Often in my college programs I share the story of how my best friend from kindergarten started out our 6th grade year by telling me I was too fat to be her friend. She told me it was because she wanted to be popular in middle school and I was too fat to be seen with.
Retelling this story is both painful and vindicating. It is painful because each time I tell it, I revisit the shock and shame I felt when she spoke those words. It is vindicating because in the retelling, I realize I am stronger now and have more coping tools to withstand such an incident were it to occur today.
But one thing I have only more recently realized is that I wasn’t the only one who was in pain that day. The truth is, happy, healthy people don’t hurt other people. Why would they? Who would want to mess up feeling happy and healthy?
But hurting people – well, that’s a different story. Hurting people hurt other people all the time. Sometimes the hurt is so deep and vast and overwhelming that it even just spills out and they can’t control it no matter how much they want to or wish that they could.
Who knows what Leslie was going through when she “divorced” herself from our longstanding best friendship that day. One thing I do know, however, is that it must have been pretty painful. She must have felt pretty scared. She must have felt she needed that popularity so much – like she needed oxygen.
It is so difficult when people hurt us – or at least I find it very difficult. Some people, because of their work or their personality or for various reasons, just seem to have thicker skins for these sorts of life experiences. But despite the fact that I work with a group of folks who are often encountering their own mortality on a daily basis (and in their fear might at times do or say just about anything to get basic survival needs met) I have never developed that thicker skin.
In other words, when people hurt me, intentionally or not, consciously or not, it still hurts me. A lot.
So what I do is to first notice that I’ve been hurt. If I don’t notice my own hurt I will be quite tempted to just indiscriminately blame the person who hurt me – easily forgetting that they are already hurting enough as it is.
Then I try to feel my own hurt. I also often try to talk about it with someone who loves me unconditionally so I can hear a friendly voice as soon as possible after the hurtful incident has occurred.
Next I try to stand in their shoes and imagine that, were I to suddenly become them, what might have prompted me to hurt me? Sometimes this helps me discern what might be going on. Other times it doesn’t. But it does always help me to remember that we have two hurting people in the picture and not just one.
Finally, if possible and useful, I try to connect with the other person about it. Sometimes it is not possible – at those very same college programs I am often asked where Leslie is now and what she is doing. I don’t know. I lost touch with her after middle school. As well, sometimes it is not useful – like when I am afraid of that person, if they are still very mad or upset at me, or if I think they might do me a harm.
But this process – processes in general – help me a lot when I am feeling hurt, stressed, stretched or otherwise compromised in my own sense of security and self. And doing something constructive and productive – anything at all – always works better than doing nothing at all to attempt to ease the pain for all concerned.
Today’s Takeaway: What do you do when someone hurts you? How do you think through it and respond? Do you react – never, always, sometimes? What works best for you to heal – and heal the relationship as well wherever possible?
Hurtful girls image available from Shutterstock.
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Last reviewed: 20 May 2013