How do we respond when someone hurts us?
Have you ever held open the door for someone, and they’ve just walked past and blanked you? Have you then wished you didn’t bother?
Or perhaps you’ve let someone go when driving and they didn’t acknowledge you?
Have you ever been hurt by a partner’s words or actions, and you’ve automatically reacted to their behaviour?
If someone’s behaviour causes us discomfort, it seems like the most natural thing in the World to react negatively to that person.
If someone’s behaviour is challenging, or downright hurtful or rude, it very understandably affects us emotionally.
But, if we start to look at this a bit deeper, this type of understanding begins to break down and starts making less sense.
For example, if I’m in a good mood, I tend to have better thinking. If then someone acts in such a way that might cause me some stress, or discomfort, I might think “meh” and let it go.
But if I’m feeling tired, stressed, upset already, and then someone acts in the same way, my reaction can be totally different. I might react with anger or become hurt and upset.
So, this alludes to the fact that there is another way of understanding our reactions to someone else’s behaviour.
What if we were more powerful than letting someone else’s actions affecting us?
And when I say affect us, I mean our security, groundedness, and sense of who we are.
In other words, the more secure we are in our thinking, and feeling, the less reactive we are and more understanding we are.
Understanding is power. And when it comes to relating to another human being, understanding brings compassion, and security to all involved.
So in order to understand, we need to look at what drives behaviour.
If someone is acting in a counterproductive way, this is always driven by feeling confused, hurt, or insecure.
Every single time someone acts in a hurtful way to another person, they are themselves hurting.
If someone is having insecure or confused thoughts, these thoughts led to insecure feelings and then maladaptive behaviours.
An example might be someone thinking that they are not good enough to be in a relationship. So they feel insecure, jealous and angry at times. This might then led to maladaptive behaviours like checking their partners phone, questioning them, and acting in unloving ways.
This in turn, might cause a self-fulfilling prophecy and cause the very thing they were fearing to happen, to occur.
But, let’s look at how we relate to this.
The below model I shows how if someone (‘THEM’) is acting according to their insecure thinking and feeling, it can cause us to have insecure thinking, leading to insecure feelings, and then we might also act counterproductively.
An example is that if our partner is criticising us, we might criticise them back.
Look again at the model above, and notice how the dotted arrow shows how we are relating to the person’s behaviour.
In other words, we are reacting to what they do.
Again, this seems very understandable, but there is another way.
What if instead, we responded to the person’s feelings?
Consider that if we were able to relate with understanding, to how that person must be feeling in order to act that way, we ourselves, feel very different.
If we remember that in order for someone to act in a counterproductive, way, to hurt us or criticise us, that they themselves are hurting.
Simply put, when we are secure, we act healthy. When we are insecure, we don’t.
If we really see that, why would we want to add to their suffering?
It’s a shift in mindset from focusing on what happened to us (their behaviour), and instead, considering how that person must have been feeling to drive them to that behaviour.
When we look at it this way, at their troubled state of mind, compassion naturally follows.
This is why we sometimes wonder why we ourselves acted a certain way. When we are feeling good, we might reflect on a time we acted counterproductively and ponder that our past behaviour doesn’t now make sense to us.
Have a look at the model below and notice how we relate to the person’s feelings that are driving their behaviour, we retain our secure sense of thinking. We then naturally feel understanding, which leads to feelings of compassion.
There’s a brilliant video you can look up called ‘step into the circle’. I invite you to watch it.
It will most likely give you feelings of understanding and compassion when you consider that the prisoners that have committed the worse crimes, have had the most terrible lives.
I do have to strongly note, that this doesn’t in any way condone harmful behaviour.
When we are applying this in our own lives, it doesn’t mean that we have to drop our boundaries and let someone walk all over us.
There’s a joke between Psychologists that goes something like ‘now that I understand so much about people’s behaviour, it’s impossible for me to get mad that them’.
But this is just a joke. Anger can be a natural and healthy response.
So what do we do if someone hurts us, and continues to hurt us?
What I’ve found is that when we respond from a place of compassion, it invites the other person to move into a different position themselves.
When I first tried this with my wife, the results were astounding. She had criticised me for something, and usually I would get upset and defend myself.
But when I saw past her words and looked underneath her behaviour, I saw her feelings of stress, and frustration. I saw her innocence.
I melted. ‘Why would I want to add to this’ I thought?
And I approached her with soft eyes, a gentle tone of voice and hugged her.
She then meted too. Immediately apologising and telling me she was having a tough time.
This response brough us closer together, creating connection, rather than disconnection.
So, what do you do when you relate to someone with understanding and compassion?
The behaviour will take care of itself.
I should also note, that I’m lucky enough that my wife is a wonderful human being. This doesn’t apply for extreme situations that are abusive in some way. If someone is hurting you physically, or emotionally, then the most compassionate and secure thing to do is to remove yourself from that person.
What we are doing is inviting them to drop into a space of secure thinking and feeling themselves. What they do is out of our control. But in my experience with my clients, this one practice can transform relationships.
What if we don’t feel like being compassionate?
This can happen. But what I say to my clients is that it hurts us to hurt.
Compassion feels good for us. Holding onto anger, resentments or blocking forgiveness doesn’t feel good. In this way, you can think of forgiveness as selfish.
Notice how it feels for you to drop the hurt, and to keep it.
I think of forgiveness as being fully present to the person who hurt us, and choosing to drop and thoughts of past hurts.
It’s my own happiness and peace that I’m accessing when I look with understanding. It feels good for me. It’s like compassion actually protects us from feeling bad.
The more secure we feel, the more we can access compassion.