Understanding VS Acceptance
If there is one thing that every human’s emotional body has in common, it is that they seek to be understood to one degree or another. Whether this is a conscious action or an unconscious reaction, we all have been in a situation where all we wanted was to be understood. And this is the main source of conflict in the world.
Here is a very low risk example of what I mean:
Let’s say you work at a restaurant. You and your coworker decide to carpool and you arrive 15 minutes early for a 10 minute prep, which should still leave you 5 minutes to spare before opening, right? Well, on this particular day you arrive and customers are already waiting outside. In your eyes this is not a problem! The customers know what time you open and you still have plenty of time to get everything set up before you unlock the doors. However, your coworker does not see it the same way. To him this IS a problem. In his eyes if the customers are there before you that makes you late. This immediately throws him into a panic so you ask him what is wrong. “We’re late” he says, “We have to hurry and get everything set up, customers are already waiting!”
This makes you confused. What does he mean we’re late? In your eyes you are perfectly on time! This starts an argument. You feel attacked and now he feels disrespected, simply because you both could not understand the way the other felt. This then creates a rift between you. You stop your carpool, he shows up 30 minutes early and always has something rude to say when you show up at the 15 minute mark. You both start to talk smack behind each other’s backs, and seemingly overnight a person who was once your friend has now become your enemy.
This is where the difference between understanding and acceptance could have saved your relationship. You see, you could never truly understand how your coworker felt. You do not have the same life experiences he had that brought him to the conclusion you were late, just as he does not have the same life experiences you had that brought you to the conclusion you were on time. You both have different life maps! Neither one is right or wrong, they are simply different. And once you can both accept that your maps are different, you can move forward without judgement, loving each other for who you are instead of seeking to be understood.
So how does this relate to bipolar?
Well, I don’t know about you, but after I first received my diagnoses, the phrase “you just don’t understand“ fell out of my mouth on repeat like a broken record. I wanted so deeply to be understood by someone, but no matter how badly I wanted it, no one I knew could truly relate. This is something I still struggled with to some extent until recently.
One day I was sliding into a state of mania and had to leave my husband and my business abruptly to calm myself before it got out of hand. I looked back to try and get a read on my husband’s face, as I was leaving the work load on his shoulders. In a moment of insecurity I asked, ”Are you mad at me?” To which he replied, “No, Shan, I’m not mad at you. I just don’t understand and that’s ok.”
It was in that moment I realized that I don’t need to be understood by my husband, or anyone else for that matter. The man I love who I most desperately wished could understand me instead ACCEPTED and LOVED me just as I was despite not being able to understand how I felt.
All we truly need are relationships where we are accepted fully as we are. Where we can feel safe to be all of ourselves including our bipolar. No masking, no fake smiles, just true friendships where both parties accept that the other is uniquely different. That is not good or bad, right or wrong, it just is what it is and our maps can run parallel to each other without having to be identical.
Now mind you, this does not create a free pass for manic depressive explosions. When someone accepts you that does not mean that you get to use them as a punching bag whenever you have an episode. If your emotional body is compromised that needs to be communicated and your action plan steps implemented immediately. (Reference my husband and my contingency plan if you are unaware of what I am talking about).
Growth is still necessary.
Let me ask you this: In the aftermath of an episode, do you ever reflect on your actions and think, "Wow, that was definitely the best version of me I could have possibly brought to the table."?
I didn't think so. Usually, post episode, whatever I remember makes me ill. I get physically nauseous simply thinking about my actions. And even when I don't remember I am overwrought with guilt.
Just as much as someone accepts you, you need to learn to accept yourself. And your part in this is self understanding, as we are the only person that will ever 100% undoubtedly understand what we go through. In my personal experience, understanding how my brain operates, understanding my own triggers, and understanding the steps that are necessary to protect those I love from the worst versions of myself, are what truly led me to self acceptance.
YOU ARE ENOUGH. God made you perfect just as you are. There is no need to search for perfection because every blemish, every quirk has been made perfectly for you and your journey here on this Earth. Can you better yourself? Of course! But there is no need to search for perfection because you are already perfectly made. Your challenges were given to you and only you, so that somewhere in your lifetime you may be able to help even one person that can relate. And as for the people who do not understand but still accept you as you are; hold them dear and hold them close. Those who cannot accept you? Let them fall to the wayside. Some people were only meant to be in your story for a chapter, not as main characters that hold through with you until the end; and they always end up finding a way to weed themselves out.