Another post based on a spin off from another conversation.

Someone was using the phrase “you can’t begin to understand unless you’ve been there.”
What it was in relation to was irrelevant, because the very language is the opposite of the truth.  That is exactly what you can do if you haven’t been there.  You can ONLY begin to understand.

If you’ve never suffered from actual depression then you will find it hard to comprehend fully how it impacts on a person and their life, their family and their long term wellbeing.    If you aren’t or don’t have Aspergers/Autism in yourself or your family then you will never get the same depth of subjective understanding that experiencing it can.  The same with many many other things, being blind, being bereaved, schizophrenia, being a redhead, being a person of colour, being a girl, being a boy… all have a varied degree of impacts on a persons life experience, and some of that impact is utterly subjective.

It is true that an important part of understanding comes from first hand experience.  It is only an element of truth tho. It is not the only way.

I agree there is nothing like personal experience for fully understanding in some ways, but personal experience has draw backs, someone who hasn’t experienced something might be more likely to base their view on a wider ranging input. Someone who has experienced something personally might sometimes be guilty of assuming others experience is just the same as theirs, not realising the range of ways a thing can show itself.

There are many different ways of understanding anything.
Personal subjective experience is only one of those ways, and the depth of understanding is sometimes stronger because a person has good empathy rather than because they’ve been there themselves.

Second hand personal subjective experience can be gathered by reading works by good writers who can explain what their experience of it was like with clarity and understanding, with the advantage that we can have multiple variations of that personal subjective experience.

There is also the objective experience of a thing.  This can also be sympathetic or compassionate but isn’t clouded by experiencing it and the emotional reactions or historic associations, a bigger picture overcomes our tendancy to use our own lives as a milestick of expectation and assumptions for others.  So someone who suffered childhood abuse neglect might deny that they suffered any harm from it, but an outsider might see them acting out if the issues haven’t been made concious, addressed and made peace with.

The deepest understanding is going to come from someone who is emotionally mature, has strong empathy, has a wide range of input from other peoples experience, and has their own experience to draw on as well as that, but who essentially also has the wisdom to recognise that their own experience is only definitive of themselves, not of that experience for everyone, and has processed any strong associations which colour their reaction.

So you absolutely can very much begin to understand things if you haven’t been there yourself, it’s exactly what you do, begin to understand and create a foundation to build better understanding on, it’s just whether you can fully understand the nuances and depth of it’s impact without more layers of understanding that could be questioned. Even then an emotionally mature person will recognise that there may always be aspects and be open to learning more.

So don’t drive people away telling them they can’t possibly understand, work on your own communication skills and start to learn to explain it so you can help them understand.