Relationship issues – 'He/she does not understand'
The theme in this article is the difference between two (or more) people. I will first mention one way of explaining why people can have different experiences even when they go through one single event. Thereafter I will describe one small way of filling this gap of different perspectives. Lastly I will highlight why feelings are appropriate to deal with during your therapy and counselling sessions.
Each person is unique and different. This is an obvious fact and a fact which is helpful to keep in mind. Difference can be visible or audible; it may be the accent of the speech, special clothes or physicality. Difference can also be subtle; it could be culture, ethnicity, family, sexuality, etc. which require some enquiry to comprehend. Both are important; differences make each person special.
So let’s put two (or more) people together and let them experience one single incident. You would not be surprised if their stories of their experience varied from one to the other; one occurrence which happened during the incident might be very important to one person, yet it could be insignificant to the other. It might be even irrelevant for some and therefore it may disappear from their memory. In short, each person has a unique frame of reference and the person unconsciously uses it to construct their experience. The psychological net with which a person sieves countless amounts of stimulation is very unique to that person.
Your frame of reference is unique to you and therefore the way you experience the world is unique to you. This could hold the key to why you feel frustrated or isolated, thinking that other people do not understand you well. Each of us has subjective bias and this shapes how we put together our experience.
Dealing with the difference
Before considering how to bridge such a gap of different perspectives, it is often helpful to take a moment and reflect on what goal you are aiming at by choosing a specific difference as a topic for your talk. In other words, it is useful to reflect on your underlying motivation when you want to talk about certain different points of view.
People have different ways of positioning themselves towards difference. People on one end of the spectrum have strong tendency to pull away from difference for various reasons. The underlying psychological tone could be politeness, respect, weariness, tediousness or fear. People on the other end of the spectrum are drawn to difference. Feelings beneath this attitude could be interest, curiosity, attraction, defiance or hostility. In addition to these inclinations to move away or towards, the same person may have one strategy for one category of difference and another strategy for another group of differences. These preferences are neither good nor bad (so long as they do not put yourself or others at risk); they are just what they are. The point which is more important is that you will become aware of the details of your preferences.
Going back to what I wrote, it is helpful to know what kind of feelings flow when you face difference because, depending on the goal which those feelings aim at, you can choose certain sets of behaviours. For instance you can push people away by attacks, humiliation, indifference or excessive formality and politeness. You could alternatively pull people closer by blackmailing, showing interest or developing understanding.
Clients usually seek psychotherapy and counselling not because they want to push people away but because they want to improve the quality of their relationships with others. I will therefore describe a small step as a method to amicably pull people closer.
You can take this step by attempting to understand others as deeply as you can. In order to do this, firstly you temporarily put aside your own feelings and thoughts. By doing this, you are tentatively stepping out of your subjective bias. Next, please make your best effort to understand others as accurately as possible. You will step into that person’s shoes and make sense of the world just as the person would be experiencing it. You can check out the accuracy of your understanding by describing what you imagine the other person could be experiencing and asking the person every now and then whether your description is correct or not.
The picture of the world which will unfold in front of you will never be identical with how the other person sees it, but I would like you to give it a go. Please also do this with goodwill, compassion and respect; if you practise this as a mere technique, the other person will know that something important is missing. If you manage this well, you will perhaps understand the person better.
What can be done during your session
What I described above involves a lot of your thoughts and feelings. Doing some work within the realm of your thinking is more straightforward in this kind of online article than dealing with your feelings. After all, most of the cognitive learning can be done by reading. Namely, what we traditionally call learning is often a one-directional flow of knowledge.
There will be various feelings which flow under your experience of differences. When I described the small exercise above, I asked you to do it with goodwill, compassion and respect. Some people say that it is not possible to feel that way for various reasons. Feelings are multi-directional and relational; they are shaped by the person who holds the feelings and by relationships in which the person is engaged. In order to look into your feelings in a therapeutic way, you can have somebody who is professionally trained and experienced to interact with you. This can be done during your session.
If you want to know a bit more about the exercise, do have a look at this article (www.cosrt.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/conflict-download.pdf). I hope that you will find it useful.