I have noticed that for most of my life I feel this strong desire, almost a need at times, for those around me to understand what I am going through. This happens particularly with those I am closest to and particularly given certain situations. For example, if I am going through a challenge I want a loved one to understand to some degree what it feels like. I tend to believe that if I explain something very well, I can enable them to grasp what is going on. The problem is that I am not always able to make someone else understand. And if I get them to, I notice the topic comes up again in a couple weeks and I find myself having to start over, this time much more frustrated that they are just not listening.
We all have different reasons for wanting to be understood. But many of them are similar. And so I share my own situation because I know that many others feel the way I have. For me, I realize that the one big reason I have wanted others to understand me is I wanted approval and validation. I wanted a sense that they don’t blame me for what I am experiencing, they know that it is typical (as I know it is), they fully accept it and they still think well of me. Simply, I have had a need for approval. When I faced that fact, I was amazed and quite bothered, actually. I didn’t realize that I wanted others’ approval so much. I thought I was a rather confident person. I didn’t know that there have been holes in my self-esteem that I have looked to fill with others’ opinions. But apparently that has been the case.
The truth is, many of us are looking for the approval of those closest to us on some level or another. And often this is disguised by the desire to have someone understand what we are talking about or going through, anything important to us about ourselves. I always thought I just wanted them to “get it.” In reality, I wanted them to get it so that they would be okay with me.
Let’s take another example. I was once dealing with a bad physical illness but it was not being diagnosed by doctors. I felt afraid that those around me would think it wasn’t so bad and I was imagining it. And I was very upset when they would get frustrated with me for my fatigue when I couldn’t stop it myself and was trying everything. I began doing research online and explaining to my loved ones what i was finding that I knew was applicable. But sometimes they would believe what I knew, and sometimes they wouldn’t, no matter how I explained it….
I realized that I needed to begin changing this focus on other people in order to feel peace in myself. And I knew that I had to begin letting myself know that I am my own person, and if I know something myself, that is enough.
Somewhere along the journey of our lives, people like me have learned that other people’s opinion matters a great deal. And we are only safe if we are watching out for what they think. We are responsible for their thoughts and we are affected deeply by their thoughts about us. Then we carry a great burden of trying to live up to others expectations, fearful we are not doing that very thing, and eager to prove our worth to those closest to us. It’s no fun.
So what do you do about it? If you have never looked at what you are doing and considered why you are doing it, start there as I did.
You can be honest with yourself because there is nothing to be ashamed or even embarrassed about. We do what we do because we have learned it, usually when we were young at a time when all people are influenced by their surroundings and life experiences. It is a common thing to care too much about others thoughts of us, and given our past it often makes sense. So don’t be hard on yourself about it for a moment. Just acknowledge that it is there so you can move forward and feel better.
Then once you are facing these truths, tend to yourself. As I just said, tell yourself it is okay and understandable and your purpose for change is not to make yourself a better person, but to discover the freedom and peace that can be yours. Often we have felt injured when others don’t get us, so it is important to be kind and loving to yourself now. That is what gets us unstuck. Focusing on negatives is totally counterproductive. Begin approving of yourself. Now consider and meditate on these points..
1. Accept and take a breather
Our need for approval and desire to be understood usually feels rushed; especially in a moment we are trying to prove ourselves. We don’t pause to consider the thought of letting the point go, we just let the current of needy feelings overtake us and make us more intent to prove our point. Instead, pause and take a breather. Whether in the moment, or when considering what has already happened in your situation, pause and allow yourself to consider another way of looking at it….
2. Talk to yourself positively
While aware of it or not, we are often talking to ourselves and saying we did good at that, bad at that, etc. And what we say to ourselves really impacts the way we feel. Tell yourself now, “You know what, it’s okay. It’s okay if he/she doesn’t get it the way I do. I am not impacted by what they think.” Did you hear that last part? That is the core of the matter. This person’s opinion has nothing to do with you….
3. Consider boundaries
The reason we don’t have to be affected by someone else is because we are individuals. Sometimes those of us who deal with these issues never fully realized the boundaries between us and others. In every way I am my own person, as you are your own person. Your opinion matters. Your own understanding is enough. You are not half of yourself and half of someone else. You are a totally unique person who sets the tone for your own life and feelings. And you are worth taking care of yourself. So many times I have said to myself, “what I know is enough”. The more we say it the more we can believe it.
4. Love and respect yourself
It is usually a journey for us to gain a deeper sense of self worth, but we can be glad to be walking that journey step by step. We can learn that no other person is worth more than we are. So no other person’s opinion is worth more than our own. We have nothing to prove to other people because what matters is simply that we approve of ourselves. And we can, fully. We can love ourselves knowing that we are loved deeply by God and have a real purpose for being born and living. We can love ourselves no matter our faults because every one of us is on a journey and we can learn good things from any bad habit. We can be kind to ourselves and if we need to separate ourselves from toxic things or people, we have the right to do that. Start from a place of love and self-respect and you will not need to look for it from other people.
5. Bare with other people
Often when something is so clear to us, we wonder why it is not clear to others. The truth is that they are not us, they have different experiences than us, they think differently, and that is okay. We are not all meant to be alike. Others do the best they know how, and sometimes we just need to be understanding and not expect so much when they may not have the capacity to give it. Accept that we are all coming from different viewpoints and abilities to understand and that is fine.
Those of us who have these tendencies, we can magnify things quite a bit. Sometimes when someone’s thoughts bother me, it helps a lot to say to myself, “You know what, it’s okay.” When I do that I kind of smile to myself, as if to brush it off my shoulder. It’s really not as big as it feels.
By Jade Mazarin, M.A., BCCC | Christian Counselor