We’ve all felt that gut-punching sting of being really hurt by someone else.
If you’re human, you’ve been wronged, wounded or betrayed by someone at some point in your life.
The unfairness of it all strikes pain right to the very heart of even the strongest of people. These wounds are made up of anger, shame, confusion, frustration, and absolute agony.
The first thing we try to do when we feel these things is to try to make them feel better. We much prefer feeling connected and joyful because it comes with a sense of peace. Conflict feels heavy and weighty.
When we crave peace, our natural inclination is to forgive and move forward. But we sense deep down that if true healing doesn’t occur, these steps will just be attempts to bypass the hurt. They won’t be really coming from the heart.
Forgiveness comes more easily when we can see and understand the other’s point of view and feelings, and they can see ours. If we’re pretty self-aware, we can see how we may have contributed to the interaction as well. With some communication, both parties can come to a mutual understanding of what happened and learn how to prevent it from happening again.
However, if we’re not aware of the underlying processes and perspectives, it can become much more difficult to make it all better.
Even when we are aware, the emotional pain can make it difficult to overcome easily. There are some wounds that are just too deep to heal without tremendous scarring — the damage is catastrophic. We might want to forgive, but we just can’t.
No matter our level of awareness, the easiest thing to do is to blame someone for committing such heinous acts — whether we turn the blame on the other person, or we turn the blame on ourselves. Someone must take responsibility.
The blame mentality
When we are in a state of blaming, we are really just all up in our own heads.
Blame allows some form of logical certainty over the situation. The emotional pain of deep hurt is amorphous and confusing, and it’s natural to want to figure out a reason for it.
Blame forces us into a fixed perspective of who is at fault. If we can figure out who is at fault, then responsibility can be taken.
We can turn the blame inwards and think we’re the cause of the whole thing. This leads to tremendous guilt and shame, and being angry at ourselves.
Or we can turn the blame outwards and think the other person holds the fault. This leads to a lot of anger and aggression (which includes passive-aggressive or active-aggressive behaviours).
There can also be a lot of grief to process, especially if the hurt comes as a surprise or indicates that the relationship isn’t what you thought it was or should be like.
When someone gets hurt, we believe that someone must take responsibility for it. We can’t live with the pain without taking steps to fix it. Responsibility is the first step.
However, the problem with laying fault at the feet of one person over the other lies in perspective: every person involved, or even just observing, has a subjective opinion on who should get blamed.
Blame is based on “should.”Blame is a mental position which is based on a 'should.' If you remove the should, what happens?Click To Tweet
He should have done this. She shouldn’t have said that. He should be this way instead. She should know better. He should know how that makes me feel.
And the other person might be thinking the same thing about you too.
When two people are fixed in the mental battles of the shoulds, nothing is really understood. Defences are up, verbal weapons are drawn, and another battle is gearing up to take place.
The argument goes round and round, never truly fixing the dynamics underlying the hurt and the pain.
And in cases of tremendous abuse, we know that it isn’t a case of who is at fault: the answer is obvious. Further, it seems impossible to consider an abuser’s perspective. But the anger and resentment simmer away, preventing healing and joy from arising. We aren’t willing to forgive but still want to feel better within ourselves. What do we do then?
Forgiveness as a means to bypass the hurt
Many of us, especially if we see ourselves as “good” and “loving” people, don’t like the feeling or energy of sitting with blame. It doesn’t feel good to be angry and aggressive. It doesn’t feel good to be hurt. It doesn’t feel good to be confused.
So naturally we are taught to forgive. According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, to forgive is to stop feeling resentment against someone. We choose to forgive — it is a deliberate and voluntary internal process.
But by this definition, forgiveness is a mental position just as blame is. Forgiveness is a decision to not feel the negative feelings and blame is a reinforcement of the negative feelings.
However, the reason why so many people have trouble forgiving is that it cannot be used as a means to bypass all the bad feeling emotions.
Forgiveness can’t be a band-aid for deep wounds.Forgiveness comes as a result of true healing; it doesn't cause healing in itself.Click To Tweet
True healing comes from much more than just a mental choice to not feel certain things.
The heart of the matter
Usually, the rift between two people that causes hurt is much deeper and longer than the current tension. It is made up of patterns and pain stories that have been accumulating since each person’s birth, and these patterns began in relationship with our parents.
When we are hurt by someone, or we hurt someone else either deliberately or unconsciously, we have to become aware of the underlying reasons for it.
Our motivations have to do with love (conditional and unconditional) and fear.
We want to be heard, seen, and understood. We want to be unconditionally loved and accepted. We want to feel important, significant or powerful. We want to be in control so that we can trust that we have what we need. We want to be able to make our own decisions and choices.
We fear rejection and abandonment. We fear being ignored. We fear losing something: freedom, positive regard, status, roles, resources.
All of these desires and fears come from what we didn’t get from our parents, and we spend our entire lives trying to achieve them for ourselves.
We each have our own emotional motivations which drive all of our interactions and which, if triggered, lead to getting hurt or being the person who delivers the hurt.
And you can bet that if you’re feeling a desire to be unconditionally loved and accepted, and fearing the loss of something or someone, the other person in the equation is also feeling that way. But you’re each just seeing the current interaction through your own unique lenses and past experiences.
In order to get to forgiveness, empathy is needed: for our own pain and for the other’s pain.
