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Who hurt you?

"You hurt my feelings."

"She felt betrayed because her boyfriend lied to her."

"I feel hurt because my parents don't understand me."

"It feels unfair that my boss expects me to work late."

It appears self-evident that when someone feels hurt, the cause of that pain is someone outside of the individual who is experiencing the hurt.

More than one cause

Most readers will find the following concept comprehensible.

Under standard conditions, if someone were to ask, "What caused the water to boil?" the valid response would be, "Because the temperature was raised to 100 degrees centigrade."

However, in a different scenario, one might explain that the water boiled at 20 degrees centigrade because the surrounding atmospheric pressure of 14.7 pounds per square inch was lowered to 0.338 pounds per square inch.

These explanations highlight that completely distinct and independent factors can cause water to boil. Generally, we focus on the temperature aspect since we don't typically manipulate the pressure in everyday situations. However, this isn't always accurate. When using a pressure cooker (like an Instant Pot), we intentionally increase the pressure, thereby raising the boiling point of water. As a result, the water is able to become hotter than 100 degrees centigrade. Normally, even with added heat, the temperature of water will not significantly exceed 100 degrees since the boiling process at standard atmospheric pressure will dissipate all the added energy.

Who hurt you?

In the scenarios mentioned earlier (including the statement "You hurt my feelings"), it's indeed accurate that another individual acted (or failed to act) in a way that led to your feelings of hurt. Had they not behaved in that manner, the feelings of hurt would not have occurred in that particular situation. Therefore, it's a valid conclusion to say that one person's behavior can provoke or stimulate feelings of hurt in another.

A myopic assertion

However, putting our primary focus on such an assertion is shortsighted. It fails to consider the broader context and neglects long-term implications, directing our attention away from a much bigger opportunity.

This perspective only observes what shifts in the immediate environment, much like noticing a change in temperature without considering the usually constant factor of atmospheric pressure.

The overlooked background factor here is the interpretation by the individual who feels hurt regarding the actions or inactions of another person. This interpretation is also a cause of the hurt. If this automatic response (which can indeed be modified) were different, then the hurt would not be felt, even if the behavior of the other person remained the same.

In other words, the external action of another can trigger the hurt feelings only with the support of an internal disempowering interpretation. 

Missing out on the big prize

Attributing the source of the hurt solely to another person or people is a superficial perspective that results in, at best, a temporary solution while overlooking the more fundamental condition that allowed the hurt to occur.

 

That underlying condition is your interpretations without which the feelings of hurt would never occur in the first place. If these interpretations remain unchanged, the feelings of hurt will reoccur, triggered again and again whenever someone behaves in a manner that triggers your disempowering interpretations.

I am reminded of a quote from my maternal grandfather, "For a person with shoes, the world is covered with leather." If you didn't have shoes, you would necessarily have to always be looking out for and trying to deal with many individual situations where the surface you were walking on was hurting or could hurt your feet. Wearing shoes, we rarely feel hurt because of the surface we're walking on and we don't have to be very careful of where we decide to walk.

 

Without examining and recreating these interpretations to more accurately fit reality as well as to be more empowering, the cycle of hurt will continue, no matter who the other person or people are.

"Why aren't you feeling guilty? I'm blaming you."

Here's an illustrative example. Back in April of 2017, I did something (though I didn't know exactly what) that caused my girlfriend to feel hurt and unloved. She became angry and started criticizing me. I listened to her intently, attempting to understand what I could learn from the situation and feeling compassion for her. However, I didn't feel upset, hurt, or defensive in response to her behavior.

Why didn't feel hurt, guilty, or defensive?

Here were my interpretations relating to that circumstance.

My girlfriend has certain standards and expectations for how I, as her boyfriend, should act and what I should be sensitive to, which is something common and relatable. Both men and women often have expectations regarding how lover or spouse should and should not behave. Though I don't currently know exactly how I failed to meet her expectations, it is clear that I have not. She probably isn't lashing out to hurt me intentionally; even if she is, it is her way of trying to get me to feel the depth of her pain. Since I love her, I will focus on listening and hopefully learning more about her needs and how I may have not been aware of them.

Her anger is, in fact, an expression of her love. If she didn't love me, she wouldn't have responded with such upset. While my primary goal is to make her feel safe, loved, admired, and appreciated, I also know that I can occasionally "mess up." Whether because of insensitivity, inability, or the need to take care of myself, I recognize that I can make mistakes that will stimulate her to feel hurt from time to time. I am eager to learn and adapt whenever I can.

Love comes with risks, and I am willing to embrace those risks. Though I aim to nurture our relationship, I am also prepared for the possibility of it ending, all the while cherishing the love and connection we have shared.

Yes, her being upset with me does trigger automatic fear and discomfort, but in the grand scheme of things, these uncomfortable feelings are a small price to pay for all that we have had and potentially could have together. These emotions are, in themselves, a reflection of my love for her. They remind me of the value and vulnerability inherent in our relationship, and of my commitment to understanding and growing with her, even when things are challenging.

Can we make interpretations willy-nilly?

Indeed, there is flexibility in how we create our interpretations. Interpretations are distinct from facts. I assert, however, that the most empowering and effective interpretations align with facts or are, at the very least, not contradicted by them.

Reflect on the way I interpreted the situation with my girlfriend, as described above. You'll find that it adheres more closely to the facts of the situation than the disempowering interpretations many of us would have constructed in similar situations when another person of importance was blaming them. 

The answer to the question "Who hurt you?"

Certainly, statements like "She hurt me" are not without merit. However, directing our primary attention to this aspect can lead us down a path of trying to change others' behavior, which can be a complex and often unfruitful endeavor often making things even worse, as well incurring significant opportunity costs.

Imagine, instead, if we shifted our focus to the realization of the more fundamental fact of "I hurt me." Rather than an occasion for self-criticism, this is something to embrace with enthusiasm. By dedicating our time and energy to developing and adopting new, fact-based, and empowering interpretations of events, we pave the way for a life where we are less prone to being hurt by others or ourselves.

This approach promotes self-awareness, self-growth, and personal responsibility, empowering us to respond to situations in a way that aligns with our values and needs, rather than reacting out of pain or defensiveness. It's a perspective that can lead to more resilient and satisfying relationships with ourselves and those around us.

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