Knowing how to understand, being able to respect

Who I am
Louise Hay

Knowing how to understand, being able to respect

There are few people who understand us in a profound way. What makes them different from others? The empathy, the emotional connection that they manage to establish with us? In reality, there are many elements that come into play.

Written and verified by the psychologist GetPersonalGrowth.

Last update: 15 November 2021

Knowing how to understand is the beginning of empathy. Only when we try to get in tune with others to get closer to their reality, their needs and their emotions, do we build the true respect on which coexistence is founded. Those who understand and identify with the other also know that they deserve consideration and appreciation.

Let's think about it for a moment: imagine a world in which the human being interacts as in an anthill. Everyone has a role, each member of the community carries out their work without having other aspirations or motivations. Nobody cares about the other, there is no understanding and, therefore, there is no empathy or emotions that facilitate attention to the other, care, friendship, altruism ...

Without these mechanisms, humanity as such ceases to exist. It is true that the human being is also defined by negative and sometimes conflicting aspects, but no mental and emotional mechanism is as crucial to our coexistence as understanding. As surprising as it may seem, few dimensions are so difficult to achieve.

Because whoever truly understands the other does so without judging and in full will. Let's see better what this challenge consists of.

The pain of feeling misunderstood

Few things are as painful as not being understood. Since childhood we have become acquainted with this devastating feeling: the fear that our parents, siblings, friends or teachers do not understand what we are feeling or what is happening to us. When this happens, we are overwhelmed with a mix of emotions ranging from anger to sadness. The situation does not change when we become adults.

Feeling misunderstood is one of the deepest and most painful ailments. Maybe for this reason, just because we know what it feels like, we should learn to pay more attention to this competence, offering it to others even if we have been disappointed in the past. But we must do it well.

Goethe said that we tend to listen only to what we understand. This is true, somehow we only connect with those who are more understandable to our eyes, with those who are more in line with our ideas, values ​​and thoughts.

Understanding, however, requires more effort. In fact, it sometimes involves an act of courage: discover, accept and connect with those who do not think like us.

Understanding is not the same as understanding

To be able to understand others in an authentic way, it is necessary to clarify a detail. Understanding and listening are not the same thing. Most of the time, in fact, we are in the second dimension, which is to say that our commitment is all about deciphering what they are telling us. We understand the message and its meaning, but we don't go further.

Understanding, on the other hand, is deeper. It is not just about deciphering what they are telling us, but about connecting with empathy with the specific reality of who is in front of us. It means to go beyond words, understand the needs and feel them. The mechanism of understanding is incredibly active and complex.

To make it effective, we need to apply what in psychology is called the theory of mind. This concept is defined as the ability to intuit the mental state of others, thoughts, fears, desires, intentions, etc. In this way we can understand their actions or even predict their future behavior.

Once we have processed all this information, we interpret it and act accordingly. All these mechanisms are part of the mental act of knowing how to understand. However, we cannot ignore the emotional aspect.

Understanding without prejudice, connecting through empathy

Daniel Goleman often talks to us in his books about the need to understand others. He insists on one aspect: it is not just a matter of deducing what the person in front of us is thinking or if he feels fear or sadness.

True understanding will never be possible if there is no will or interest. The theory of mind and emotional intelligence are therefore useless if we have our heads elsewhere when we talk to our partner. In addition to the willingness to actively open up to the other and to understand what he is saying or what is happening to him, other dimensions are needed:

  • Active listening: one has to be receptive with no other intention or purpose. It is not enough to listen and in the meantime think about what we will answer.
  • Another essential factor is listen without prejudice. Knowing how to understand means connecting to the reality of others without formulating judgments, prejudices or labels.

In conclusion, the process in which the idea of ​​understanding is articulated is more complex than we can imagine. Despite this, all of us are able to put it into practice. Will, in most cases, is essential.

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