judged. You might just be cherry picking what bits of you reveal to other people for fear of being judged, so you're not showing them a full picture they can understand.
It might just be that you just don't trust other people. This is a by-product of both a fear of intimacy and a fear of being judged. Although it can also come from a troubled childhood for many emotional reasons. The trouble is most people can see this in people. It's like you wearing a sign saying "I won't let you close, cos I don't trust you", but still we expect them to try.
Maybe you're hoping that if someone else totally understands you, you will then feel better about yourself? Do you sometimes find you change your personality when you'e around different people so you are more like them? We all do it to a certain extent, that's just human nature; but sometimes it can be really dramatic. Codependency is an addiction for approval and validation from others to the point you can lose sight of who you are. And if we don’t know who we are, it’s hard for anyone else to know and understand.
It could be that we're just bad at communicating in general. Perhaps you sometimes agree to things that actually you don’t really believe, out an urge to be polite and accepted (again, a codependent habit). This of course can result in people having the entirely wrong idea about who we really are. It's no wonder we feel misunderstood!
So what do we do about it?
Fear of intimacy and judgement, lack of trust, and codependency are things that we develop from our childhood. So they're obviously not something we can just snap our fingers and change overnight. Of course you could seek professional help, but you don’t have to totally know yourself before you begin to feel more connected to others.
Start examining the way that you talk to people. Do you speak really fast? Constantly throw questions at others so they barely have time to even ask you about yourself? Are you agreeing with things you don’t like, and giving the wrong impression? It can even help to record yourself having a conversation and listen to it later.
If you're starting your sentences with phrases like “I think/feel”, or “You did/said” and “You made me feel”. Using sentences that being with ‘I’ invites other people to communicate with us, but sentences that begin with ‘You’ tend to make the other person feel blamed and back off from connecting. And if you aren’t sure you're being understood – ask!
Start trying to understand yourself for a change; the more you understand yourself, the more clearly you can present yourself to others, the more they can understand you. Make lists of what you like and what you don’t like. Notice what things actually make you happy during a normal day versus what things you assume should make you happy.
Get rid of your "victim" mentality! There can be something very addictive about feeling misunderstood. It can become your identity, something that can make you feel special and give you the chance to feel sorry for yourself non stop. In other words, it gives you an excuse to always play the victim.
What would happen if you decided that actually you are responsible for your own life and could choose to find people who want to understand you? Wouldn’t it be worth trading in the benefits of victimhood (self-pity, others’ attention) for the benefits of being understood?
At the end of the day, if you aren’t offering others understanding, why would they then offer it to you? Take a good look at your listening skills. Are you taking in what others say without interrupting? Do you accept their opinions, or are you constantly offering them unwanted advice? Do you ask them thoughtful questions about what they said, or just jump in with a story all about you that relates to what they said?
The truth is that we all are unique, with our own way of seeing the world. It’s simply not possibly for someone to understand you entirely, or for you to understand someone else entirely. The only person who can understand you entirely is you.
If we want to be understood by others we need to believe that we deserve to be understood. And for that we need a sense of self-esteem. Make a commitment to notice and challenge the inner critic in your head. Start noticing the good things about yourself. And when someone offers you a compliment, don’t brush it off, accept it as fact. Not easy for some of us to do, but well worth a try.
Do look after yourself, and each other.