Unanticipated Lessons

People watching

Image by dobrych via Flickr

All of us want to be understood.

I’ve been finishing up my beloved experiment the past month. Flipping through my notes and rereading how it all began in the pages of my little black leather notebook that has been so faithful to me. I’ve heard stories of experimenters learning things from their experiments that they never planned to, things that are not completely relevant to their research, but are still striking and noteworthy, things that stick with them for their entire lives. I have learned one of these things from my Rorschach experiment:

People, even if they do not realize it this instant, want to be understood with a profound fiber of their being.

After each inkblot exam I would go through my notes and Rorschach textbooks, and work out a profile using Rorschach’s methods of interpretation. After a profile was worked out, I would type up a transcript of the interview (typically video or audio recorded) and add that to the file, along with miniatures of each inkblot so they can see what I mean when I refer to a card number in their file. The typical reaction when given the manilla folder is often first amusement, and then clear curiosity as they flip it open and read the pages. And then, even if I see them a week later for the response of accuracy, they often become suddenly emotional. One point after another expressing the most accurate areas and sharing personal life stories with me, tears nearly filling their eyes. Because after so long, the words on the pages in that folder mean that they are understood.

“Wow, I can’t – I can’t believe this.” One girl said as she put a hand to her mouth and stared at the papers in disbelief, “I didn’t know anyone could see this about me.”

More often than not, I see things in their responses that I never intended to. Everything from inferiority complexes to indescribable capabilities for creativity and vision. I’ve seen the hidden pain and abilities of strangers, and I’ve seen their hearts suddenly jump to their sleeves when they realize I can see who they truly are, when they could hardly convince themselves.

The point of the inkblot experiment was to test the validity of the Rorschach, and point of the interviews and inkblot responses was to get basic elements of personality to compare against the MMPI for accuracy. The point was never to uncover the depth of grief, struggle, and self-doubt that I found in people I had been walking past every other day during the semester without a second thought. I now walk out my front door, see all of these human beings around me, and think with bitter realization how everyone is walking around with that pain, regret, hidden potential and ambition, with those dreams and shame and sadness and hope. I cannot look another human being in the eye without wanting to ask them to tell me their story and let me help them.

Our hearts ache with gratitude and relief when we are understood, truly understood, by anyone, even a stranger. Because something so inherent, something that feels unattainable, unreachable, impossible, is that the notorious veil would be ripped off, and a pure part of our hearts or dark part of our past is revealed, and we are finally seen, finally reached, finally understood.



4 thoughts on “Unanticipated Lessons

  1. I found this to be very moving and profoundly true. I agree, we all just want to be understood. I have so often felt misunderstood and it is an almost heart-wrenching thing, even when the misunderstanding is of a trivial nature. Part of what is amazing and important to understand is that so many people feel the same way. We go through our lives very much wrapped up in ourselves, in our own feelings, that we don’t realize that others are going through the same things. If only more people would take the time to look around and see that others feel pain, too. Maybe the world would be a better place, friendlier and more compassionate.

    You seem to be a very thoughtful and observant person, two good things to be.

    • Thank you, sincerely, for your comment. I agree. Sometimes one needs a moment of realization of the world outside oneself, of the thoughts and emotions of other people. I love the reality of empathy in people, how compassionate and understanding human beings can be.
      Thank you again, your comment is extremely thought-provoking.

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