“I Understand”

A phrase I’ve been trying to avoid saying for a while now is:

“I understand”

In reality, we probobly don’t really understand what the other person is going though. Their narrative, emotions and thoughts means they may experience something in a completely different way to us. Often, telling someone who is suffering that we “understand” may even come across as condescending. I’m not trying to say that we shouldn’t share our struggles and open up to others. Instead, maybe first we should listen and try to empathise before our rational mind goes about attempting to understand/make sense of every situation.

I may be overreaching here, but I dare say unless we’ve gone through the same experience as someone else, we don’t really fully understand. Even then, it may only be a similar experience.

Why am I emphasising this?

Well, a few weeks ago, I was feeling very overwhelmed at uni it got so bad at one point, a strange thing happened to me. I was reminded of when I was away and travelling in Spain for the first time. The person I was in a relationship with was having a very hard time at uni: trying to balance sport, new friendships and a new environment, working, a course placement, a struggles with themselves and at home. I was so distant from this, both in location and mindset, that I just didn’t understand what was going on in their life. I remember trying to empathise and say: “I understand”, when I didn’t. I wanted to be there, to help, to support and to love, but it was difficult. There was too much going on in their life and a relationship was something they didn’t have the time and space for.

That was a long time ago, but in that moment the other week, I was dare to say I got a glimpse of that situation. Maybe I still don’t understand what it was like and that’s okay. But knowing that we don’t have to understand is important. It means we can be gentle and say to those we care about: “I don’t understand, but I am here to listen and love in the best way I can”. 

Is that a better way of caring about others than trying to figure everything out?