Overcoming the Fear of being Misunderstood

xShe sat with her arms crossed, creating a barrier between her and her father. In a paisley pink dress and leather bound sandals that snaked up her calf, she had the air of a volatile nymph.

“Why don’t you hear me?! I’m not saying that music is bad, I’m just saying that we shouldn’t invest in it when there’s families without food! When people don’t have jobs! The government shouldn’t be subsidising these programs! They just shouldn’t Dad! It’s not fair. The money should be going to programs that actually create work for more than a handful of people. You think Pedro is going to pay his bills as a violinist? No, he won’t, and you know it!”

Sporting a goth-light appearance, her boyfriend shifted to the right as a passive signal that her anger had gone from simmering to volcanic. “Sara, just listen.”

Pulling his button down silk shirt out of the back of his jeans, her father leaned forward and smiled. “May I?” he whispered, reaching for her hand, but she glowered and pulled it away.

“What? What do you want to say Dad? Just say it!”

“Listen, we all know I’m biased, but music is more than just a hobby, it’s a way of being. Throughout your entire life I tried to show you how to listen, how to pick out different notes, distinguishing one from the other. This skill allows you to be a better listener over all, and it gives you a universal language, that sings to everyone. Honey, music may not give you job security as a strict profession, but it will give you incredible skills that can be applied in different professions – finding patterns where others can’t find them. Seeing harmony where others see discord. Music is filled with incredible tools that can be applied in a thousand different ways. Does this make sense?”

Slamming her glass down, she snapped, “No it doesn’t! While you went off to go play gigs in bars at night, Mom had to do everything and we were still broke! So no Dad, I don’t see your guru perspective. What I see is a man who eventually got his break, but who made everyone else suffer in the meantime. So do I think the government should encourage this, no I don’t! Because I know the pain it causes!”

Her anger never let up that evening. For hours I watched the father plead with his daughter to let go of her anger. His own tears of frustration morphed into pain and anguish. He begged for forgiveness, praying that she would not fault an art that had no direct correlation with her own pain. His choices were his own, and the consequences were what they were. He would take ownership, but she couldn’t take away something that perpetually brings immense amounts of joy to the masses. She simply couldn’t.

She pulled her arms into herself, forcing her breasts to spill over. “No, I don’t have to do anything! And that means talk to you!”

Getting up to leave, her father quickly followed after and grabbed her, pulled her close and whispered, “I’m sorry…I’m so sorry.”

From what I could tell as a voyeur to their riveting conversation that night in crowded Lisbon restaurant, the daughter’s position never changed but their empathy towards one another did. For the first time in 25 some-odd years, they found a common place to dialogue and feel the other person’s pain.

The irony is that no matter how hard we try, the other person may never understand our point of view. They may never agree with our position nor support our way of thinking. But if we’re willing to be vulnerable, and show the underbelly of our emotions, there’s a good chance that the walls will come tumbling down

Here are 3 ways to overcome misunderstandings:

  1. Ask “Why?” – When we feel affronted it’s easy to dig in our heels and tell the world to bugger off. It’s a wall we create to protect our hearts from more pain and anguish, unfortunately it typically backfires. When we feel defensive, our arms protect our squishy insides, our face folds in on itself to indicate rage and our heart beats a thousand miles an hour to kick in our “fight or flight” hormones. What does the other person do…the same! We’re mirrors of one another. By asking yourself, “why are they angry? Why don’t they see my point of view? Where are they coming from?” we’re allowing ourselves to see through someone else’s lens instead of reacting to their behaviors. Their experience is their own, but their pain is the same as ours. Emotions are universal. By asking “why” we’re climbing into their own soft spot to see where the volcano began.
  2. Let down the Wall – Show your own pain and frustration. It’s a hell of a lot easier to empathise with tears than it is with rage. Rage can escalate, while tears can satiate. By sharing why you’re feeling the way you are, we’re connecting to the human infront of us, rather than the monster inside of us.
  3. Let go of Control – The best we can do is “see” the person in front of us and phrase the information in a way they’re more likely to be receptive. But we can’t control their reactions, their needs or their desires. If someone isn’t signing onto our position, then respect their viewpoint and make choices that are good for you. We can’t force someone to like, love, agree or play with us, but we can choose our next steps.

Inside every human being is a person who simply wants to be loved and respected. By empathizing with their position, their life experiences and their feelings, we’re not only validating them as an individual, but us as a fellow human. Maybe it’s worth a try.

