I am a dense person. Or at least I used to be. I’d like to think I’ve grown some. Looking back and remembering how I used to interact with people is quite embarrassing.

I was the person who never understood the subtle relational cues. I was the person who stood there in silence because I didn’t know what to say during a conversation. I was the person who never understood poetry in English class. I was the person who always got really awkward when someone cried around me. I was the person who got so frustrated during art appreciation class because everyone else seemed to understand the deeper meaning behind art pieces. Meanwhile, I’m like, “That’s pretty.”

This one incident really sticks out in my mind. I was dating my now husband at the time and I was at a friend’s house watching a movie with a bunch of ladies. Josh calls me to see if I can hang out, so, of course, I want to drop everything and see him! The only trouble was that one of my friends was parked behind me. I asked her if she could move her car and she replied, “The movie’s almost over.”

What she meant was, “Can’t we just wait until the movie is over so I don’t have to pause it and go out of my way just so you can leave early to see your boyfriend?” What I heard was, “The movie is almost over. Don’t you want to watch the rest of it?”

So, dense that I was, I replied, “Oh, I’ve already seen this movie.” And I waited for her to go move her car.

Embarrassing.

There was no thought at all as to how I was affecting others.

My denseness had a lot to do with not being in touch with my emotions. Because I didn’t understand my emotions, I wasn’t able to understand, anticipate, or read the emotions of others. Actually, I didn’t even believe feelings to be valid or important at all. I never asked myself, “How would this make so-and-so feel?” It just wasn’t on my radar.

This lack of understanding caused me to feel that this world was dictated by a set of rules I had no knowledge of. In actuality, these “rules” were based in considering the feelings of others, but because I didn’t understand the world of emotions, none of these rules made sense. It was as if everyone else had access to some sort of written code of conduct and I was in the dark.

I always felt that there was something wrong with me, like there was some invisible wall keeping me from connecting with others and building deep relationships. I just didn’t know what my problem was.

Looking back, I can see that I wasn’t alone. Within our culture—and even our church culture—we tend to downplay emotions. We completely invalidate the feelings of others. We don’t know how to empathize. We consider our hearts totally evil and essentially worthless. We pride ourselves more on being right than on building bridges to people’s hearts.

The effect of all of this is that it becomes impossible to truly connect with others. How we relate to people is by connecting with how they feel and understanding their emotions. This is called empathy. We don’t need to experience the same situation as someone else when we can simply understand how they are feeling and how we would feel in that same circumstance.

For example, I’ve never experienced the death of a child, but I have friends who have. I can empathize with them when I am able to connect with the emotions they are feeling. I know what sadness feels like. I know what hopelessness feels like. I know what absolute confusion feels like. I know what it’s like to be angry with God. I can understand a little of what they are going through because I have bravely walked through my own pain.

I say all of this to communicate to those of you who consider yourselves to be dense and socially awkward: You’re not alone. And to the rest of you, have grace for those people who are difficult to connect with. Help them by being honest with your needs, feelings, and expectations. At times, you need to be very blunt and direct. If they’re at all like I was, they may not understand subtle cues in speech or complex emotions.

A very practical way of helping others (I use this with my kids) is by listening intently to someone as they share something emotional and then putting words to what they are expressing. For example: “Wow. That’s a tough situation. It sounds like you’re really feeling hurt by what that person said.” You’re connecting with this person’s heart by understanding their feelings.

The worst thing you can do is invalidate someone’s feelings. When someone is sad and we say something like, “Oh, it’s not that bad!” Or someone is hurting and we ignore them in their pain or, worse yet, laugh at them or belittle them. Or we attempt to “fix” someone. We’re uncomfortable with their emotions, so we try to get them to stop feeling that way.

My hope for all of us is that we can get better at communicating emotions, empathizing with others, and validating feelings. Let’s be brave by embracing our emotions as we seek Holy Spirit’s guidance. Read books and learn more about the inner workings of your heart in order to guide others in this journey.

Oh, and by the way, I understand those art pieces now.

Do you relate to this at all? Have you been that dense person or do you know people like that? Can you think of other helpful ways of encouraging healthy dialogue about emotions? Comment below!

For more on understanding your own emotions, I recommend:

The Emotionally Healthy Woman” by Geri Scazzero

The Emotionally Healthy Leader” by Peter Scazzero

Seven Desires of Every Heart” by Mark and Debra Laaser

How People Grow” by Henry Cloud

Changes that Heal” by Henry Cloud

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