When to Avoid Saying “I Understand”

by Caregiving Basics, Listen, Wisdom Stories0 comments

Dr. Rachel Remen, author of Kitchen Table Wisdom, wrote, “When people are talking . . . listen to what they’re saying.  Care about it. Don’t interrupt.”

I clearly remember a situation when I was sharing my distress over my mother’s stroke with a friend. My friend asked, “How are you doing?” And I started to tell her how I was feeling, and she interrupted me and said, “Oh, I understand, my mother had a stroke a few years ago” and then she proceeded to tell me about when her mother had a stroke.

When people say, “I understand” in situations like this, it brings the sharing of feelings and thoughts to a halt. And then if the person goes on and tells their own story, they’ve changed the focus from the suffering person to themselves and it leaves the suffering one feeling unheard.

So instead of saying “I understand” to show that you are listening, imagine, for a minute, if it had been your loved one who had a stroke. Would be some of your feelings and thoughts be? And then you could say to the suffering person something like, “Oh this has to be really hard for you. I really care about you. If you want to talk about it, I’ll listen.” And then be quiet. And don’t interrupt and listen.

Dr. Remen goes on to write, “When we listen, people know we care.  Many people with cancer talk about the relief of having someone just listen. A loving silence often has far more power to heal and to connect than the most well-intentioned words.”

Who will you share a loving silence with today?

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Karen Mulder

Karen Mulder

Karen Mulder is the founder of the Wisdom of the Wounded ministry. She lives in Holland, Michigan with her husband Larry.


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