Hearing, Listening, and Understanding…

I have found in life that there are so many metaphors for what each person is living, such as in my last post. Some of those metaphors speak to us on a visceral level. Other metaphors are meaningless to us. I am thrilled that some found this particular metaphor interesting and possibly insightful.

We all need to share our metaphors so others might begin to understand the inherent way we think. Only then may others begin to realize how similar they might be to us, no matter our diagnosis or past. And only then might we explain our disorder in a way others might understand. It is not clinical information that allows others to understand, but opening ourselves to the experience of trust.

One of my best friends is in training to be a counselor.  She has to take classes and clinicals to get her degree.  She told me the other day that she learned more about bipolar disorder in adults from talking to me for ten minutes than she ever did in any class.  I took this as a great compliment, although I have the greatest respect for teachers.  I means that when I talk, she not only hears me, she listens to all of it and understands some portion of it.  That means many things to me.  It means she is a good person and trustworthy (that’s why we are so close).

It also means I am a good communicator.  Being able to talk about myself, my behavior, and my feelings in a way that others can understand is something it has taken me years to learn to do.  I remember being younger and someone would ask why I had done such a stupid thing when I am so smart.  All I could say in return was, “I don’t know.”  I know so many people that have the exact same answer, whether they have a mood disorder or not.

Humans are not born knowing how to talk about their feelings.  It is something we learn from watching others.  If your family never talks about certain things, then you will grow up not knowing how to be open about that subject.  I am not saying you will never talk about them, just that your ability to be comfortable and knowledgeable about the subject will be seriously hampered.  As an example, if your family doesn’t ever talk about sex, then you probably find it a topic of humor or very uncomfortable rather than being able to discuss it as if it is a very intimate and emotional biologic function.  You might even find it hard to discuss when you have your own children.

The same is true of anger, fear, love, and joy.  If you are not taught how to talk about and express these feelings, then how are you supposed to understand them when they race through your body with the speed of hormones or chemistry?  In some ways, those of us who go through years of therapy have an advantage over those people that don’t.  We are taught, painfully, how to identify our emotions, the behaviors those emotions trigger, what triggers those emotions, and how to deal with those emotions in a constructive way.  Most others have no concept of that.

So when we tell them we don’t know why we did or didn’t do something, they make the assumption that we just don’t want to tell them.  Not because they don’t care, or are not trying to understand, but because they are firmly of the belief that they control their emotions and actions.  Since they have never learned the language of emotion, they have no concept that the connection between emotion and action is never as straight a line as they believe.  Because they assume they know what motivates their own actions, they are of the belief that the action relates directly and incontrovertibly with a specific emotion.  When we say that we don’t know because the connection between our behavior and our emotions is a tangled as a Gordian knot, we are speaking a foreign language to them.  They are hearing our words, but not listening or understanding.

Then there are those that, when told a loved one has a mood disorder, go out and look up all the information they can find.  They read your doctor’s pamphlets, pick up books at the library, scan the web for information and maybe, read a blog something like this.  They are there for you.  They are trying so hard to understand the foreign language you are speaking.  Because they listen with such passion to your language, they can begin to learn some of the words.  They are not only hearing this rush of random sounds, they are listening for a pattern.  And so these are the people we keep close to us.  They may not understand our language, but they keep us company and don’t worry about filling the silence.

Then, there are others who have a similar mood disorder(I did not say same because none of us on this earth experience anything the same).  These people speak the same language, but a completely different dialect.  From person to person, this dialect can make it impossible to understand another, even with a similar diagnosis.  So, even though it is more likely these people will understand us, we cannot assume understanding.

And what does all of that have to do with sharing metaphors?  Because, if you can find a common lexicon with someone else, you can begin to communicate.  If I come across a blog that interests me and communicates with me on a base level, I will be drawn in and follow the blog.  If I can communicate well, then maybe, just maybe, I can help translate some small part of living with Bipolar in such a way that it makes those who are listening understand one more word in their loved one’s(or own) dictionary.

We all have metaphors for different things in our lives.  Maybe sharing them with a loved one will help them get one more word for the dictionary of your world.  And if they share one back, maybe you will get a new word as well.


~ by theartistryofthebipolarbrain on February 4, 2012.

3 Responses to “Hearing, Listening, and Understanding…”

  1. Love this, adore you, fantastic post!

  2. Humans are not born knowing how to talk about their feelings.

    No. Nor are they born knowing what they are feeling. And the longer you ignore your feelings the harder they are to understand. I know I have feelings, I just never know what they are. And then trying to articulate them? Fail. But…I’m working on it. Because knowing what you are feeling and being able to articulate them…definitely healthier IMHO.

    • It truly is healthier. Not only for you, but for all of those around you as well. It’s common knowledge that children and teens “act out” because of emotions and hormones they don’t understand how to articulate. What so many people fail to comprehend is that many behaviors in adults are their versions of acting out. People don’t drink themselves sick, sleep with complete strangers, get into brawls, and take drugs just because they woke up one day with the idea. All of these behaviors are adults acting out. We understand that about these actions, but what about other behaviors that are considered “normal”? Making fun of one person at work because they are different, playing sports violently (not just tackling, but tackling with intent to injure), going out for drinks every night after work, working 10-12 hour days with no vacations for years, or getting divorced after x years of marriage? Many of these actions are people attempting to deal with emotions they don’t understand and don’t know how to handle.

      It’s great to know that there are others out there trying to figure this stuff out; isn’t it?

      And good luck in your journey, Orannia.

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