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Feeling Understood


There are two ways clients let me know or at least cause me to suspect that they weren’t listened to and validated in childhood. They exhibit habits they’ve picked up unconsciously and don’t realize how they come across to others now. 

The first is when clients frequently ask, “Does that make sense?” Or, alternately, “Do you know what I mean?” We all ask these questions occasionally, but when people regularly or often make these inquiries, there’s something else going on.

My client Taylor had a dysfunctional childhood in which she was strictly raised, rarely got to do her thing, and had parents who were demanding and narcissistic. In session, she’ll explain something to me that’s clear as can be, then ask, “Does that make sense?” I recently commented on her repeatedly asking this question and we discussed how she’d always felt a need to clarify herself and use overkill to be understood.

Asking the question was her way of ensuring she was heard and understood, a way of trying to get her needs met. Although she was a fine communicator, she wasn’t listened to very often or very well and felt she didn’t make sense because her parents made it seem as if there was something wrong with what she said or why she said it.

The second behavior is people who pursue putting themselves in the best light by giving way too many details when telling a story or in response to a question. They’ll bring in every possible thing related to the issue at hand rather than homing in on the gist of what they want to say and leaving it at that. For example, when my client Gunter wants to reschedule an appointment, rather than just ask to do it, he’ll explain in endless detail why he can’t make our session, telling me about the problems with his mother’s car (which he shares with her) and how difficult it’s been to get a part and how it’s upsetting his mother who’s taking it out on him . . . Okay, got the point.

He agrees that overexplaining is a defense against being misunderstood and not getting his way. He feels a need to go overboard with details to make his case. What he doesn’t realize when he does this is that it may have helped him convince his mother to treat him well as a child, but that now it puts off people who get lost in what he’s talking about. This is different than someone having ADD whose brains functions a bit differently than the non-ADD brain, causing scattered or tangential thinking. 

And some people have ADD and feel pressure to overexplain to get their point across. If you are one of these people, try giving less information and see if you feel understood.