Help People Feel Better: The Power of Understanding

“When you judge another, you do not define them. You define yourself.” ~Wayne Dyer

I used to be someone who always gave my opinion, or confronted issues in relationships regardless of whether someone was in the mood for what I had to say.

I always brought up whatever was bothering me or said my opinion, perhaps in not so tactful ways. Needless to say, this led to a lot of emotional confrontations and blowouts with friends and family members, sometimes destroying important relationships.

I justified my actions by thinking that people deserved to hear the truth, no matter what.

Despite my strong opinions, loved ones still came to me for advice or help when they were in need. This might have been because I seemed like a well-grounded person with strong convictions—someone who knew what to do.

When giving my opinion or advice, I would always think to myself, “Well, they are coming to me for the truth, so they deserve to hear it no matter how bad it might sound.”

While I thought my advice came from a place of caring, it would take years before I realized how selfish and thoughtless I was being.

Sometimes my sister would talk to me about issues she had with friends, and I'd say, “Why don’t you just tell them what’s bothering you. Why not tell them the truth?”

It would frustrate me to see my sister upset with such friends, putting on a happy (or, what I thought was, fake) face, and going on with life.

What I had yet to realize was that by being patient and understanding with her friends, my sister was avoiding confrontations for situations she may eventually let go of with time and understanding.

My attitude only began to change after a series of big mistakes that I made. These painful events pushed me to take a big look within. I saw that I’d made a lot of judgments or criticisms of my loved ones for things they had done, when meanwhile, I had done the exact same things!

I thought about how I had moments when loved ones came to me in pain or in need of a friend, and instead of being there for them or listening, I would give my opinion, for better or worse—even if it made them feel worse off.

After I made my mistakes and sought advice from others, some of the things I heard really hurt me, and I would think to myself, “Wow, is that how I sounded?”

Around the same time I had these realizations, I was doing a lot of traveling, and meeting people from all walks of life. I really started to appreciate the beauty in people’s stories, including their blunders.

I saw how sometimes it brought them to where they were in their lives, or made them who they were, and it usually made them stronger.

On one of my travels I went on a cultural exchange with my university along with a group of students from the same area where I lived.

On this trip we had to open up to each other and tell our life stories. It was extremely difficult for me to put myself on the spot and open up about my life, especially for fear of judgment for some of my own mistakes.

However, in the end I realized that opening up to my group was not so different from my friends or family opening up to me in vulnerable moments. After telling my life story, I received so much love and support from my group. (And this support was coming from people I barely knew!)

I decided that from that day forward I wanted to share this love and support with anyone who had the courage to come to me, needing someone to listen and be there for them. I vowed that I would let go of my preconceived notions and opinions and just listen.

I think a part of my maturity and growth was realizing that real courage comes from anyone willing to open up about themselves, even if they are afraid of being judged.

Now when people come to me for help or advice, instead of condemning them for the things that I may not agree with or think are right, I take the time to just listen and allow them to go through what happened and how they feel about it.

I realize that when I show understanding, I get a bigger picture of what goes on in people’s lives—that some decisions are much more complicated than they seem.

Even though we may care deeply about a friend in a bad situation and all we want to do is tell them how to fix it, sometimes just by listening we are helping them in more ways than we know.

For example we can help a person get better clarity about what they want to do, or what feels right to them.

Also, what we may consider to be a mistake might actually turn out to be a blessing in the end.

Although I messed up some things in my life, if I never made mistakes, maybe I would not have put so much thought into my the fact that I had been judgmental of others who went through similar situations before me.

I may not have made this connection, which ultimately had a positive impact on my outlook, and hopefully on the people I care about.

Through these lessons, I learned how important it is to exercise patience when I am upset with someone. Now I make sure to spend time thinking through a situation for as long as I possibly can before I confront anyone and potentially create an even bigger problem.

Usually I end up realizing that I overreacted, or that I am really not as bothered about something I initially thought I was.

When I give myself time to think through things instead of speaking up impulsively, I have space to recognize what I truly value. Then I really know the things I can or cannot let go of before I speak up.

I think a large part of growth and maturity is realizing that everyone makes mistakes and nobody is perfect. Although it might be easy to lose patience with others, or think what they are doing is wrong, we must keep in mind that we’re not in their place.

We may think someone’s actions are wrong at one point in our lives, but find ourselves acting the same way when put in a similar situation.

Keeping this lesson in mind, I always try to remember to be mindful when giving advice to another, especially when I have no idea of how I would act in that particular situation.

While I still see the importance in having opinions and feeling passionate about things, I see even more importance in questioning my beliefs, and watching them grow, expand, and change.

Whereas I used to believe in always speaking up or stating my opinion, I now see the healing power of being humble and really taking time to listen and carefully think things through.

Opinions can be valuable when they are put to good use—such as the opinion that we’d rather make our loved ones feel better, not worse.

Photo by David Noah 1

About Kristin Carvalho

Kristin Carvalho is a Canadian student currently studying law in the UK. She hopes to become a law teacher one day so that she can make legal studies engaging and interesting for future students to come. Her greatest joys are traveling, exploring, writing, and trying new foods.

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  • paula weadon

    I need to work on this. My thoughts and opinions fly out of my mouth before I even have a chance to think them through.

