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  • Writer's picture Ellen Johnson

Understanding Ourselves and Feeling Understood

Updated: Dec 13, 2019

All humans long to feel understood and seen.

I was thinking about this concept recently in terms of how many of us are drawn to personality tests or zodiac signs. Why are we so interested in it all?

We clearly like learning about ourselves, but we also like knowing about our loved ones and our co-workers. Companies require employees take tests to improve teamwork and communication. Couples take personality tests to check compatibility and become aware of blind spots. Individuals learn about their star signs online and proceed to talk about their results with everyone they encounter. And who can blame them, it's interesting!

There are hundreds (perhaps thousands) of websites dedicated to various personality tests, and there are counselors who specialize in them. We even follow instagram accounts that fill our feed with gifs and color palettes for our personality type each day. It’s a lot.

Clearly, we want to know ourselves and the people around us. We want to make sense of why we act, think, or feel a certain way. We love knowing because we’re often confused by our own emotions and actions.

Have you ever left a conversation and thought, hmm... where did that emotion/reaction/yell come from? Why was I acting so… (fill in the blank). Maybe you’ve overreacted to your partner and caused an unnecessary fight. Perhaps you’ve even found yourself crying and couldn’t quite put your finger on why you were upset. What is going on with us?

Understanding our inner psyche and knowing why we are the way that we are feels good. It provides a sense of peace, a sense of clarity. “Maybe I’m not so crazy after all” we consider. “Other people are like me too!” we think. It’s nice.

I recently read Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by psychotherapist, Lori Gottlieb, and she said this: We all have a deep yearning to understand ourselves and be understood. When I see couples in therapy, often one or the other will complain, not “You don’t love me” but “You don’t understand me.” (One woman said to her husband, “You know what three words are even more romantic to me than ‘I love you’?” “You look beautiful?” he tried. “No,” his wife said. “I understand you.”).

This resonates. Not only do we long to understand ourselves, but we long to be understood. Isn’t that what intimacy is all about? To be understood by our partner, our friend, our parent, or our boss…. it makes everything within us soften. We are more likely to grow and be open to feedback if we feel understood.

Being understood is an impossible task to accomplish with everyone in our lives and in every situation. However, acknowledging that this is our aim most of the time is helpful. Are there times when you feel misunderstood and cannot fix it? Absolutely. Are their people in your life who may never understand you? Definitely. But find the relationships that fill you up with the affirmation and understanding that you crave, and do the work to let people (who want to) understand you. It’s worth the risk of vulnerability.

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