No child should grow up feeling unheard. We should all have trusted adults that we can rely on for care and support. And to demonstrate love for us. For many people this is their experience. And yet, for many it may not be. How can we understand feeling unheard, especially when those around us are cared for? And what might we be able to do to help ourselves?
Why We Feel Unheard
I am very fortunate in the support networks I have around me. This doesn’t mean that everything is perfect. Or that people are always there for me when I need them. But for the most part I am aware of how lucky I am. As I’ve become older I’ve learnt two very important lessons. One, people can’t read your minds. You have to tell people what you need and when you need it. I’m not saying that this is easy. But I’ve spent a huge amount of emotional energy wondering why people didn’t support me in the way I saw other people getting support. Why didn’t people care for me like that? This led to some complicated feelings as a child.
Secondly, people don’t always love you or show they care in the way you need. People usually fall into patterns or behaviour that they’ve seen around them. For example, the care they received. Or sometimes the opposite. They demonstrate care in the way they wished someone would care for them. This may be diametrically opposed to the way they were loved.
For How to Navigate the Need to Feel Heard read here.
The Unheard Mismatch
What these two factors can create is a mismatch. I’ve realised with time and maturity that there was never some fundamental reason why I felt unloved, or at least less loved than those around me. There was never something wrong with me. But perhaps a combination of factors wherein I never asked for help. Assuming that it would be given. And whilst I believe we should demonstrate our care and concern without being asked. People are often busy and sometimes miss the more subtle cues. Or simply are too wrapped up in their own lives to remember to reach out to others.
Additionally, when I need support most is often when I isolate myself and withdraw. It’s at those times I’m least likely to ask for help. Although I need it most. This is still a behaviour pattern that I notice today and I’m working on.
The second reason I noticed is that I needed a different demonstration of support to others around me. I wasn’t particularly loud and didn’t make a huge show of my feelings. And so I slipped through the net. But when care was shown it was often as a big drama. Leaving me feeling like a burden.
What I needed most, but perhaps often didn’t receive, were small assurances that when I was ready, people were there for me. That I was loved no matter what. An understanding that I wasn’t being difficult by shutting down. But rather I was struggling to find the words or navigate my own feelings.
The Remedy of Conversation
As an adult things have certainly changed. I have my own family and we have many honest conversations. We know each others signs that we need support. Even when they’re not explicitly said. Precisely because we’ve discussed them. My partner knows that I withdraw and often I need space. So, they give it to me by letting me know that they are there and asking if I need anything. And then leaving me to do my own thing. When I’m ready and I’ve had some downtime I’ll then want to spend time together. But I need the time to myself first. Sharing my process with others has been a major shift for me and my mental health. It ensures I do feel heard and seen. And that I feel supported; but in the way that suits me best.
For the 11 Tips You Need for Effective Listening read here.
With some distance, and further conversations, those other mismatched displays of affection have also improved. The key here was certainly dialogue and honesty. As well as self reflection about our needs and how to communicate them. Which so often only comes as we grow physically and emotionally. Learning how others give and receive love is certainly a learning curve. But with time I’ve learnt that it’s ok to ask.
Sometimes it’s a situation of square peg, round hole. With this understanding in place, I don’t take it personally when I don’t feel supported. But instead look for other ways people show they care. I usually find them, just not in the place I was looking. And, therefore, I’ll ask people what they need from me. To ensure that when I care for them, I do it in the best way possible.
For Best Practise Supporting Someone in Distress read here.
Hopefully some of these ideas make sense to you. Perhaps they’ve really changed things for you; as they have done for me. But these ideas are predicated on having an in-built support system which is undeniably a privilege we do not all have. I recognise that some people do not have a support network or a support network who are receptive to change. And that it’s not wrong to expect the people around you to love and care for you. Especially when you love and care for them. But, sometimes unfortunately we do have to do a bit of the leg work.
What are your thoughts on feeling unheard? Did these ideas resonate with you? As always, let us know in the comments below!