In my family the concept of “I’ll hurt you before you hurt me” was our modus operandi. It manifested itself most acutely at the dinner table. For years it went undetected, until my sister-in-law, Meg, came into our lives. As my father, brother (Mike), and I went about this destructive behavior, Meg became quieter and quieter until she said nearly nothing at family gatherings. I began to take offense, thinking that she didn’t like us. It turns out that she was so embarrassed and offended by our behavior toward each other that she dreaded dining with us.
So what is the “I’ll hurt you before you hurt me” behavior? Our preferred method of interaction was insult, verbally dismember, and set off the other person before they could do it to you. In our dysfunctional world, this is how we got attention, and how we deflected our internal pain and personal inadequacies. I can’t speak for my brother, although to my knowledge he hasn’t dealt with this in therapy. I only came to terms with this by dissecting my relationship with my father in therapy.
I repeated this behavior outside of my family on a regular basis – with boyfriends, coworkers, pretty much anyone who I wanted to feel superior to. I was so insecure about my own emotions that all I knew how to do was attack. The primary emotion inside was vitriol – toward myself – and the only way I knew to feel better about myself was to make others feel bad. Of course, this was all subconscious at the time. I lost many a boyfriend, and even a job, plus alienated many childhood friends along the way.
With my boyfriend Justin, I would nag, criticize, and insult, just so that I wouldn’t have to deal with the emotions that I was feeling. Subconsciously I felt that he was probably going to hurt me or leave me or alienate me, so I did it to him first in an attempt to avoid getting hurt. How ridiculous is that?!
As I matured, but before entering therapy, I began to realize that my bitter tongue could get me …