Tips With Trish: Don’t say you understand, when you don’t

Dear Trish,

The stress of midterms is really getting to me. I’m overwhelmed by the workload in addition to having other responsibilities on my plate. My friends say I’m no fun because I don’t go out and am too focused on school. The truth is, besides my 16 credits, I also work two jobs. I don’t have much time left for socializing. I can’t afford not to finish school in four years. And financially, I need to work at least 20 hours a week. I pay for school and living expenses myself. This isn’t something I feel like my friends can really relate to. They tell me they “understand” when I talk about being broke, busy and stressed. I think they mean well, but they really don’t get it.

Signed,

They can’t relate
Trish says,

I believe people, for the most part, mean well when they try to empathize with our experiences. Sadly, when others say they “understand,” it often has the complete opposite effect: although they may be connecting with a shared feeling, they often don’t really know about the shared experience. Some people are very genuine and authentic and ask for more information when they encounter someone who is stressed. Others may think they are trying to be polite but don’t really want to delve into the actual experience of others — either because they don’t care, or more often they don’t know what to do with the extra information.

It sounds like you have a lot going on right now. If you need some support and don’t feel like you’re getting it, you should tell someone. Sometimes friends need us to be specific.  I’ve been married to my husband for 25 years and I still need to spell things out for him. If I tell him what I need and still don’t get some empathy, that’s an issue. If I don’t even tell him what’s bothering me, I really don’t have a right to be frustrated. It sounds like sitting down with one or two friends and telling them you’re struggling might be in your best interest. If you can say money is really tight and you can’t afford to go out but would love to stay in and watch Netflix with them, maybe you’ll get a different response. Asking them not to give you a hard time but requesting some understanding might be more effective. This may be a hard or embarrassing experience, but if they’re good friends, they’ll probably appreciate it and be more sensitive going forward. This will probably also help you be less annoyed with them and less discouraged about your own situation.

And the last option, of course, is to make an appointment with one of us in the Counseling Center. We are here to help you navigate your college experience and we specialize in listening to understand.

Signed,

Trish

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