Giving up the Need to be Understood

Last evening I was playing a game of Bluff with some friends (Bluff is a card game where the first person to get rid of all his cards by bluffing his or her way through wins). It was so much fun, we were on a roll trying to bluff one another and I was having the time of my life when my co-players could not understand what I was up to. I really enjoyed watching the puzzled expressions on their faces in each consecutive round as they tried hard to figure out whether I was bluffing or not.

This morning I was reminiscing about last nights game and I realized that it was actually so much fun when people could not figure me out. They could not understand me. I compared this with my ‘real life’ where I am constantly struggling to be understood – where I sulk and feel sad when people don’t understand me. In my real life, when people can’t figure me out or they misunderstand me (or something I say or something I do), I feel bad about it and assume that it is a problem that perhaps needs to be corrected. This morning I am wondering if it is really a problem at all? What if I am creating an insistence on being understood when that isn’t a natural requirement in nature at all? What if my need to be understood is just an obsessive extension of my own ego and what if it is perfectly okay to be understood by some, not understood by some some, and misunderstood by some as well?

Let me explain with an example. For years, I have held it to be a problem that my father does not understand me. He does not understand my poetry, my philosophy, my ideas, my emotions…blah blah blah. I have held it against him – creating a separation and problem where perhaps there really is no need for one. I have misidentified ‘love’ and ‘caring’ with ‘understanding’ and assumed that if my father really cared for me he would try harder to understand me. Further since I had made love and understanding analogous to each other I kept trying to express myself over and over again in different ways so that my father would finally understand me and then he would love me. What if that was not needed at all? What if love, caring, and understanding are all independent constructs and one is not needed as a condition for the other. In fact, when I ask this question today, I realize that I have been quite blind to the love and caring that does actually exist between my father and me. My father cares for me immensely and he loves me as well but he does not understand me. He has always been quite unapologetic about this as well – his favorite joke is that he does not understand poetry. And if you know me you would know that I breathe and live in poetry. What if all of that is OK? In fact the more I think about it the more I feel that it is perfectly OK. Rather it is beautiful in it’s own special way. It shows me how beautiful and unconditional my Father’s love and caring for me is.

Think about your own love and caring for your pet or for your baby, or toddler. Do you really understand these crazy magical beings. Do you really understand their thoughts, their emotions, their motives and their intentions? Yet, has this ever contaminated the love and caring that you feel towards them? Are they themselves any less happier because you do not understand them? What if ‘being understood’ is just one of those requirements that we have overrated and made central to our own definitions of love, caring and happiness – when it actually need not be ?

I am reminded of a lovely song I learnt in school, ‘Make me a Channel of Your Peace’ – actually a prayer composed by St Francis of Assisi. I have always loved this song, and have somewhat even followed it like a mantra in my own life. However there were some lines in it that I did not fully understand. In the true spirit of this essay I loved the song and prayer even though I did not ‘understand’ it and so I continued to sing it. One of the lines that I had not understood was, “Oh Master grant that I may never seek……………to be understood, as to understand”. Today finally, that line is speaking to me. Perhaps St Francis of Assisi was urging us to focus more on how we can try to understand situations and others rather than get caught up in the worry of whether others are understanding us correctly or misunderstanding us. What if there is a non-zero probability that each one of us will always be understood by some, not understood by some and misunderstood by some and what if that need not erode our peace of mind?

I want to loop back to the amazing fun I had last night during the game of Bluff and ask if not being understood easily by others can actually be used as a strength rather than a weakness. I had so far assumed that ‘others not understanding me’ was a weakness of mine that I had to ‘correct’ or ‘compensate for’ by polishing my communication skills. I have worked a lot at improving my own communication and yet at the age of forty I realize that no matter how articulate I try to be and no matter how many different forms of communication I use, and how many details I try to include, ‘being understood’ still remains a challenge. From today I will also start asking, ‘What might be the possible benefits of people not understanding me or ‘getting me’?”. I wonder what that might open up?

How about you? Have you made it crucial and critical to your own happiness that you should be understood correctly by others? Have you included ‘being understood’ as a key requirement in ‘being loved’ when it need not really be so? How many people are there in your life who love you dearly and care for you but because they do not really ‘get you’, because they do not understand your emotions, your choices and your behaviour you have decided that they do not love you?

Finally, if you are a parent to teenagers, or have anyone else in your life who complains that you do not understand them, take a leaf of out my journey and make it easier on them. Tell them that you love them dearly and that you care for them even though you might not really understand them as they are seeking to be understood by you. Now they may or may not understand you but what if that’s also OK? At least you tried to ease their angst of not being understood.


Published by Ramya Ranganathan

My identity is crafted around four Ps - Poetess-Philosopher-Parent-Professor. You can read more about my journey here (http://craftingourlives.com/ramya/)

One thought on “Giving up the Need to be Understood

  1. Very well written. I think seeking for someone to understand you is in human being’s nature. The expectation to be understood without reciprocating is natural, but its the reciprocation that not everyone understands. I have similar experience with my father, as you had and I totally see what you are saying. Really great blog !

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