You ever feel like the world is a swirly fire of constant offense that continues to grow and grow? And when you try to 'help' it only adds fuel to the flames.
Lately, it seems like the [social] media environment is rampant with hurt and all of the associated residue of it not being handled in a healthy way. One party tries to express how they feel which, in turn, rubs salt into the wounds of insecurity or brokenness of another. In response the other party deflects, invalidates, contends, and explains away the hurt of the former. All of a sudden we have two camps that are at odds because there's more and more hurt with less and less compassion.
Hurting people hurt people.
It's so easy to take offense at the way people express and manage their pain. Often they don't understand the root of their hurt and unintentionally impose responsibility for the feelings on secondary parties. And when that doesn't satisfy the desire for healing, the process develops into an empty cycle of blame that only creates more offense spreading as it creates more hurt.
Hurt, or emotional pain, can be defined as *a state of ‘feeling broken’ that involved the experience of being wounded, loss of self, disconnection, and critical awareness of one’s more negative attributes.
I've responded poorly to my pain. Whether if I was offended by a friend responding to me in a passive aggressive manner or if my character was brought into question it seems like my knee-jerk reaction was to place blame on some other entity in order to satisfy my perceived need for vindication.
It's almost as though I'm expecting for someone else to pay for my pain. But what's the truth behind why these situations hurt?
Illogical truth no. 1: Hurt is the result of brokenness - not the actions of people.
Life is a constant cycle of healing. We go through things that test our mettle - sometimes we can endure the trial and sometimes we fall on our face, get scraped up and end up in emotional ICU. Everyone is different and everyone responds differently and with varying degrees of maturity.
It sounds a bit insensitive to consider the way we respond to trials as maturity - especially when someone is navigating a circumstance that's beyond their current level of growth. But think about your adolescence and how big of a deal it was that little Jimmy called you a butthead. Or when so-and-so wouldn't let you sit with them at the lunch table. Or the first time someone made fun of you for something you couldn't control. Or, on a more serious note, the pain of losing a family member, family pet or a close friend.
Pain is real. And it hurts - especially when it's fresh. Maturity isn't a position of dealing well with fresh pain. Instead, maturity is a position of walking through pain and coming out on the other side with the ability to sort the truths from the falsehoods which caused the pain. It's when we've developed the ability to identify a healthy way to respond to our brokenness regarding the world around us by choosing to believe what's really true beyond feelings.
When I was younger I was on a three-way call with two 'friends' who lived in a much more affluent neighborhood. At a point in the conversation one of them said, "Hey Tim, put down the phone for a second." I sheepishly said 'ok' but listened in as the person suggested to the other, "Hey, let's make fun of Tim for living in a trailer." You can imagine how much that hurt as I was already struggling with the idea that my value was based on comparison - as many middle-school kids do.
And the residue of that situation influenced how I responded to my relationships until my late twenties. For fifteen years I navigated pain surrounding my value and how I expected people to respond and 'accept' me by creating walls of defense. I blamed those two people for causing my pain when, in actuality, their actions simply roused my own pre-existing belief that my value is based on material.
Blaming them for my hurt was my subconscious, negative response to the world around me based on an area of brokenness.
The thing to remember, however, is that I didn't arrive at this conclusion immediately. Heck, I didn't even begin healing from the root issue until twenty years after-the-fact. It took time, it took intention and it took forgiveness. Moreover, it took grace. Grace for them and grace for myself. Was it their fault for being unkind? Sure. Was it their fault that I had pre-existing hurt that was amplified by their actions? Nope. So whose fault is it?
Illogical truth no. 2: Pain is not your fault.
We are taught that there is always something or someone to blame for the way we feel. Someone has to pay! Someone has to be held accountable!
There is an antagonist in every story.
The truth is there is an enemy whose only agenda is to destroy relationships, steal hope, rob faith and break down all of the facets of true love. That's why it's so easy for pain to be a divisive force when it's actually an opportunity to mend, heal, and support one another. We can get wrapped up in our own world of pain and blame making it difficult to have grace for the blame and to have compassion for the pain of another person.
"But my issue is bigger than their issue!"
That's always going to be true. But there are times when we need to lay down our pride in order to understand that our circumstances, while they may be world-breaking to us, aren't as truly important as the value of having compassion for another person's pain.
