So there you are with yourself
in a tight, lonely space
beating up the one
who is in pain.
Linda: I would like to talk about feeling hurt. I’ve heard you say before, “What is wrong with being hurt?” I just don’t get that. To me it’s a crazy question.
I live with someone who is very different from me and we start hurting each other very easily. I withdraw and then I think I’ll speak to her later about the hurt and then I decide it’s not worth bringing it all up again or getting more hurt. Then I come back to the question of why do I fear getting hurt so much?
But that’s a very important question. It’s not a question that’s very often asked because the assumption is that hurt is simply something we don’t want. So I pose the question to you because you are bringing up your direct experience: Why do you feel tense about being hurt? What is it that makes you tense in the experience?
Linda: I think maybe it’s that I’m afraid I’ll get out of control and scream and get angry and pile more hurt on.
Is that what you think or is that what you know?
Linda: I don’t know anything.
That’s a guess then?
Linda: Yes, that’s a guess.
So, we sit like this for a while and then we ask: When you feel this hurt, where do you feel it?
Linda: I feel it in my heart. I feel as if I’ve ruined a peace. I want everything to be right and I want everything to be peaceful and I want everybody to be happy.
Do you recognize the difference between feeling hurt and having those thoughts? Do you see that they are not the same thing that feeling hurt and having that series of thoughts are two different internal events? The thoughts are an attempt to explain, but the hurt itself is something different. Let’s go back to the body. What is it about being hurt that you don’t like?
Linda: It’s very hard to describe. I would say, who wants pain?
I’m just exploring with you. I’m not trying to make a point. Are you sure it’s pain?
Linda: It feels like pain.
It feels physically like pain. Do you try to get away from it or the circumstances that seem to be causing it? Are you suggesting that when I ask what is wrong with being hurt that I am suggesting we should stay in situations that are hurting us? Is that part of the confusion?
Linda: I feel like I’m missing something. When you ask me that question, I feel there’s something I don’t understand. To me, that pain is strong and being hurt is wrong. It’s not the way that I want or expect to be.
But you are sometimes.
You use the word wrong” deliberately. Is it wrong to be hurt?
Linda: I don’t know, maybe unnatural. My natural state is to be happy.
But is that the state you find yourself in?
Linda: No, I’ve gotten away from that.
Then, on what basis do you conclude it’s natural to be happy?
Linda: I don’t know.
I mean it’s a thought. I’m not saying it’s not a correct thought. I’m simply asking you what evidence you have to conclude unhappiness is unnatural?
Linda: Here I am. It feels right.
It feels right that you should be happy and it feels wrong that you’re not. So, when you’re not happy that means that you’re wrong?
Linda: Yes. I think also that it feels that I could have corrected it. If I’d chosen to use different words, I could have avoided the whole thing.
You could have avoided your hurt if you had done something different. So, what we come down to, as we begin to work through this, is that getting hurt is one experience. Then a secondary experience emerges which encircles the hurt — that is, an attack or self-blame. If you were more successful at human relations there would be no hurt.
Which is more painful — the hurt of the relationship or the self-attack?
Linda: The attack.
So there you are with yourself in a tight, lonely space beating up the one who is in pain. You ask me the question about what is wrong with being hurt, but you clearly think that not only is being hurt wrong, but it is a personal failure.
We have a child who comes home at the end of the day and is hurt by something that happened at school and we take him into the room and beat him up. You would be the first person to reject that as a solution. It would be unthinkable to you. It would be an outrage beyond reckoning because your code of justice is so strong. But what about this?
Linda: I’ve never even thought about it that way.
It’s so unconscious that you don’t see how you’re treating yourself. This is the way you try to get rid of feeling vulnerable — by beating yourself up. Now, it may be natural to be happy, but is it natural to hit yourself when you’re not?
Linda: No, I would consider that to be very cruel.
Very cruel. We’re hurting because of a certain delicacy, because we feel vulnerable, alone, like somehow someone doesn’t love us or we’re not loved. This is very rough.
We hurt because we don’t feel loved and we want to. We hurt because there is a loneliness and a longing in the heart. Then we beat ourselves up. Where did that particular solution come from?
Linda: I don’t know.
I don’t either. It doesn’t even matter. The actual insight mechanism is useless in the face of such an approach to ourselves. In our process, we just look at the choreography of this cruel dance. Why is there a problem with being delicate?
