Above All Else, We Want to Be Understood· 2 min read
For as long as I remember, my life has been plagued by frequent episodes of depression, loneliness, and heart-wrenching feelings of abandonment that often happen without any objective reason. This pain is my daily reality, a source of inspiration, the biggest mystery, and the most difficult life project to date. I didn't even know I had the feeling when I was younger. Every attempt to explain it was met with: "Well, that's how all people sometimes feel. Stop whining". In my late twenties, I still didn't have a name for it. Over time, however, I discovered books and friends that finally helped me contextualize it.
Over the years, I became sensitive to any form of unsolicited advice. Here's a typical experience I often have. A friend asks how my life has been. I reply through the lens of my ongoing challenge. I might talk about a book I found that helped me better understand myself. Or if you catch me on a bad day, you'll likely hear an elaborate explanation of why I'm fucked beyond repair. Most people don't know how to react, so they immediately attempt to offer help in the form of "Have you tried therapy?" (Also breathwork, meditation, stoicism, Buddhism, shamanism, anti-depressants, positive-thinking, etc.)
My story is just an example of a wider pattern. Every person I know is going through their version of The Challenge. Some might struggle for years, feeling unsuccessful in their career; others want to feel attractive or start a family soon. It's something they think about every single day for years. This pain motivates them to read books, try coaching, and make significant life changes to solve the puzzle.
There's one thing these people have in common: they don't want to hear any advice. I spent decades learning about my particular flavor of suffering. I tried numerous ways of approaching it from every conceivable angle. Unless you are facing a nearly identical problem, you are not qualified to give advice. And unless I'm asking for it, advice is not what I'm looking for.
If you're the one sharing, remember that advice is often a clumsy expression of care. Thank your friend for their concern. Then politely but firmly tell them you didn't ask for their advice. If you're the listener, aim for understanding. Ask clarifying questions. Imagine yourself in their shoes. I am convinced that, above all else, we want to be understood.