And in order to truly empathize, we need to be accepting rather than blaming. Acceptance doesn’t judge someone as being good or bad, right or wrong. Acceptance knows the deeper truth: that our actions arise out of pain and that everyone has pain.
Acceptance and empathy hold this pain in loving arms. It doesn’t help to throw the baby out with the bathwater in a forced drive to forgive so that the pain isn’t felt any longer.
Healing the pain instead of bandaging it over
So how do we actually begin to witness and the heal the pain?
- Start with emotional honesty. I feel __________. Recognize that when we preface our emotions with “You made me feel…” it is another form of blame. Then it becomes less about the emotion and more about pushing the responsibility away.
Emotional honesty is just accepting that you feel a certain way. Whether it is bad or good, it doesn’t matter. If it feels heavy or dark, allow it to be. You don’t have to switch it for something more positive. Give yourself permission to just feel how you feel, and you can feel this way for as long as it takes.
- Empathize with yourself. That means allowing yourself to feel what you feel without judgment of how you should be feeling, or what you should be doing to make it better. In your own self-talk, use the kind of voice that a very loving friend would use. Sit beside yourself (figuratively, not literally of course) and just listen to how you feel. Comfort yourself with soothing self-talk; try not to rile yourself up even more or talk yourself into feeling another way.
- Notice how you feel compelled to act. Do you feel compelled to blame? Do you feel compelled to avoid the whole thing? Do you feel compelled to talk to the person who hurt you? Do you feel compelled to vent to a third party? Do you feel compelled to communicate in a passive-aggressive way in the hopes that the other person will just know how you feel?
These are the patterns of habits that are learned through years of interactions with other people, and they started with viewing our parents in conflict with each other, and how they handled conflict with us.
Try not to tell yourself that you should do something else (watch those shoulds!). But just notice that this is what you usually do and just sit with it for a while.
You don’t need to act immediately. If someone else is goading you to act or respond right now, you can explain that you’d like to process things more and will respond later. If you feel comfortable saying “Let’s talk in ____ minutes” (or days or weeks or whatever), then it gives you room without setting them off in a panic that you’re just running away (which is awful for those who get anxious).
- Acknowledge your ruminating thoughts. Are you constantly running over the scenario in your mind again and again? Are they focused on fault or responsibility? Are they only focused on the problem and not the solution? Are they trying to convince you that you’re right and the other person is wrong? Are they shaming you, telling you that there’s something wrong with you or that you are a bad person?
These are the fixed and hard mental positions that can wind people up into more anger and aggression, or they can spiral into depression and anxiety.
If you’re able to empathize with your feelings, and your thoughts become kind instead of critical, the situation need not spiral out of control. You can acknowledge the reality of what is occurring without making it so meaningful that it becomes destructive.
- Accepting conflict for what it is. Conflict is really just a disagreement of perspective, seen through the lens of pain. We cannot avoid conflict or disagreement, but we can acknowledge and honour each person’s perspective. Acceptance means that the difference of opinion is acknowledged, but neither person is necessarily right or wrong/bad or good — it’s all a matter of subjective perspective.
Sometimes that means that conflict can be healed and worked out eventually. And other times that means that two people need to go their separate ways to be healthy. There is a grief process that we go through when we encounter conflict because we have to let go of what we thought the relationship would be, or should be, and recognize it for what it is. Conflict encourages us to drop our expectations and meet each other honestly, even if it’s not in a pretty place.
- Set loving boundaries. What do you need in order to come together in agreement with the other person? Do you need soft voices? Do you need someone to listen? Do you need presence? Do you need someone to understand your point of view? You can set and communicate these boundaries in a calm manner, and it is up to the other person to decide whether he or she can meet them. If not, what are the consequences? What are you prepared to do or not do?
- Communicate clearly. Beware of having expectations that the other person “should just know” what you need. None of us are mind readers. Instead of the power of premonition, you are probably seeking empathy and understanding, which are different than “just knowing.” And you have to communicate constructively in order to receive empathy and understanding. When we have expectations that we don’t communicate, we will get frustrated when they inevitably aren’t met.
- Turn the mirror on yourself. Try to become aware of the expectations you are setting but which you aren’t meeting yourself: are you expecting empathy but not willing to give it until you get yours first? Are you wanting calm but finding your own voice raised in defence? Are you wanting someone to listen to you but not really hearing them either? What we want to get, we must also be prepared to give.
- Stay open. Closing ourselves off never brings the connection and intimacy that we truly desire. The closing is a protective mechanism — it allows us to prevent future pain, but it also stops the good stuff from getting in too. When we close ourselves off, we stop trusting that relationships can become healed. For real trust to be borne, vulnerability is needed; and vulnerability cannot be present when we are closed down.
In any relationship, there needs to be a willingness to be vulnerable from both people. In order to heal our pain, we need to acknowledge it and that means being honest about it. Being vulnerable can be scary because we risk exposing our deepest selves. Yet love grows in those deep places. That’s where the roots take hold.
We’d love to hear your wisdom when it comes to blame and forgiveness. Leave a comment and tell us how you handle being hurt in relationships.
What helps you to heal the rifts, and what prevents healing from occurring?
What have you learned about yourself from past conflicts?
When conflict arises, what are your real needs and desires?
Keep shining the insight light,