In the most loving, positive relationships we will still find ourselves occasionally on the giving or receiving end of hurt. What do we do when through word or deed (or lack thereof) we hurt a loved one? How do we forgive ourselves? How do we move on? And what do we do when we’ve been injured by another? How do we forgive them? How do we move on?
To me, the important thing when we’re the injuring party is to ask for forgiveness – without hedging our culpability with explanations. It’s human nature to be defensive, because we don’t injure others deliberately. It’s horrifying to realize we’ve hurt someone else. We truly want to mitigate the damage, but we also have a strong instinct to protect ourselves from the situation we’ve caused.
And that’s the opposite of what we need to do. When we’ve injured someone, the correct response is to stand, defenses down, and allow them to have their reaction. Honor their response by BEING there. We don’t have to absorb it into our souls (in fact, we should not) but we need to be their friend and stand in solidarity with them, even – especially – when we have caused the pain. We’d do it if the source was other than ourselves. Love dictates that we do it when the source is us, too.
What do we do when we’ve been injured by another? First of all, it’s OK to feel what we feel. It’s OK to be angry and hurt. Those aren’t ‘bad’ emotions, they just are. But we’re so uncomfortable with them. To protect ourselves, we tend to have two reactions: disassociation or confrontation.
With disassociation, we distance ourselves from the person, and we try to distance ourselves from our feelings. The problem is, we can’t really do that. The feelings will burble under the surface and rise in insidious ways. This happened recently to me. In a moment of temper (initiated by a circumstance totally unrelated to me) a friend attacked with loud, angry words. I didn’t tell her how I felt, either in the moment or soon afterward. Instead, my reaction was to disassociate. For two months, I kept her at arm’s length, polite but not warm. I tried to bury my feelings of hurt and anger – tried to be ‘above’ it. But I began having nightmares. I found myself being hypersensitive to others, anticipating attack where I normally wouldn’t. I cried at odd times, for no reason that I could think of.
What was happening? I think that because I’d never voiced my pain, it was voicing itself. I was mistaken in trying to be ‘above’ the hurt. I shouldn’t have tried to ignore it or to will it away. What I should have done was to own my feelings. Share them. Give her the opportunity to apologize. To understand. I could have given us a chance to be even closer. Instead, I backed away. And that led to a deepening of those negative feelings. So that when I finally did email her, two months later, it was a stronger communication than it would have been initially. We still aren’t reconciled.
The other common response is confrontation. Fight fire with fire. When we’ve been hurt, some of us come out swinging. We retaliate by inflicting as much return damage as possible. The problem with this is that it doesn’t really make us feel any better. It just heightens our discomfort, pushing our adrenaline levels through the roof, triggering our flight-or-fight reaction. Except that the person in front of us ISN’T a sabertooth tiger, it’s someone we love. We don’t need to square up for the kill – we don’t even WANT to, not really. But the bat is arcing through the air, and it’s too late to pull our swing.
What is the right response? In hindsight (boy, I wish I could operate in hindsight more often) what I should have done with my friend is to write her the next day. Tell her how hurt I was and why. Give her the chance to stand in solidarity with me, to say, “Wow. I see how it looked to you, how it affected you. I’m so sorry.” We could have talked about how to avoid conflict in the future. We could have come away with an even stronger relationship. She might not have reacted well, and it might not have turned out that way. But I never gave her the chance. And she never gave me the chance, either.
Next time, I hope we will. Meanwhile, I miss my friend, and she misses me.
We’re all human. We’re all going to have bad days, we’re all going to have shallow moments where we react and hurt one another. It’s a guarantee. When we love others enough to put our guard down, occasionally we’re going to get hurt. What we have to remember is, we’re also going to get loved. We are going to get the community and relationship and camaraderie that we crave, that we as humans are created for. If we learn how to deal with the hurt, we can live in the joy!