One of my earliest and still one of my most viewed posts, is this one, on the need to feel understood:
Although I wrote from my own experience of BPD, I think it speaks of something universal that resonates with all of us, those with a different mental health condition, and those with none. We all want to be understood. We all want to be loved. As my therapist said recently, “we all want to be special”. “Special” – am I alone in hating that word?
In many ways, things have changed a great deal since I wrote that post. Though I was thinking of leaving my therapist at that time, I have now been in therapy with her for more than two and a half years. We definitely understand each other much better – but we also still misunderstand each other with regularity. A major point of progress is that that misunderstanding causes me far less pain than it used to, and I don’t interpret it in the same way. Not being fully understood by her is far less devastating and disappointing, and I don’t take it as a lack of caring or effort on her part. I know that she cares and that she tries very hard to understand me – and that I do not make it at all easy. But now I recognise that. And I also recognise the fact that my frequent silences in session are okay, but at the same time they do not help her to understand me, particularly when I don’t tell her what’s on my mind, or what those silences mean. I think I now find it easier to have more realistic expectations and to accept that we are all human – including her – and that no one can understand another person perfectly, all of the time. The fact that she wants to understand, and tries, and is committed to continuing to do that, is what’s important, and that helps me to be far more accepting of the fact that she cannot read my mind, much as I would like her to be able to!
But I’d be lying if I said that the difficulties I spoke about in that post, have completely gone away. And though I recently experienced a significant period of growth in therapy, where a great deal seemed to change all at once, we are somehow back again in the very familiar territory of my resistance, my instinct to withdraw and defend, and my pain at not feeling understood. Though now, I think I can more accurately identify that as pain at not being seen or heard; at continuing to bear feelings not validated. I think this is subtly different to not feeling understood, but more fundamental. I think it’s possible to be ‘seen’ or ‘heard’, without necessarily being fully understood. I think you can accept, and validate, without fully understanding someone. And not being understood fully, hurts much less when you feel validated and accepted.
It turns out I have a pretty constant craving to be validated, too, and that craving causes merry hell when it’s not satisfied. Which is not surprising, as it was never really satisfied in the past. It’s a craving that makes me ashamed, because it feels so self-absorbed and self-centred. It’s a craving that means that when I’m talking about difficulties with my children, or my husband, or my mother, I need to deal with my own feelings about the situation first, before I can think about how they might be feeling. It’s not that I don’t care about how they feel, or that I don’t think it would be useful to understand their perspectives; it’s more that it was always about someone else’s perspective, and never about my own, and I can’t bear to be the subject of that repetition.
Last week I had a dream in which I rang my local doctor’s surgery but there were no appointments at all. I then rang a surgery slightly further away, and managed to get an appointment. However, when I turned up, expecting to be taken in for my appointment straight away, I was surprised to find out that I was expected to join an absolutely enormous queue of people lining up outside. I felt like giving up – it would clearly take a very long time to get to the front of the queue, and to be seen by a doctor.
Just like in the dream, I feel I’m waiting; waiting to be seen. And the longer I wait, the stronger becomes the craving for validation, and the greater the urge to defend against the possibility of being hurt. It feels confusing to be back here, but I’m better at waiting than I used to be. And after two and a half years, I’m committed to my therapeutic relationship, and I’m not giving up. In that respect, the difference between where I was when I wrote that post, and where I am now, is immeasurably greater than the length of the queue in my dream. And I hope that that is an encouragement that things change, and perspectives shift, even though journeys often go back on themselves, during the course of moving forwards.