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6 thoughts on “Overcoming the Fear of being Misunderstood

  1. I have so much to say about this blog; I don’t even know where to start. So I’ll start from right now and work my way back. Hopefully, I won’t be too long-winded.
    I Googled “fear of being misunderstood” and waited for the page to load. I was tempted to click on the first link, but remembered my schooling on the subject of research: check the credibility of your sources and don’t rely on just one. So I kept scrolling. When I saw Speak Up Portugal, my curiosities peaked. I will explain why.
    Part of the reason of the search was a conflicting desire to be understood without being abrasive or in-your-face. You see, I had a conversation with a woman on cultural assimilation and appropriation and it was eye-opening. Not in a sense that one may think of right away, but on a very personal level. This woman was angry (or so I assumed) about a particular hairstyle belonging to her culture that someone else had worn. I didn’t understand why and I assumed it was out of hate. I said she shouldn’t hate on other woman and it snowballed from there. I had created a storm of anger. She had accused me of being judgmental and uneducated. She accused me of “playing the victim.” Initially, I was angry. I felt attacked. I felt like a victim. I apologized for assuming and we both came to a mutual agreement. Or, so I accepted it as such. I cowered and let myself be misunderstood in fear of more backlash.
    So, I called my sister-in-law and told her about it. She grew up in a mixed family, so I figured she could give me some advice or at least make me feel better about it. She didn’t. She told me to delete my post and my comments. She perpetuated the notion that we should just shut up about it and quit digging up these negative feelings. So, I deleted my post and my comments. I still did not feel any better. In fact, I felt worse. I started asking myself why. Why did I feel this way? Why did I let my feelings be swept under the rug? Why did I obediently follow her advice? Why am I still having anxieties over this?
    I realized that I had done myself a huge injustice by not standing up for myself. I realized that I was a victim (and I use the term “victim” tentatively). I remembered the stories my great grandmother told me. She told me how her mother, when she immigrated from Portugal, had changed her name to fit in or to avoid prejudice. She learned to speak English, but didn’t teach her children her native language. She assimilated herself into the American culture. Stripping herself down so that she could live the American lifestyle. But why? Isn’t America all about freedom? Aren’t Americans supposed to be accepting of all cultures? I was confused.
    I thought more deeply about his. I thought about how it affects me and my immediate family today. I noticed a feeling of emptiness. I don’t see any evidence of my heritage. I belong to no culture. I feel naked, in that sense. I am jealous of my friends for having families with a rich heritage and cultural background. I yearn for that sense of belonging and pride…
    When I read this post, I realized my fear of being misunderstood (or even misunderstanding someone else) is closely tied to my desire to fit in somewhere. I still don’t know where that place is. I still feel hesitant to voice my opinion on the topics I am passionate about. I feel, sometimes, it’s not my place. It hurts. After reading this post, though, I found some hope. Hope that, in time, I would find it. I would be understood and feel I am a part of something bigger than myself.
    I thank you for that.

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    1. Sharon, first and foremost, thank you for reaching out. This took an enormous amount of vulnerability and courage, and I truly applaud you. Amazing! Secondarily, it seems to me that you already found someone who’s part of your tribe. Me. For whatever reason, you stayed the course to find someone on the planet who could relate, who could validate who you are and where you’ve been. It starts with one person. One person who inspires you. One person who sees you. One person who can encourage you to crawl out of your mask and exist. If this post opened a new door, then you’re on the right path. You’re opening up and saying, “Hey, like it or not, I’m here!”

      Sharon, there’s only one of you. There’s only one person who has lived through your lens, your matrix, your way of being. No one else, no one. Your opinion matters! Your cultural heritage, your dreams, your memories, your way of navigating the world. And quite honestly, your tribe will fluctuate over time. I have friends who I barely speak to from decades ago, but they’re always there. I may not “need” them right now, because I’m craving another type of person, perspective or way of being, but they’re part of my bouquet. My bouquet of influencers, ranging from friends to strangers, is always there. The beauty being, that I can choose who I want to engage with based on what I need in a given moment. Today, I shared a life’s dream with my mom, who promptly fell asleep on the phone 🙂 Did it fulfil me when she snored or said “Your dream is too big. It’s impossible”? Yeah, it did. It was the first time I shared what I really wanted to do with my life. She understood very little of it, but I didn’t hold back. You don’t have to either. Be you. And the more you’re you, the more you share your opinions, perspectives and dreams, the easier it’ll be live it.

      Thank you for making my day. You really did.

