What You don’t Understand About Understanding

How over-understanding makes your life harder.

Nika Nikolic
Sep 3 · 3 min read
Image by rawpixel from Pixabay

I get it. Understanding things is a big deal. It’s connected to gaining new knowledge and related to being empathetic to other people. Which is all swell and should be encouraged.

To some extent, it is necessary to assume things like social cues. It is also vital to automatically react in situations, such as stopping at the red light. So drawing a line at where instant assumption about the situation should stop, might get tricky. However, there is a lot of misunderstandings that derive from over understanding. Or imagined assumptions. things can get pretty complicated.

How often does it happen that you are explaining a story to which somebody responds with I get it, but then it gets quite clear, that they don’t? Do you explain some more? Do you get furious? Do you even stop talking, realizing that the previous I get it was only used to make you stop explaining the story?

I understand it’s a response that might make you sound wise, smart or even a good listener, but it often has the role of a conversation stopper. It announces that enough information has been passed for the receiver to get the grip on them.

Emphatic Understanding

Understanding is used as a positive remark. This might be a mistake since knowledge about everything that effects one’s experience is probably too vast to grasp. It is literally, not possible to exactly understand the experience of another. You can imagine it as hard as you can, but even if you experienced something very similar, it is just not possible to completely grasp what the other person is going through. Each of us has at least a bit of a different story through which we understand the world. Understandings cannot possibly completely align.

Despite showing a well-intentioned empathy. Stating understanding can sometimes come off as unrespectful. Can you imagine knowing precisely what sad means for someone else? Or that losing a job is a bad thing? What if that person was looking for an opportunity just like that and it was the kick in the behind he needed to do something they loved?

The Problem with Over-Understanding

Detective stories are a great example of someone (the detective) obtaining the knowledge on deduction. Detectives look smart when they “know” what the criminal is thinking. Tana’s French [minor spoiler alert!] detectives are pretty different. They usually make a big mess out of their cases, precisely because they get wrapped up in assumptions, they made out of their own characteristical flaws.

Sure you can make more or less (a good detective probably more) good read on the situation and peoples minds, but it’s almost never quite right. There is no way you can know everything about that person, every little detail that had something to do with them. It might be something minor like a nice smile on a stranger’s face who they just passed on the pavement that could make the difference. It’s highly likely they don’t know it either.

It is probably braver and a whole lot more respectful not to understand the position of someone else and just listen to them. Opening to the possibility to something completely different from anything you know can become an outstanding life experience.


Nika Nikolic works as a psychoanalyst and has a degree in Political science. She is so eager for new knowledge she is even obtaining a Ph.D. in Cultural sciences. Besides doing academic research on knowledge and body, she is also writing a novel or two and a bunch of short stories. If you want to get in touch send an e-mail to nikanikolic@czp.si.

The Partnered Pen

MPP friends writing about life, love, and everything else in between together.

Nika Nikolic

Written by

Psychoanalyst and political scientist. Balancing richness of complicated concepts and their everyday use.

The Partnered Pen

MPP friends writing about life, love, and everything else in between together.

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