Most of us have never been truly, thoroughly understood. A moment’s reflection reveals why: the people around us are so occupied with filling their emptiness and with protecting themselves from more pain that they can see us only through the lens of their emptiness and fear. They see only what we could do for them or what we might do to them—not who we really are at all. And because we have been raised by such people, we usually have no idea who we are either.
As I spoke one day with Lisa, she expressed her disappointment in how very few people could love her in a way she could feel. I asked her a number of questions about why she felt this way, and finally she said, “People don’t understand me.”
My considerable prior knowledge of her gave me the ability to respond, “You’re right about that. Very few people could or would understand you. You have an unusual set of abilities that confuses many people and intimidates others. And you tend to require that people understand you pretty well before you’ll let them close to you, so that often leaves you alone.”
“But doesn’t it make sense that I would want to be understood before I could trust that somebody would love me?” she asked.
“It would be lovely if we could be understood by all. The more someone understands me, the more deeply I tend to feel their love, yes, but I don’t require that depth of understanding before I feel any love at all.”
“Explain. How does that work?”
“Suppose that during the Christmas season you went considerably out of your way to find what you thought to be the right gift for me. And you brought me a fruitcake. I would be touched that you would think of me. I would feel your caring, your love, and yet—unknown to you—I really dislike nearly all fruitcakes. A lot. So we have proof of an instance where I would not need you to understand me before I felt loved by you, and you can apply this truth more generally.”
I have known many people who demanded to be understood completely before they would accept love. They have needed people to understand their past, their fears, and everything else about them. But rarely can we find such understanding.
We are wise, then, to accept any bits or moments of acceptance and love we can find—from whatever source and no matter how small. As we gather these drops of compassion we create a well from which we can draw all our lives, sustaining us through difficulties that otherwise might consume us.