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  2. Thank you, Gabriella, for reinforcing what I sometimes neglect to remember. I am me and I’m the only one. It means a whole lot to hear (or read) those words. I did stay the course. I never remember feeling any differently than the way I do now. I’ve always had this unexplainable thirst for knowledge and understanding, to make myself better, and to be a part of something big. I’ve never found anything like this site before. Something that so closely matched my way of thinking. There seems to be too much negativity blocking me from whatever it is inside me. It’s difficult to explain and, honestly, sometimes embarrassing. I’ve been told I care too much or I dig in places I have no business digging. Even by those I love.
    This post did open a new door, but I don’t know what’s on the other side. I don’t feel as though I’ve walked through it yet.
    I know the kinds relationships like the ones you have with distant (physically far, but not mentally and spiritually) friends. I value those friendships. You’re totally right, and I love the metaphor of our friends being part of a bouquet. It’s so lovely.
    How courageous of you! To share your dream. I admire that you are able to do that. To put it into words and share it. I struggle there. I’m not sure what my dream is. I don’t know how to get to that point where I can see it, explain it, visualize it. I struggle with not knowing what my purpose is or even just something that will give me a sense of purpose. I want it all. I want to know it all, experience it all, meet them all, share it all. But, where do I find that? How long/far do I have to look? Why, in all these years, after so many experiences, do I still not know where I belong? Is there any one place? I mean, my life is rich. I love me, who I am, to the core. I wouldn’t change any of it, not even the darkest hours of it all. I am proud of that. Why isn’t that enough for me? Is anything ever going to be enough? Am I missing something? It feels like fear. It feels like I will die knowing I didn’t do what I was meant to do. I acknowledge that I cannot do it all or know it all. I acknowledge that all I can do is keep looking, keep learning, keep speaking and asking. But that fear… It turns into an ugly ball of anxiety. I need that something, but I don’t know where it is and how to walk the path to it.
    Gabriella, how did you get here? Do you or did you ever feel this way? If so, how did you overcome it? Did you overcome it? How did you find that one place that you knew was where you needed to be. Where you could do what it is you do to your full potential? How did it change you?

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    1. As I read your words I feel like I could have spoken them myself. Every single part of what you are feeling, I too feel, and I know where not alone. A few things come to mind that I think are important for us to consider. First, like many Americans, we’re like trees without thick sturdy roots. When asked, “what are you?” an American will often say, “Well, I’m 20% Irish, 40% Dutch, 25% English, like 8% Spanish and I’m sure there’s some other stuff like Native American in there too”. How does anyone find “self” in that? Plus the majority of American families are spread around the USA, if not the world. So you often feel legless, without a true sense of place. The flipside is that you’re free to redefine yourself a 1k times over. There’s nothing holding you back culturally because there are no defined roots. You’re one with the world.

      So if we put “place” and “culture” aside, we have self. The fear of simply being whoever you are at a give moment in time. I have a few suggestions based on what I’ve been doing for me:

      1. Keep a notebook beside you at night. When you wake up, automatically pick up your notebook and write 3 pages of whatever is on your mind (or set your alarm for 20 minutes). There’s no need to revisit these pages. Simply consider them a brain dump of whatever negative, rambling and stressed thoughts have invaded your mind.

      2. During the day, find 10 minutes (or 2x a day if you can) to simply focus on your breath and maybe chanting something positive such as “I’m fulfilled.” Here I’m offering as second way to calm and recalibrate. Being focused on the lack thereof will only stress you out. By focusing your mind, and training your body, to feel fulfilment and contentment, you’ll change past, present and future.

      3. It’s also worth meditating on the question “what do I want? When you’re done with your meditation, pick up a separate notebook and write the answer or draw a picture. Doesn’t matter. But for as long as you need, stay focused on this question. It will help you understand what you truly crave now, at this moment. Sometimes it will stay the same, and sometimes it will change. Try not to judge, just observe.

      4. Check out works by Sadhguru. I think some of his videos, and books, will speak to you.

      5. Remember you’re not alone. I am NOT there yet. I’m only beginning my journey, foraging the courage to follow my own dream, but my own demons haunt me saying that I can’t and I’m not good enough. And my own fears of the path being wobbly, uncharted and ill paved scares the crap out of me. But I don’t want to give up. If anything I want to live and breathe it. I just don’t quite know how yet. What I do know, is that comments like yours encourages me to stay the course. So thank you for that.

