Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

The Feeling of Understanding

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on January 9, 2013

Desiree, seventy-one, wants people to understand her, even though, she does not understand herself. She feels lonely and isolated, and yet, she cannot “trust” anyone, so she feels trapped in hopelessness and despair. She has joined many types of support groups, only to feel more lonely and alienated. “At your core, you do not feel that anyone can really be there for you, and so you don’t let others into your life and then you despair.” I say, explaining that relationships begin with a hope that others can be helpful in sharing the pleasures and the pains of life. Without that initial hope, or belief, then connections cannot begin. “It is amazing that you have allowed me into your inner world,” I say to Desiree, marveling that she has allowed herself to trust me. “Yes, it amazes me, as well,” she says. “You know my inner demons and you know what I struggle with. You seem to understand, better than most people,” she says. “Yes, I feel like I understand, but you had to trust me enough to see if you could feel that understanding coming from me and that is what I am amazed by.” I say, recognizing how hard it is to trust people enough to determine whether they are trustworthy. “I agree that was a huge step for me. I did not trust you for many many years, but over time, I thought that maybe I could.” Desiree explains what I deeply believe, which is that the time in the relationship is critical to getting to deeper and more delicate issues. I am left to my musings that feeling understood, is so critical to human existence. Those mirror neurons which fire when we feel what the other person might be feeling, seems essential for human development and survival. Desiree would agree.

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4 Responses to “The Feeling of Understanding”

  1. Jon said

    The horns of a dilemma: trusting enough to find out if someone is trustworthy. For one suspicious of others, how can one know about the other? There is no good way. The suspicious one, Desiree (in this case), must make a leap of faith that the other, Shirah (again, in this case), is trustworthy. It took Desiree years to make the leap, and it seems as though the chasm was not as scary because of those years, but it still was a leap.

    I do agree that feeling understood is a necessary part of the human condition. As such, finding someone trustworthy to understand is also necessary. However, when that happens (as can well be the case in a non-linear system), the totality is greater than the sum of the parts.

  2. Shelly said

    I agree that one must trust someone enough to find out if someone is trustworthy; however, the person being trusted must care enough about the other to invest enough emotional energy into the relationship to maintain it. I’ve found that most people don’t want the burden of heavy relationships and keeping secrets. They want the pleasure of giving and taking, enjoying time together, etc… lighthearted banter and comparing child-rearing experiences. Deep theological discussions and revelation of secrets simply aren’t in the equation. In fact, I’ve found that these kinds of things drive away friendships. On the other hand, Desiree has tested you with her secrets and has found you trustworthy. That in itself speaks volumes. But that is not a “friendship,” but a working relationship. Don’t most of us want understanding, trustworthy friends who won’t speak about us behind our backs and reveal our secrets?

    • Shirah said

      Yes, Desiree and I have a “working” relationship, but the principles are the same in friendships. Yes, many people push away intimacy, and hence loneliness ensues, but as with gems, the deeper connections are hard to find, but once found, are held tightly. Thanks.

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