Today, inspired by a challenging day I experienced earlier this month, I start my new “How To…” series.
And our first writing is on: How to Hurt Others
Why would you want to know how to hurt others? Because you are going to at some point, and there are ways to hurt that can heal and ways to hurt that can harm.
I’ve hurt many people in my lifetime, often because I was trying so hard not to hurt them. This caused me to withhold information, caretake mindlessly, and avoid dealing with things. Of course, this type of avoidance causes more problems and increased hurt, even if we feel we are doing it to be kind.
What I’ve come to learn is that we are actually less trustworthy when we are terrified to hurt other people. And why are we afraid to hurt other people? Because we don’t want to feel their pain, or our own pain. We are unwilling to step into the messiness that being human, and being true to ourselves, entails.
Now, I’m not talking about abuse or neglect or narcissism. These issues are about consciously hurting other people as a way to make oneself feel better. If you are in a relationship with someone who is repeatedly hurting you physically, verbally, or emotionally please know you do not deserve to be abused in any form. Get help so you can stop using someone else to hurt yourself.
In the course of normal human relationships, we are going to have our differences. I want this, you want that. And when we don’t get what we want, it can hurt. Sometimes that hurt is from a loss: when someone dies or ends the relationship or chooses someone else. Sometimes that hurt is from misunderstanding or confusion: when you hear one thing when they really meant something else. Sometimes that hurt is from an old wound that gets reactivated and starts bleeding and hurting anew.
95% of the time the hurt we feel is from past events getting re-stimulated by a present situation.
We each have a responsibility to soothe and heal our own hurt; we can’t expect anyone else to do that for us. We are also not responsible for soothing or healing other’s pain. And in intimate relationships, we can be a force that can help to heal past hurts when they arise, simply by knowing a few simple steps.
Here are the steps to bringing potentially hurtful information to another:
- Open your heart. Take a breath and connect to your care, respect, and love for the person. Take a moment to let go of your fears or your desires on how you want to respond, and imagine your heart connecting to their heart. Feel your gratitude for this person in your life. (Or at the least appreciate them as a fellow human being on a journey just like yours.)
- Get clear on your intent. Why are you telling them this information? Do you want to deepen intimacy by sharing your truth? (You can actually deepen intimacy and end or change the nature of a relationship.) Do you want to be authentic? Do you want them to understand where you are coming from? Are you simply speaking your experience or belief? Understand your larger motivation. It may be uncomfortable in the short run, but stay clear on what you want in the long run.
- Be honest. Speak or write what you want to say as clearly and directly as possible, while you keep your heart open. Let go of any expectations that what you are sharing will hurt or will not hurt them. Let them have their experience without trying to control or manipulate.
- Listen compassionately. Breathe. Keep eye contact or stay available to their response via phone, text, or email if you can’t communicate in person. Do your best not to disconnect. Also do your best to not justify, answer for them, or change the subject.
- Hold both your experiences. Pay attention if you have guilt, fear, or anxiety arise after you share your truth. Stay with yourself and don’t put this emotion onto them. They are not making you feel this way, you are feeling this way. Be compassionate towards yourself and your discomfort. Do your best to stay present with both of you. You can understand their hurt, but you also do not have to take it on. Remember, it is their hurt… you may be triggering it but they are ultimately responsible for what they will do next. Your caring presence may be what allows them to heal the past, now or sometime in the future.
- Keep letting go of expectations or story. Do your best to stay out of how they should be responding, and keep letting go of making up a story about yourself or them. Just show up, curious, open-hearted, and willing to be on a journey with them. That journey may mean you continue to dialogue and share your vulnerability and experiences with each other, or that you take a temporary (or permanent) break from each other to continue your individual healing.
Honest, authentic communication, especially when it has the potential to be hurtful to someone we love, can be really challenging. But once you dedicate yourself to compassionately sharing your truth, and honoring the truth of those close to you, you’ll find, with practice, that you become more and more free, compassionate, and loving.