Arrrgggghhh! I hate it when people say: “I know exactly what you’re going through”. (or how you feel)
No, you don’t!
You don’t even have a hint, let alone know exactly what I’m going through. By definition, ‘exact(ly)’ means no differences! As in, every aspect is the same. It is a mathematical absolute!!
So, really? You think you know exactly how I’m feeling or what I’m going through? Really?
Obviously, I had a situation in my own life come up recently where I had someone say to me, one too many times, that they knew exactly how I felt or I wouldn’t be writing this diatribe! And after I complained I wasn’t getting ranty enough, I thought this could be a good one if I got going enough. 🙂 This situation was a petty thing, really, but hearing that phrase again set me off.
I’m reminded of a childhood story – the one in which I learned the difference between “exactly” and “similar”. We were in a restaurant in Quebec with my maternal grandparents. I was wearing my brand new pink pantsuit (probably polyester, but I loved it anyway) and I was about 6 years old. Presently, another young girl with blonde hair and a pink shirt walked by our table and I exclaimed:
“Look, mommy, that girl looks exactly like me, except she’s wearing a skirt and she’s shorter and she has green eyes, and….!”.
Of course, she looked nothing like me except for a pink shirt and blonde hair! The moral of that story is the lecture I got from mom in order to understand the difference between exact and similar, but I digress.
Whether it’s a positive or a negative experience, no one can ever know exactly how an experience is affecting you. Not even your spouse can know exactly. They may be better able to predict how you will respond to certain stimuli with a certain degree of accuracy, but that does not equal understanding exactly how you feel.
To be more precise, they can “empathise” with how you’re feeling. And let’s not forget that empathy and sympathy are not the same either! Sympathy is feeling sorry for someone, empathy is feeling your own sorrow from a similar situation. And perhaps it is a limited mass understanding of empathy that causes idiots everywhere to believe that just because they can accomplish empathy, they know how you feel.
Here is why I hate that phrase. As we have already established, no one can know all the nuances of your situation. To generalize a situation means you’ve already discarded half of the possible cause/effect relationships. In this way, one is trying to match up two unique situations and call them the same. So, let’s call that blinder number one. Secondly, they are not you! They do not experience the world with the same effect that you do. Blinder number two.
So when someone says: “I know exactly what you’re going through” to me, I want to tell them to simply piss off and take their blinders off, but I’m just a little too polite for that. If I’m moaning, I want your validation, not your empathy (or your sympathy, for that matter!).
Instead of getting mad, I like to get even. I make it a pity party, encouraging them to replay their emotional state for each circumstance in detail for me and then I point out where we differ. It’s my fun way of proving to them they haven’t a clue. I’m entertained by watching them squirm. (shit, that’s just evil!)
Some people see right through my vengeful charade, give up and concede the point so we can move forward. But there are those stubborn ones, who keep insisting we are on the same page, which means we will never, ever get there. I am stubborn too, and until you realize I’m right and you’re wrong; that you don’t understand how I feel…. to those people I say: “silly me, I forgot I can’t learn you nuthin’, acos you already know it all”.