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"You just..."

Notes about motives, understanding, depression and suicide

I've been thinking about times in my life when people have said something like "You just want so and so" or "You just don't want to do such and such". I can think of two times in particular when one of my relatives said something like this to me. Both times he said it in a judgmental, disapproving tone. To tell someone that they "just" want so and so is to judge them and their motives.

It probably is no coincidence that this person is one of the more judgmental people I know. Once he walked away after he said it, leaving me no chance to even defend or explain myself. Judgmental people seem to need to have the last word; they don't want to hear opposing views or explanations. They need to feel secure with their judgments. Anything which challenges these judgments threatens them.

When you are being judged and when you are misunderstood, it takes energy to explain and defend yourself. If you have to do it over and over again, it gets tiring. Feeling tired contributes to depression. When I was recently extremely depressed I made a list of all the things I was tired of. On the list was feeling tired of having to explain, justify and defend myself.

Not feeling understood also contributes to depression. The need to feel understood is a one of the major emotional needs. Some of us, myself included, need more understanding than others. All my life I have needed more understanding. Possibly this is because I am different than others, so I find I often have to explain myself to those who assume I think, feel, believe and have the same motives as they do. Another possibility is that I need more understanding because so many of my other emotional needs have been unmet.

When people do not understand us, we feel more alone and isolated. These feelings are major contributors to suicide. When a person is told their motivation for doing something is "just" this or "just" that, they feel misunderstood and over-simplified. Teens who are told they are "just going through a phase" feel insulted and offended as well as judged and not understood. Regardless of our age, if we were feeling depressed before our motives are judged, we will feel more depressed. If we were feeling suicidal, we will be more likely to kill ourselves.

(This makes me realize I need a new word on my feeling word list: self-understanding. When others don't understand us, we need to become more self-understanding to compensate. Without self-understanding we can easily let the judgments of others depress and discourage us to the point of extreme self-doubt.)

All of this leads me to suspect that the more judgmental the family, environment and culture, the more depression and suicide there will be.

I was motivated to write this because someone recently told me what she thought I "just" wanted. I realized then how much it hurt to feel so misunderstood and judged. I realized it was important enough to write about it. My main motive in writing this is to help people understand how words like this hurt and why we need to teach non-hurtful ways of communicating. Another motive for writing this comes from a hope that the person who said this to me will learn something useful if she reads it. I also hope she won't say to herself that I wrote it "just" to get back at her! Those are just two of my motives for writing this. I also want to express myself, to release these thoughts inside me. There is some kind of tension when they are locked inside my head. I will feel relieved of this tension when I finish this to my satisfaction. I also want to keep adding new material to my site so it does not become stagnant. I want people to keep coming back to it and finding something of value. And I want to impress them with my words of wisdom and insight! I want to hear someone say, "Wow. What a good article." I am a dry sponge in an emotional desert. In other words, I have many motives for the things I do--even for writing this short article.

A big part of understanding someone is understanding their motives. To tell them that they "just" want so and so over-simplifies them. (When I realized this I added two new words to my feeling words list: simplified and over-simplified.) It hurts when someone over-simplifies me. I feel insulted, minimzed and offended. I suspect others feel something similar when people make incorrect assumptions and judgments about their motives.

I have heard many people say that teenagers cut themselves because they "just" want attention. In other words they think this is the motive. This shows how little they really understand how the teen is feeling and what his or her needs are. To tell someone that they "just" want attention, or they "just" want any one thing, assumes that you know their motives better than they do. Teenagers who are depressed and suicidal frequently report that they don't feel understood. Yet few people take this seriously. So the teen suicide rate continues to rise.

To help someone feel understood, and thereby help them feel less alone and less depressed or suicidal, try to really understand their motives. Don't make assumptions. Don't judge what they tell you. Most people will explain their motives to you if they don't feel judged and afraid of disapproval or rejection. You can really get to know someone by understanding all of their various motivations. But if you start judging them, they will eventually stop sharing things with you, or they may start lying to you if they are not free to get away from you physically.

This is one reason a child or teen, who has no place to go, will start to lie. They would rather be judged for something that isn't true than for something that is. It hurts more to be judged for something that is closer to your inner reality. Thus, teens will often lie to their parents about their feelings, since feelings are the most intimate of all.

I suspect that intelligent, sensitive people have more complicated motives. If this is true, it would require more time, patience and compassion to understand these multiple layers of motives. Intelligent, sensitive people also seem to be more likely to get depressed and commit suicide, so showing real understanding is all the more important.

S. Hein
November 29, 2003



It hurt more when the recent statement about my motives was made to me because I thought she knew me better than anyone else ever has. I thought she supported me as much as anyone ever has. I thought she believed in me. Or let's say I felt understood, supported and believed in. When she said this I felt very, very discouraged. I thought to myself that if even this person did not understand me any better than that, then who ever would? But realistically, I know that there are some people who understand me better without even knowing me as well. It has more to do with them and their life experiences and their inner nature than with how much information I have shared with them. One person told me she knew she could trust me just by looking at my picture. She was right, because she told me something in confidence and I have never betrayed her trust. Was she naive, or exceptionally intuitive? What saddens me is that I have little doubt that as she gets older she will become more and more skeptical, cynical, suspicious, untrusting, judgmental and paranoid. This is what we do to our youth.

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