Hearing into Speech: What to do when you feel unheard misheard or misunderstood
An extremely frustrating, even enraging theme that is coming up a lot for clients and students now is one I’m well familiar with myself. It has to do with being misheard, unheard or misunderstood.
I particularly see this among women, many of whom have been taught not to speak up, or who experience their words being dismissed just because they’re women.
I remember an instance when I was a professor. I was in a faculty meeting, and I had spoken to an issue we were discussing, providing what I thought was a helpful solution. Dead silence.
The conversation eventually moved on – and not 10 minutes later, a male colleague made exactly the same suggestion (as his own idea), and everyone pounced on it. “Oh, that’s a great idea,” several male colleagues said, and we immediately voted to implement what I had suggested just a few minutes before, explicitly giving this colleague the credit for the solution in the minutes of the meeting. Later, several congratulated him on his great idea.
This, by the way, was not an isolated incident! It became a bit of a joke amongst my female colleagues at this institution. Every one of us experienced it many times over.
However, I don’t want to stereotype here, because many of my male clients have also had this experience. It is also often the norm amongst people of color, for example.
The damage of being unheard or misunderstood
When someone shuts you down, it is not only painful, but the results can be devastating. If no one listens to you, or people shut you down often enough, you also learn not to trust yourself and your own wisdom or inner knowing. It contributes to lack of self-esteem and self-confidence. Many of my clients tell me they are afraid to speak: they fear being judged or rejected. Many felt invisible, and then learned to make themselves invisible.
Recently, a student asked the question of whether they needed to be understood to feel connection. The short answer is yes!
People need to be heard – truly heard and truly seen – to feel connected, loved, and accepted. To be heard and understood does not necessarily mean that people agree with you, or will do what you want. But actually hearing and understanding others is crucial.
The importance of truly listening
Current cultural attitudes don’t help. How often do you see people jumping in, interrupting, or simply running over someone else’s words to get their own word in? So often, listening – truly listening – feels almost like a lost art.
But it’s essential! Especially in today’s climate where there is so much division, it’s crucial that we actually listen to one another – without automatically judging the other, shutting them down, or diminishing them if we don’t agree with their opinion.
Often, people don’t even listen long enough to even know if they agree – as soon as a “catch-word” or some phrase appears that triggers them in some way, they shut that person down. Moreover, those who need to listen most are those who tend not to listen at all.
And of course, the ultimate answer is not just individual listening, but also much larger, systemic changes in culture and power dynamics. Yet with that unavailable to us, we can bring some healing by practicing listening with ourselves and with trusted people.
Hearing into speech
Nelle Morton, in her book, The Journey is Home, coined the term “hearing into speech.” Morton’s new understanding of hearing and speaking came to her while she was with a group of women who gathered to tell their stories.
As one woman shared her story – a story which at times reached points of excruciating pain – no one moved or interrupted. At the end, when the woman finally finished, she said, “You heard me. You heard me all the way – I have the strange feeling you heard me before I started.”
Being heard is transformational
Especially when you have felt unheard or misunderstood, that kind of hearing into speech is healing in itself. There is a bond, a connection created.
Even more, it can be transformational. As you feel heard, you are no longer no-one, but someone. Your experience is significant.
A practice for when you feel misheard, unheard, or misunderstood
If you have been the one who has felt misheard, misunderstood, I encourage you to allow yourself to feel it rather than shutting it down.
- Find the place in your body where you feel the pain of being misheard, unheard, or misunderstood.
- You can focus on that place and simply feel the pain. Or you can allow yourself to truly feel the sense of isolation or aloneness that brings up in you.
- As you feel the emotions, let them flow through you. They may come in waves. If you can, stay with the waves until they subside naturally.
- There may be stories that surface. Don’t shut yourself down – but hear yourself into speech.
- If the roots of your feelings go back to childhood, you can also re-parent yourself in this way.
Find ways to listen
Finally, I encourage you to find ways to listen – truly listen. As you feel truly heard, extend that hearing to others. Find ways in which you can hear others into speech. Listening helps the other to be-come – it creates the possibility for a new imagining – an imagining that empowers both the speaker and the listener.
With love and gratitude,
PS: If a theme in your life is being unheard, misheard, or misunderstood, please reach out and schedule a free 20-minute Discovery call. I find that working with the roots of that theme brings healing and empowerment. It is an honor and privilege for me to “hear others into speech” in my practice.