  • lv2terp

    Fantastic blog, thank you so much for this post!!! This is something I have struggled with for so LONG, it is nice to get these reminders in such a wonderful message! 🙂

  • aye

    Thank you for writing this. I did this so often as a teenager and never realized how hurtful it was until I sought help after a traumatic event. It’s nice to know I wasn’t the only one. We all live and learn!

  • Mel

    Love this, thank you! I am currently working on my listening skills, it really gave me more understanding why it is more important to listen than talk, thank you x

  • Kristin Carvalho

    Hello Mel! Thank you very much for taking the time to read my writing and to comment.
    I am very humbled by your response.

    Sometimes listening can be really hard! Especially if it’s something I don’t want
    to hear (hehe). But in the end I find that if I give myself time to take it in
    and mull over it, (at my own pace) I begin to understand an opinion I
    originally rejected, or soften to the idea. Everyone has their own pace. Giving
    yourself time is key. 🙂

  • Kristin Carvalho

    Hello Aye thank you for your lovely comment. I also went
    through this experience through my teenager years. I thought I had
    everything figured out but as I got older I began to realise life is not so one
    way as I once thought. It is our differences that really make life interesting!
    I feel very humbled that you were able to relate to my writing, and glad to know
    that there are others who have put similar thought into this idea.

  • Kristin Carvalho

    Hello Iv2terp!
    Thank you so much for reading and responding to my post. It’s interesting that
    you mention reminder because I originally started writing this when I was upset
    over a situation with a friend as a reminder to myself as to why I should keep
    cool and think about the situation before I spoke up or confronted that friend.
    And funny enough it really worked – I waited – then finally my friend and I
    talked about the situation at the perfect moment. I thought about it so much
    that I wasn’t even upset by the time we talked about it, I was just so glad to
    be able to talk to my friend.

    It’s always a constant struggle, in balancing speaking up and listening. But it’s
    always good to have reminders to keep us aware of this balance. 🙂 cheers!

  • Kristin Carvalho

    Hi Paula! Thank you so much for reading and commenting on
    this post. I think many people struggle with this. Because if you listen too
    much you might have repressed thoughts or feelings you want to get off your chest, and those can build up and bother you. But if you speak up really quickly you might regret the things you say. It’s definitely hard to balance the two.

    For me I find by not saying the opinions I originally want to say in the heat of the moment and walking away is helpful. Then I can calm down and think about it first before I speak up impulsively and cause any fights or resentments with my friends. And by the end if it still does bother me I am usually a lot more calm and rational, so the conversation or confrontation is less heated and more productive.

    Opinions are great but they definitely evolve and change when you give yourself the time to think them through.

    Cheers 🙂

  • After reading this post, I have started to wonder that am I really a good listener or not. What I defined in my mind the quality of a good listener was that, he truly listens to what other person is saying, feels the emotion the person is feeling and then provides a sound advice (be it a harsh truth). Somehow, my relations with my loved ones are getting weak because of this, but in the end they still come to me because they think I am a confident person with a stable state of mind, who can provide a good advice.
    But now I have realized a bit that the last quality of a good listener which I thought, is not right. Sometimes not saying anything and letting it flow is a better thing to do. Thanks for making me ponder over this mis-judgement of mine of being a good listener! 🙂
    Still wondering how am I going to repair the damage I’ve already done to my relations. 🙁

  • lv2terp

    Thank you for this reply, I am grateful to see the power of this at work in your example, and glad that it proved to be so positive for you! Thank you for sharing this tool and your experience! Cheers back 🙂

  • Kristin Carvalho

    Hi Chetan. Thank you so much for responding 🙂 I think the fact that you even take the time to listen and care to empathize with your love ones emotions is a truly wonderful quality. It’s difficult sometimes because all you want to do is help your loved ones, especially when you see them struggling, you want to give advice and gear them in the direction you think will help and it can just make them even more upset. It is a hard thing because you never know what someone needs. But by letting them speak about it and showing your concern (such as your empathy) or connecting with what they are feeling, I am sure you are helping them more than you know.

  • Leah

    Thank you, I needed this.

  • Leah

    me too.

  • Geppetto

    Great article… It is hard for us to do these things you mention, us who measure out our lives in coffee spoons, but it is always important to try…

    At the same time, although contentious, if your impulses implore revealing a harsh truth, having ‘patience’ is akin to treason…

    Medicine is often bitter.

  • Ashima

    You are one strong and inspirational woman …and of course beautiful inside and out. I love you so much babe xo.

  • Leo

    The only thing I can tell you right now is… Thank you! Great article

  • Alyana Abrantes

    I needed this badly, thank you for posting an article like this. It helped me open my mind more, especially now. I cannot thank you how much this lifted a heavy burden from me.

  • aj Hsfgs

    I believe most of our reactions towards people close to us are infact our reactions to ourselves placed in the similar situation. Il explain this, whenever faced with a person who has been through an event/ has done something/ lied/ or is in any situation and when he talks to us about it, we tend to judge him with respect to what would we have done placed in the same event/ circumstance or situation. We tend to judge the person according to our experience and understanding. This might also bring anger to us if the person handled things in a different way that what we would do. I think a that larger part of understanding someone includes also wrecking yourself to thing about why the other person is what he is, his background and upbringing and ofcourse his cirumstances. This is the harder right we must always take. Judging is never the solution.