Hurting people hurt people. It's so easy to assign blame and assumption to a person's outward expression of how they process their pain. The crazy thing is that most people don't even realize what's at the root of their pain which, as we've mentioned, causes them to assign blame to a specific party and act accordingly. Typically there are five signs that ascertain whether a person is acting out of emotional pain:
Personality Change: their responses are misaligned with their normal character.
Agitated: they seem uncharacteristically angry, anxious, agitated, or moody.
Withdrawn: they withdraw or isolate themselves from other people or situations.
Poor Self-Care: they don't value themselves and don't see the point in properly caring for themselves.
Hopelessness: they don't believe that their situation can or will change.
Take a moment to think about the people in your life with whom you've taken offense or who are responding poorly to their circumstances. If these characteristics are present challenge yourself to have grace for the negative ways they're responding.
Don't misunderstand. By saying 'have grace' I'm not saying that their actions should be excused. Regardless of the impetus, there are always consequences for which we need and are going to be held accountable - that's part of the uphill battle for our minds and hearts. Having grace for someone is looking beyond their actions into the heart of their struggle. It's coming to their side of the table to try to understand their pain - not fix it or compare the magnitude of our own pain.
Illogical truth no. 3: Holding someone accountable for their response temporarily improves behavior. But giving someone more grace than you believe they deserve reminds them, and in some cases introduces them to the idea, that they are more valuable than the circumstance.
Man, it feels so good to deliver justice. We usually feel really good about ourselves when we've slain the dragon, caught the thief or taken down the enemy. The trap, however, is that when it comes to people this process is always at the expense of a person's value. And a person lives their life by a standard equal to how they value themselves.
We often validate ourselves when we hold others accountable for their wrongs. But it's a slippery slope. Doing so assigns a label, generalizes and relieves a person of their humanity. They're no longer valuable. They're now a liar. A rioter. An adulterer. An abuser. A gossip. A cheat. The labels are endless. And labels cause us to assume that other 'fact'ors of said label are also true about the person due to our natural inclination to generalize.
I'm sure in your response to pain you've received labels that you're either unhappy with or from which are fighting to disassociate yourself. But have you ever been in a situation where your response to pain has put you in a position where another party has enforced accountability? Sure, your behavior changed for a time. But have you ever experienced a heart change initiated by the direction of another person?
When you're hurting, the last thing you want is for someone to focus on what you're doing instead of what you're feeling. Your actions are secondary. I recently read that 'people do as people think.' And when people think that they aren't heard they act out accordingly. Ask any parent of a toddler.
What hurts more is when people assume what's going on in our hearts because our pain touches on areas of insecurity in their own lives, they just don't want to share our pain, it's an inconvenience, etc. It's so much easier to slap a bandaid on an issue than to go the full mile with someone.
**In an article about the psychotherapy of anger management, Steven Stosny, PhD writes,
'Dwelling on the possible causes of emotional pain is more likely to exacerbate than ameliorate it. This is especially true when the hidden purpose of examining the possible causes is to assign blame.
To justify blame, we tend to magnify pain. Attributing blame then stimulates anger to punish the perceived offender. Biologically, the association of pain/vulnerability with anger is almost irresistible; anger has survival-based analgesic and amphetamine effects - it temporarily numbs pain and provides a surge of energy and confidence to ward-off threat. But each repetition of this process reinforces perceived damage and vulnerability by making defense seem more necessary.'
Each time we allow ourselves to respond negatively to pain, we add another brick to our walls. Eventually they become strongholds of pain. And as the magnitude of our pain grows so does the magnitude of our negative response. When you have two parties responding to one another with accountability, justification and blame, it's easy to see how messy and divisive everything can get. Throw in a third party that benefits from the growing division and continues to feed the flames... and well, you have the perfect environment for our real enemy to have his way.
One thing to remember in all of this is that grace is the illogical key to healing. It makes absolutely no worldly sense and goes against everything we think is right about justice, but the circumstances surrounding a person are never more valuable than the person themselves.
When dealing with hurt:
Never give up
Care more for others than for self
Don’t want what you don’t have
Don’t look down on others
Don’t force yourself on others
Don't always think 'me first'
Don’t fly off the handle
Don’t keep score of the wrongs of others
Don’t celebrate when others are suffering
Take pleasure in the flowering of truth
Have a heart position of endurance
Always look for the best
Never look backwards
Hope for the best in people
Have faith that they can turn around
Keep going to the end
The Concept of Mental Pain
Reviewed June 26, 2020
**Steven Stosny, PhD
The Meaning of Emotional Pain
Posted July 8, 2011
Reviewed June 26, 2020