I was living and studying in Berlin, a city of 3.5 million people, spending most of my time between the university library and music rehearsal.
Even though I hung out with people, I felt like no one really understood me.
I was surrounded by people but felt alone.
I learned4 ways to both embrace my solitude and actively seek out opportunities to connect with other people on a deeper level.
Why you need other people
Do you ever wish you didn't have to rely on others to feel understood?
Do you think living on an island and not needing anything from anyone sometimes sounds pretty great?
People are sometimes unpredictable, making it scary and frustrating to open up and, worse, be misunderstood.
Human connection is important because:
We're hard-wired to connect with others.
Loneliness increases mortality, equal to the health effects of smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
It improves quality of life.
Why is it important to feel connected to others? Select all that apply.
Why it feels like no one understands you
"So, I have to feel connected to others, but I just don't. Why?"
1. Have you been hurt before?
The following experiences can make connecting with people much harder:
emotional, physical, or sexual abuse from family members
being heartbroken or lied to by a close friend or partner
If you've experienced any of these traumas, you might have developed habits to protect yourself, like keeping an emotional distance or giving up at the first sign of conflict.
If you're experiencing abuse and you need to talk to someone about it, you can speak to a friend or coworker or call this helpline.
2. Do you know how to communicate effectively?
People aren't mind-readers. You have to clearly define your thoughts and needs to others. What may sound like a call for help to you could seem like just venting to another person, like in this conversation:
Ugh, I could really use some help right now!
Yeah man, that sucks! Good luck with that.
3. Are your expectations too high?
Expecting one person to meet all of your needs or understand every part of you puts a lot of pressure on the other person and sets you up for failure.
4. Are your expectations too low?
On the other hand, you might have low expectations because you were treated poorly by someone who didn't listen to you. You might have even experienced emotionally manipulative or abusive behavior. This may lead you to think you don't deserve someone who tries to understand you.
Test it out
You have a new friend who often diverts the conversation back to herself when you try to share something. It makes you feel misunderstood.
You recently shared your fear of test-taking with her, and she started talking about her SAT scores from three years ago. What should you do?
You should just let it go. She probably won't change. It's not worth the confrontation.
Say, "Oh, yeah. Sorry about your SAT. I mean you're in college now so it didn't turn out too bad."
Next time, just don't share anything personal with her.
Say, "Hey, I know it makes you feel like you're helping when you share your experiences, but sometimes I just need you to listen and ask me follow-up questions."
Which is the best way to respond to your friend?
What can I do?
Get help for underlying issues.
Feeling constantly misunderstood can be a sign of anxiety or depression. It can feel impossible to deal with this alone. Consider talking to a therapist.
A therapist can:
help you work through past trauma
give you tools to improve relationships
help you to communicate effectively with others
Accept misunderstanding as a normal part of life.
In the words of poet Ranier Maria Rilke:
Love your solitude and try to sing out with the pain it causes you. For those who are near you are far away, and this shows that the space around you is beginning to grow vast. And if what is near you is far away, then your vastness is already among the stars and is very great; be happy about your growth, in which of course you can’t take anyone with you, and be gentle with those who stay behind.
You've got this!
Make sure to: