One of the pleasures of a reflective life development is the opportunity to come to know and understand ourselves deeply. But recognizing our own inner life and what is truly accurate about who we are can be difficult and complex. Much of our lives is taken up with finding, building and maintaing good relationships with the people we care about. And we may bring to those relationships a habit of believing that if we have our own ideas and feelings and if those ideas and feelings are not what the other person wants us to think and feel or are not what the other person thinks and feels, the relationship is in danger.
This implicit habit of being is a natural outcome of our early life. As children, we defer to the adults around us who make possible our growth and safety. We assume their judgement and their emotional perspective are better somehow than our own. Often we are right about that. So we learn to subordinate our own perspectives to those of the people we care about. This natural reality can be exacerbated if we have parents who are threatened by or disapproving of difference. If our parents respond by withdrawing from or disapproving of our thoughts and feelings, we learn that having our own unique mind experience will threaten the closeness we feel with people we care about. And then we develop a habit of disregarding parts of ourselves that are not what our parents want us to be or feel.
After a while, we don’t even know we are doing this. We lose touch with our capacity to be aware of what we are experiencing. Instead, we line up with what we have learned in order to hold onto our important relationships. We go through our lives with a slight disjuncture between the truth of what is in our minds and the revised version that we allow ourselves to know about. We have a subtle sense of disconnection from ourselves, dissatisfaction with our lives, or distance in our relationships. This is where the feeling of not being able to be understood or known comes from. We are alienated in our own lives without really being able to recognize that fact. In some way, we are isolated from ourselves.
The thing is, it can be true that having our unique perspectives will destroy a relationship. Depending on the point of view of the other person, differences in people are more or less tolerable. Sometimes if we disagree or have different feelings, our parent, partner, child, friend, or co-worker becomes more distant or leaves altogether. This loss of intimacy is unwanted, and we work at avoiding it. We may hold our marriage together or cling to a friendship, and the cost to us can be completely invisible. We are presented with a choice between intimacy with ourselves and intimacy with other people. Mostly relationships get preference.