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It’s Okay That Others Don’t Understand Us

A Food and Feelings message board member posted that her therapist had told her that “people have a right to not understand us.” Hats off to this clinician for making such a brilliant and seemingly obvious statement. They do have a right, you know, like it or not.

It makes total sense that we become uncomfortable when people—especially family members and close friends—don’t understand us. First off, we feel invalidated. For some folks that’s not much of an issue because they can validate themselves or have others in their lives to provide like-minded support. But for many disregulated eaters, not being validated feels like a major blow because they assume that what the other person is feeling or thinking is right and that what they’re feeling or thinking is wrong. To them, not being understood equals not being validated equals being wrong and defective.

Second, when people don’t understand us, we experience a breach between us and them especially when we expect them to “get” it. For example, explaining to friends or family why diets don’t work long-term, we often assume they’ll see the light. Well, I’ve been detailing the destructiveness of diets and the benefits of “normal” eating for 30-plus years and most certainly haven’t convinced the majority of people I’ve talked with.

I used to think that I failed to do a good enough job explaining myself, but long ago realized that people often were not ready to hear what I had to say because they felt threatened by a new, scary way of viewing eating and weight loss. They had every right to be going at their own pace, making sense of the world in the only way they knew how. Paradoxically, accepting their not understanding me allowed me to stop pushing a “normal” eating agenda and made it more likely that they would be less defensive and perhaps some day consider the merits of my argument. Newsflash: their lack of understanding had nothing to do with the truth of what I was saying.

The above may seem like a trivial example of not being understood compared to, say, career choice, gender preference, or religious belief, but the principle remains the same. Why not approach people with the mindset that you don’t have to understand them and they don’t have to understand you? How might that improve relationships with friends or family? What would you gain or lose by being okay with not being understood? Start practicing this acceptance by validating yourself around intimates and strangers and see if you don’t feel more relaxed in relationships, better about yourself, less frustrated, and less inclined to abuse food.