Don’t you just hate it when someone doesn’t “GET” it?
We’ve all been through this: out of frustration or anger or just plain annoyance at having to explain ourselves yet again, we say something that we might regret or that’s not helpful. We’re not trying to be mean,
or short with our words, or sound exasperated, but we’ve had enough. We’ve had enough of, what we see as, being disrespected, pigeon-holed, and looked-down upon.
The inability to communicate what we want to say fuels our frustration. Add to that our impatience, and a lack of awareness of both ourselves and the situation we find ourselves in, and…well, you know what happens.
For all these reasons, those of us who have experienced a traumatic brain injury are not problem solvers. In the heat of the moment, we are unable to communicate what we want or what we mean in a way that is effective. Instead, we not only anger people, but walk away full of self-doubt, blame and shame.
“You don’t understand!” are the three angry words we use most often; a phrase we often use when another person doesn’t “get” us. This is an innocent enough phrase, but it almost never yields the results we would like.
Many times our first reaction to someone who can’t see we have a brain injury, or who doesn’t “get” what a brain injury involves, is to get exasperated and tell them point-blank, “You don’t understand!”
“But it’s the truth!!” You might say in defense of yourself. “They don’t “get” me or my situation! All I’m doing is telling them the truth? What’s wrong with that?”
Nothing is wrong with telling the truth, but we have to think about whether or not being honest is going to help us get what we want in this situation, and we have to look at what we’re trying to communicate.
Most times, we say, “You don’t understand!” when we’ve reached the end of our rope, and it’s the first thing we think of. Maybe someone is expecting us to do something we don’t feel we can and we want them to know the reason; or perhaps we want to explain why something happened. It’s our way of trying to let people know we weren’t always like this; that there’s a reason and that it’s not our fault.
However, using the phrase,”You don’t understand!” is like throwing up our hands, and stomping off. “You don’t understand!” is most often said out of frustration, and whether you know it you’re not, signals that you have had enough.
The way other people hear our words, it’s as though we’re throwing down the gauntlet and challenging them to understand. We’re questioning their actual ability to understand and their intentions. Most importantly, however, there really is no good response that they can give. By saying this, we back them into a corner, and everybody’s ego gets engaged.
Occasionally, someone will say, calmly, “Help me understand.” This is a blessing, when someone is willing to really listen and learn, but usually, when you say,”You don’t understand!” you’re using fighting words and you get a fighting response,
I made up my mind a long time ago, that I was not going to use the phrase, “You don’t understand!” for this reason: if I ever felt like I had to say it, it meant I was trying too hard to convince somebody, and I was wanting to make them see something they weren’t willing, or couldn’t, see.
To paraphrase: I was leading this horse to water, and he wasn’t drinking even though I was trying to force him.
Saying,” You don’t understand,” was my last resort, usually words of desperation and frustration. It was my way of saying, “You’re all %1@#$ up and you’ll never get it,” and stomping off. If I gave it some thought, I would see I wasn’t really expecting a response, and I probably wouldn’t even know what to do if I got one. Saying this meant I was desperate, unable to open up a dialogue about brain injury and not trusting the other person to see me for what I was.
We need to look at what are we wanting to communicate, and we need to ask ourselves what we are looking for from the other person, always keeping in mind that it’s an emotional issue.
In reality, there is pretty much no way they can understand what goes on with the brain injured person unless they’ve had a brain injury themselves. We also need to ask ourselves if they really care, if they really want understand it and does it really matter that they understand?
They aren’t bad people because they don’t understand a brain injury.
We would like others to understand our brain injury for a couple of reasons. Number one , it gives us a relatedness we don’t feel we have with many people, and makes them part of our lives so we are not so alone. Another reason we want others to understand us, is because if they understand, we feel less pressure to “Get it right.” Lastly, we probably want them to see that we aren’t what we used to be, and we would like to be acknowledged for how hard we have worked to be able to do what we can.
The only thing you have any control over is yourself. Focusing on what you can do, and how you can be as a person, may make it easier when others can’t understand. There are always going to be people who don’t understand, and it’s not their reaction that’s important, it’s yours. As difficult as it is, it’s up to us to help build a bridge of understanding and promote our own recovery.