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  3. Yes, yes and yes!!! I am a tree without thick, sturdy roots. These trees, if taken literally, are fast-growing, non-invasive, can grow just about anywhere, and typically are evergreens. We can grow anywhere, in any season. That is something I can take pride in. No matter where I am, who I am with, or what I experience, I find peace in knowing that I am learning. I am growing. I do feel one with the world. I’ve never felt any differently. I don’t need culture to ground me. I have it all to grow from. Thank you for giving me that perspective. I will carry that with me forever. Gosh! Epiphany! Light bulb!
    I’ve got a few notebooks around the house. I have neglected them lately. It’s overwhelming, sometimes, trying to write what I’ve got stuck in my noggin. The stories pour out of my head and spill over the lined pages. A small percentage of it is set in ink or graphite. (There’s a picture I need to draw). My mother, who has coached me and still does, is a sociologist. She sends me tips in dealing with my emotions and this is one she consistently urges me to utilize.
    My mother reminds me to breathe. To focus on doing it correctly. She and I both live with overly anxious minds. We’re constantly told to breathe easy, in through the nose, out through the mouth. Sometimes it takes hours, sometimes minutes to relieve the stress and angst, but eventually, it works and I feel peace creeping back into center-stage.
    What do I want? This is a question I keep asking myself. I know what I want, but it’s so vague. Fulfillment? Purpose? These answers do help. They help me follow the path. They keep me on course. I’m constantly asking myself, when I am faced with decisions about my career path, is this going to fulfil me? Will I take pride in my work and know that I am important? Is is right for me to continue my profession as a plumber, or am I not being true to my artistic talents? Is it enough to work with what I’ve got, or should I be building on my God given foundation? Or both? It’s difficult not to make decisions like this without judging myself.
    One TedTalk helped me. Emilie Wapnick spoke on why some of us don’t have that one true career path. She explained how my diverse and choppy work experience should be valued, not frowned upon. Yet, I continue to judge myself for other people, for potential employers. I visited a job placement service office a few weeks ago. I could not overcome the embarrassment. I felt like I was being judged and seen as someone who couldn’t commit. I’ve never held a job (other than the contract I signed with the Navy) for more than a year. I felt like it was something that was working against me, but I didn’t see it that way. Not really. I see it as a big ol bag of tools. Albeit, my sets tools are incomplete by themselves, but a wrench is a wrench. It’s just one of the many multi-purpose tools I carry around with me. It’s scary to feel so vulnerable. To feel like I may not be enough. It’s a blessing and a curse to be the “jack-of-all-trades.” I can fit in just about anywhere, but I am not the master in any one of my job experiences. My husband, for example, has worked on one specialty. He is a master. Yet, he is not fulfilled. He doesn’t feel as though his work has meaningful purpose. So I see how being the master isn’t what we crave.
    I cannot wait to learn more about this man, Sadhguru. Thank you!
    My father, may he rest in peace, left me with this: Can’t never did nothing. When he said this, I knew he was encouraging me to eliminate the word “can’t” from my vocabulary. He would always get on me when I used that word. He’d stand sternly and ask in an (almost) frightening tone, “CAN’T!?” I would wrestle with him over the idea of can’t. Well, I can’t do this or that. It’s a physical impossibility, I would argue. He forced me to think multi-dimensionally. If I can’t leap from a cliff and fly, it didn’t mean it was impossible. I just wasn’t imagining a world in which it was possible. Can’t is the real four-letter C word. You can and you will, where there is a will. Nothing, he’d say, is impossible. It’s not, “you can’t,” it’s “you won’t.” Or you haven’t yet. If I’m not good enough, right now, then I CAN work on how to make myself even better than. Can’t never did nothing.
    I feel the need to start a blog of my own. I cannot get over how therapeutic this is. I want to cry tears of happiness and it’s all thanks to you! Amazing

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    1. By the end of the day, you always attract what you want. The book “The Secret” wasn’t far off on this theory, unfortunately it was just poorly written and shrouded in mystical BS. There is no BS around it. What you crave, you look for. It’s that simple. You focus your attention on wherever your mind wanders. Hence, why it’s SO IMPORTANT to live a practiced lifestyle where you train your thoughts to focus on what you truly want. Not what you deserve, because what does that even mean? Not on what you’re comfortable receiving, because that’s based on culture and habit. By consciously training your mind, like your body and emotions, you can focus on what will make you truly fulfilled. This is a trial and error process, an evolving process that never stops. What you want will change from day to day, from moment to moment, but your skilled awareness will help you focus on that which is most important to you.

      You seem like a very astute, articulate and intelligent woman who needs a little support and validation so that you can pursue whatever makes you happy today. So allow me to say, “Yes you can!” 🙂 Hugs from Porto!

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