One of the reasons people go to psychologists is because they want to be understood. This need is so powerful that when we don’t feel understood, we experience discomfort and distress.
Many people suffer silently because of their weight or their eating problems, and part of their suffering comes from feeling that others simply don’t understand their dilemma.
Feeling that you’re not understood can lead to feelings of loneliness, shame, hopelessness and isolation. These emotions often mean people are reluctant to reaching out for help to fix the problem.
Most of the people seeking psychological help for weight management and eating problems have a lot in common and rarely reveal anything that will shock the therapist. Yet most believe their situation is the worst, most shameful one ever brought to the psychologist’s office.
But though the therapist won’t be surprised, it is true that the patient’s friends and family often don’t understand what’s happening.
Roberta, for example, had gained a lot of weight during her pregnancies. Ten years after the birth of her youngest, she still was carrying her “baby weight.” She had tried just about every diet available, but she always regained whatever she would lost when she reverted to her old habits of compulsive sneak-eating.
She felt ashamed and self-conscious about her weight. The few times that she had tried to share her feelings with her husband, he would tell her that if she would just stop eating so much, she would lose the weight.
Roberta’s husband wasn’t trying to be cruel, but he didn’t understand how someone could lose control of their eating. He ate when he felt like eating and stopped when he had enough. Why couldn’t Roberta do the same?
Roberta couldn’t understand her behavior either. Why did she have such strong compulsions to eat, especially when she was upset?
The negative feelings she experienced whenever she fought the compulsion would only subside when she gave in and ate with abandon.
But she hid her eating, fearing what she perceived as her husband’s judgment. This made her feel even more ashamed. She wished her husband could understand that she was really trying but he didn’t.
Roberta struggled silently for years because she felt no one would understand. Reaching out for professional help was scary at first, but at last she found someone who could help her understand her situation.
Her husband could never empathize as Roberta wished, but as she put it, “I decided to stop focusing on whether or not he understood and start focusing on me.”
What can you do when others don’t understand what you’re going through? Try these steps:
• Realize that it’s not necessary for others to understand in order for you to conquer whatever problem you’re facing. You are the key ingredient in solving your problem.
• Don’t wait for others to understand; work on gaining understanding of yourself. You can’t put your life on hold and continue to struggle just because they don’t get it.
• Reach out for professional support if you’re having trouble handling the problem on your own. A counselor or therapist’s job is to understand not only what you’re going through but also to suggest the best ways in which you can help yourself to make whatever changes are needed.
Previously published in the Tampa Bay Times