Thich Nhat Hanh once said that understanding is love. That when we try to understand another, we are loving them. When we try to understand ourselves, we are loving ourselves.
This has been my experience. When I understand something, I have a better chance of accepting it, or if necessary, letting it go. When I understand myself or someone, I find it easier to feel compassion than if I don’t understand.
Sometimes in recovery, this is the best we can do. People will often hear advice about how we need to love ourselves or accept ourselves to be happy. Both these may be true and helpful, but without understanding ourselves, there are rarely possible, especially for those like me who have a difficult time accepting things on faith.
This is why mindfulness of needs has been so helpful for me. When I understand why I do things, what need I am trying to meet or what universal objective I am trying to achieve, it becomes easier for me to let go of the strategy that I use to meet the needs, and to let go of any judgment about it as well.
In fact, understanding can often be the antidote to judgment. When I am being judgmental, that is bringing to whatever I am trying to understand my opinions, perceptions, expectations etc, it is very difficult to understand fully the way things really are. As a result, it will make it difficult for me to meet my need for understanding, and most likely, if another is involved, to meet their need to feel understood. Now this is not to say that I shouldn’t bring to bear my existing understanding or knowledge on a subject, but it is important to keep these slightly in the background, and to let my curiosity and openness be at the forefront of my awareness.
Much of the time all I want from others is to feel understood. I don’t want advice or to be changed. I often don’t even need empathy. But I do want to be understood sufficiently to feel that it is safe to be my authentic self. I imagine this one stems from childhood for me as I often did not feel understood. What I thought I was thinking and feeling was often contradicted by those around me. Hence I felt increasingly confused as my need to feel understood went unmet. Eventually I buried that feeling and need beneath the power of my anger.