Challenging People When They Say, ‘You Couldn’t Possibly Understand…’

By Rachel Puryear

Have you ever been in a highly emotionally charged argument with someone, and the other person countered your points with something like…”Well, of course you would see it that way. What could you possibly understand about my situation? You couldn’t possibly understand. You’ve never been there.”

If we’re being honest, we’ve probably all used this type of argument at some point, and also had it used on us. In some situations, it’s justified. For instance, it is appropriate to tell someone something to the effect of, “Walk a mile in my shoes before judging me.”

However, someone who habitually tells others, “You couldn’t possibly understand where I’m coming from…”, especially when they frequently do it to invalidate other people’s views without any consideration; may be doing it to emotionally manipulate others.

There are people who routinely use this type of argument as a means of shutting down even valid counterpoints. The essence of what they’re saying, when they say something like, “You couldn’t possibly understand…” is often actually, “I’m a bigger victim than you, so you cannot criticize me, ever.” Someone who does this is playing the victim – whether intentionally or not. If their behavior is intentional, they may also be a crybully.

There’s a profound difference between saying, “Try to understand me before making judgments”, versus, “You cannot understand, no matter what, so you just have to accept what I say without any criticism or counterpoints or different viewpoints.”

Now, why is the latter tactic often emotional manipulation?

A chess game, with one king capturing another king. By GR Stocks.

It gives no due consideration to the fact that human beings come to understand people with different perspectives, life experiences, and viewpoints all the time. For all the hatred and violence and injustice that exists in the world, people do an amazing job of improving their understanding of others and challenging their own views all the time. Unfortunately, though, this doesn’t tend to grab headlines the same way that conflict and polarization does.

A key part of what makes us all human is our ongoing efforts to try to better understand one another. This is, and has always been, an essential element of all human progress.

People with vast differences in life experience, perspective, and viewpoints can and have been able to reach a better mutual understanding of one another, by making some simple – but deeply powerful – efforts. Whatever differences you are having with another person, you can be assured that other people with differences as great or even greater than yours have been able to better understand one another before.

Therefore, when an emotional manipulator/crybully claims that you couldn’t possibly understand them, it’s usually not true, and they may very well know that on some level. So instead, they may be trying to get you to feel bad for them, so that you’ll give them what they want even though it doesn’t really make sense.

So what can you do when someone uses the “you couldn’t possibly understand…” on you? Well, fortunately, you have some options.

  • Tell them to make you understand. Insist that they express themselves, and also listen and try to see more about where they are coming from. Ultimately, you may not see things their way, and you may not come to an agreement – but this is the way people naturally come to understand one another, and has always been key to us doing so.
  • If they won’t at least attempt to communicate with you where they are coming from, and try to share how they feel with you and what’s on their mind, there’s probably not a lot of hope for that relationship in the longer run. It’s just going to be a lot of heartache and stress and giving more than your fair share, for not a lot in return and not meeting your needs very well. In this case, you might really want to rethink this relationship, and ask yourself what you’re actually getting out of it to put this much into it without much reciprocity.
  • Make sure the problem is not that you’re just not listening, or not making space for them to talk to you without unintentionally shutting them down. Sometimes, people might say “you couldn’t possibly understand…” not necessarily because they are emotional manipulators, but because they are exasperated from trying to communicate their way of seeing things in order to be better understood, and the other person doesn’t truly listen or is simply dismissive or overly argumentative or is defensive.
  • If they do try to explain to you where they are coming from, and why they view things differently than you do, listen. Don’t just think of counterarguments in your mind – just hear what they have to say. You can accept their different view and better appreciate where they are coming from, whether or not you actually change your own mind. At the end of the day, though, neither of you has to convince the other to adopt your point of view, in order to live together peacefully.

Thank you, dear readers, for reading, following, and sharing. Here’s to making the effort to better understand others, and to also helping others better understand us. If you enjoyed this content and want to see more of it, please hit “like” and subscribe, if you have not done so already. xoxo

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