To Understand & To Be Understood

Navigating interpersonal relationships has always been something I really struggle with. But last night I had an interaction that made me really proud of myself. Let me explain. A lot of the time I feel almost threatened by other people. It’s as if their presentation of who they and the things they say and believe are saying something about who I am. And I need to defend myself, my identity. I hope that makes sense.

I understand this is irrational, but I get caught up in the moment and get into arguments or get fed up with the person all together. But yesterday I somehow managed to avoid my normal pattern. And it felt so good.

Instead of feeling personally challenged or attacked by what my friend was saying, I just listened. Really listened, with genuine interest and curiosity. I didn’t get upset or get lost in my own interpretation of his words. I allowed myself to be curious. To really try to understand not only the words, but how he intended them, what he was really trying to convey.

I asked a lot of questions. Questions that led to answers that surprised me. Instead of angry or frustrated, I felt intrigued. For once I felt confident enough in myself to not feel threatened by the perceptions and actions of someone else.

Normally that conversation would have devolved into a bitter argument. Over nothing honestly. It would have left me feeling aggravated and ashamed and more alone than ever. But instead I was able to let it turn into an insightful, meaningful conversation that helped me understand my friend better. Maybe even allowed me to provide some support and comfort to him. For once I was able to take myself out of the equation. Finally I was able to focus on who I was talking with rather than myself. And it felt so incredibly good. It was one of the best conversations I’ve had in a long time.

I am so proud of my behavior. I was able to remain calm and inquisitive. I expressed myself honestly, openly, clearly, and confidently. My friend even said jokingly that it felt like he was talking to a therapist at one point, which I took as a compliment. Therapists listen. They ask questions. They remain selfless in the interaction. They help people. I hope I was helpful. Even if just for one brief encounter.

I also hope this interaction was not just a random fluke. I hope that it is a reflection of some type of inner growth that has occurred over the last year. I want to have conversations like I did last night again. I want to be able to stay calm and through that openness and willingness to be vulnerable have more moments of genuine connection with my friends and loved ones.

I have to remind myself that each person in this world has a fascinating, unique universe inside of them. And I want to learn about those inner worlds. What could be more interesting? I’ve often heard the phrase “to love and to be loved” expressed as the quasi goal of this life. But I would add to that “to understand and to be understood.”

I’ve spent so many encounters in a hostile state, focusing on myself, wanting to be understood, yet not at all expecting I ever would be. But I was missing half of the equation! I was not trying to understand the person I was talking to. I was too wrapped up in myself to understand them. It is equally nice to love as it is to be loved. I am just now finally learning that it is also just as nice to understand someone else as it is to be understood yourself.

Photo by Vasyl Potochnyi on Pexels.com

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