How to… Deal with Being Misunderstood

When I was younger, I remember saying “It’s not my fault…” or “No one understands…” and feeling like no one wanted to hear my point of view and wouldn’t really understand it even if they did. Over the years, being misunderstood became a source of frustration that quickly grew into anger over other people’s failure to hear me out or to even care. I remember simply feeling like I had little value.

Recently, my accountability partner and I talked about how being misunderstood made her feel hurt too. Our discussion drove me to God’s Word and what it has to say about being misunderstood and how to handle it when it happens. Two main applications came from my time with God on this topic.

Understand the Role of Assumptions

We all make them. In fact, we can’t help but make them. They can be helpful, especially when focused on positive attributes and outcomes. But they can also be deadly and set us up for serious disappointment, especially considering the fact that our assumptions are so often dead wrong.  The story of David’s messengers and the sons of Ammon in 1 Chronicles 19 provides a poignant example of how wrong assumptions can lead to stupidity, embarrassment and even physical harm and death.

No easy solution exists for mitigating the role of assumptions except perhaps increased awareness and not allowing assumptions to serve as hard fact. Also, when possible, avoid any rash decisions and actions based solely on assumptions. Assumptions have a big impact on our Interpersonal Skills and even on our email communication, so mindfully considering their role is important.

Know What You Can Control

Simply put, we cannot control what other people do, say or think. Sure, we can influence and persuade, but ultimately others decide their own attitudes, actions and words. Romans 12:18 says “if possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men.” Knowing what you can control and doing your part goes a long way in reducing feeling misunderstood. Not only that, but the hurt, frustration and anger that can accompany those feelings decreases as you do your part to live at peace with others.

With that in mind…

  1. Clear up misunderstandings when possible. This best happens through face-to-face communication. Simply talk it out. The story of the offensive altar in Joshua 22:10-34 provides a terrific example of how a serious misunderstanding resolved well through face-to-face communication.
  2. Cover misunderstandings if possible. Proverbs 17:9 talks about concealing a wrongdoing for the sake of seeking love, and that principle certainly applies to misunderstandings too.  Sometimes misunderstandings simply cannot be cleared up, and the choice of being right or having relationship must be made.
  3. Simply present the truth. Jesus was misunderstood probably more than any other person. But story after story reveals that Jesus presented the facts, didn’t argue, and let people make their own decisions. Sometimes, simply presenting the truth and then moving on can be the best way to avoid being hurt by misunderstanding. Doesn’t mean people will automatically understand and agree, but it allows you to do your part to “be at peace” with others.
  4. Realize the impact of established beliefs. Jesus constantly fought against this, and we see it best in his discussions with the Pharisees, though really His entire ministry dealt with this. They had established beliefs that blinded them to the Truth He offered. If we’re honest, this happens to us as well when we fail to acknowledge the existence of such beliefs, check their accuracy with scripture and/or pass them off as simply personal preference.
  5. Seek first to understand. For our parts, we can also avoid acting solely on assumptions absent of facts and based only on appearances or our preconceived notions of ill intent. In other words, we can do our best to understand others before making sure they understand us. Not only do we set an example of healthy interpersonal communication, but we also decrease our own mistakes birthed out of misunderstanding others.

Realizing the role of misunderstanding in my life has brought me healing and given me victory over a quick temper as well as strengthened relationships in general. How can managing misunderstanding change your life?

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8 Replies to “How to… Deal with Being Misunderstood”

  1. Kari,

    It takes courage to confront someone over a misunderstanding. The outcome can be positive if the person you confront will have an open discussion with you and it will lay a foundation for your relationship to deal with future misunderstandings from either party. If it does not help I think you can feel that you have done all you can to resolve it and it helps you to let it go easier.

    I also read where someone said "other people’s opinions of me are none of my business"; and if we can have this attitude it can help us not get caught up in feeling hurt over things that do not matter.

    I think deep relationships are often formed through the forge of conflict if the parties are willing to work through the conflict together.


    1. Confronting someone also often means ignoring feelings and doing what's right. That's hard to do. Also, if relationships can be established and built on a strong base, when the time comes to confront, then it will be a building point and not tearing down. Often, it depends on what the relationship is built on (honesty, for one thing). Certainly, not worrying about other's opinions is a great way to not get hurt over things that don't matter. So often, those opinions are not based fully on facts anyway (hence, the part in the post about assumptions). Relationships definitely become stronger through conflict. The absence of deep relationships in a person's life often indicates that someone gives up when the going gets tough.

      1. In reference to your last sentence it could be an indication that they don't really care about the person in question and that is sad if they really should.

        1. Either that or they are too focused on themselves, which is what I have discovered to be true in most cases. Because they are essentially being selfish (and when I say "they" I realize that I have had my moments in this place too, unfortunately), they are unable to care for (love) others as God intended. As I told my youngest who is adopted, it's not that your birth mom doesn't love you. She just is more focused on herself and fulfilling her own needs than she is on taking care of her kids. (That's the basic conversation… I made it so an 11-year-old could understand, I think.)

          1. You are so good at replying. I really appreciate that as I am sure all of your fans do. 🙂

            I think that is an awesome answer you gave your adopted child and you passed on being critical of her in an ugly manner which is great.

  2. I truly enjoy the discussion on these and other topics, so I really look forward to replying to comments. A great source of joy for me.Believe me, I had to forgive her and then teach him to do the same. God is SO good, and He has faithfully given the grace to heal and move forward to an abundant life.

  3. Kari, Once again an excellent post. I believe your tips will work "assuming" the other individual wants to understand or know the truth. That's where your paragraph on knowing what we can control is very helpful. I've tried too often to "convince" the other person of the truth when it would have been better to leave that to the Lord. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. Blessings!

    1. Leaving it to the Lord… Oh, how much better our relationships would be if we did that more often. Convincing certainly doesn't work. That's why I love Jesus' example of simply stating the truth and then living it out. These lessons were certainly painful ones for me and definitely ones that I still struggle with regularly.

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