No one has had a pain free life. All of us have had some pain inflicted on us either by other people or through traumas that have happened in our lives. We carry these around with us unaware of their existence, like scars on our back we are not able to see and often forget that they are there in the first place.
Even when these scars or wounds are reopened, we are so often oblivious to their existence. We wonder why we are reacting in a certain way or wonder how another person could have done such a horrible thing but live blissfully unaware of how much they hurt us. Sounds familiar but still quite uncertain what I mean? Here are some examples:
- When Emma’s husband yells at the kids, she pushes him away emotionally and physically distancing herself. “Men are so abusive – it disgusts me he can be so full of anger and violent” she says.
- John loves Marie and generally feels safe with her, yet when they go to parties and he catches her talking to another man, it infuriates him. “Especially when she laughs I think, how dare she”.
- Tina is a friendly person and widely liked around the office. One day her co-worker jokes: “Yeah Tina, no one likes you here, clearly you are the most disliked person in the office” she breaks down and retreats to the bathroom. Her co-worker is left shocked that his joke could be so misunderstood and is perplexed.
In all these cases you can notice how something fairly normally, like telling a child off, talking to someone at a party or making a light heartened joke triggers something much bigger in people. To other people it seems like an overreaction, yet to the people experiencing these emotions, it is a deep pain that is being awakened. An old scar being scratched open to bleed. Because there is so much more behind these stories:
- Emma had a violent abusive father and brother. Seeing her husband showing traits of similar behavior triggers a defense mechanism in her.
- John was cheated on by his last partner. He thought they were happy and he never saw the signs. He swore himself to never be deceived again.
- Tina spent years isolated in High School and had a hard time fitting in as she loved math and was good with numbers. In the accounting office she worked in, she found her place with like-minded people. She was scared these people would shun her anytime and that she would go back to being all alone like in high school.
We all have such experiences and sometimes other people trigger them in us. The scary thing is we are unaware of them, otherwise we would work towards closing those scars. So how do you recognize them and manage them? But also, what if you inflict such a pain on someone else? What should Emma’s husband, Marie or the co-worker do?
Triggers can be recognized but a strong emotional and sometimes also physical reaction. You can be laughing one minute and the next minute this intense feeling overtakes. If you find yourself sudden switch your emotion, observe it. See if you can label it. Take a minute to figure out what it is. Don’t push it away under the rug, just take a minute to observe the feeling. Is it anger or fear? Is it directed towards yourself or to others? What is this feeling telling me to do?
Then ask yourself, truly honestly, where is this coming from? Have I felt this before? Your first reaction will most likely be “I don’t know”. But you do. Trust me you do. Even if you do not want to know. A big scar like that that needs stitches, you’ll remember where you got it from. Just keep digging. The more you understand yourself the more balanced and at peace you will be. These scars were inflicted on you and are a part of you. They always will be. You cannot run from them, they will always be there.
To that fact, a lot of the time people don’t want to hurt us. They do not want to reopen these scars. Forgive them for not being aware or the things that you are even hiding from yourself. Rather, thank them for making you aware of a pain you have been carrying.
If you are the one inflicting such a pain on others without meaning too, it still means you should apologize. Don’t blame the person for what was done to them, just like you can’t blame yourself for hurting them without wanting to. The greatest kindness you can give to others and yourself is validation and compassion. Apologize for the hurt they are feeling. “I am sorry I caused you to hurt” and “I am sorry I did not mean to hurt you”. But don’t feel negative towards yourself. If you would have known their pain you wouldn’t have tried to cause it. Just focus on them and their pain and show some love. As the Beatles say, love is all we need. If we had had that in the first place, perhaps these scars wouldn’t have come into existence in the first place.