Let’s say that it is easy for you to get hurt, that you are vulnerable to the sting of strong words, or whatever. Does that mean that there is something wrong with you? Is that a weakness?
Linda: I wouldn’t consider it a weakness in anyone else.
But in you, it’s not only a weakness, it’s an offense that’s punishable. Isn’t that true?
Some of us are wounded in a way that makes it harder to put up a defense and, in your moral code, that undefended aspect is wrong.
Linda: This person I’m talking about is my adult daughter. On top of all of that, I also can see that what I do is I give myself a message that if I had been a better mother, then she wouldn’t be getting so upset and toe wouldn’t be into this.
Now, is that true or is that an opinion? And if you think it is true, how did you come to that idea?
Linda: Well, because of all the mistakes I made as a mother.
Let’s just look at that a little bit. How do you know they are mistakes?
Linda: Because I felt so often I wasn’t doing what I should. I was out of control. I wasn’t coming from the place of love. I couldn’t come from the place of love all the time. I felt so bad when I couldn’t do that. I felt so bad.
Linda: They were children and they needed to be cared for.
That’s right. I know what you are saying and I certainly don’t make light of it. I understand that sometimes we can look back on our past and see things we did that we are not absolutely fulfilled about.
But now this child still comes to you and gets the same lack of care, the same abandonment that you were just describing to me.
Linda: What did you say?
A child still comes home, inside your heart, and gets the same treatment. When does it stop? Until you’ve paid the price for what you did? When does it end? Is it any better to continue to do it to yourself than it was to do it then?
A person carries some sense of regret about their relationship to the children. We were hard on them, perhaps, when it would have been kinder to be soft. Sometimes we were harsh and even out of control. Things do happen and there are times, particularly after we’ve grown a lot, that we look back and understand that we were contracted, afraid and uneasy with ourselves. We were in pain. We were unable to do what seemed to be the highest at the time.
But then we keep doing it to ourselves. So the question becomes — are you worth less than they are? Or is this in some way a compensation for the past? Is this a mechanism which whips out of control or do you think it is something that could be stopped?
Linda: I feel out of control because I can see that I’m not as hurt as I used to be, but I’m still surprised that I stopped being hurt in the work place. The minute I step across my own door that hurt is there. I’m still so vulnerable.
Vulnerability makes you terribly afraid. In the face of what’s vulnerable you think you’re going to lose control. When you consider the relationship between mother and child, for instance, clear lines of delineation fade. Their pain is yours at a certain level. When they are vulnerable, it becomes yours and frightens you deeply.
There is even a tone of violence in your response to vulnerability, particularly when it’s close to home. Maybe not so much when it s not close to home. In the social, political scene you take on an ideology which is the opposite. Your ideological position, politically, is completely opposed to the way you treat yourself. People shouldn’t be treated cruelly. The ideological position is a compensation, an ideal that you propose to everyone else except you.
Linda: What did you say about the violence?
What I hear is that when you’re hurt and there is that vulnerability, that pain and that loneliness, then your reaction is almost violent. You start to hit and get out of control.
Linda: Yes, that’s true.
You seemed to indicate that this violence affected your relationship with the children when they were young and that even now you use the fact of the past to brutalize the present. Do you think you can stop?
Linda: Over the years, there’s been a healing. I have dialogues with myself and try to get myself back on track. Now when I beat myself up, it doesn’t last as long.
I can see when I’m doing it now. I’d really like to stop.
Let’s say you stop beating yourself up — what do you do with the hurt? Let’s say you have another argument with your daughter and you feel hurt. What do you do now if you actually give up that particular self-attack? What do you do with the hurt?
Let’s say that it’s natural to be happy, but let’s say you’re not happy because you hurt. What is a sign of self-respect in relationship to hurt?
Linda: To honor it or respect it, I guess.
Is there another alternative? To fight it and reject it?
Linda: I don’t know. Is there?
Do you know what it might mean to honor and respect your hurt?
Linda: It’s very hard for me to know that.
That’s clear in that your response to it is violent. It’s hard to honor something that we would like to beat up. At this moment you don’t know how to honor your hurt. Hurt is connected to a moral tone, a judgment and an idea of right or wrong. Somebody was wrong and somebody was right and usually it was you who was wrong.
Let’s say that you were wrong. Let’s say that you could have done it better. Is that a justification for beating yourself up?
Even if you were wrong, even if all the evidence pointed to the fact that you could have done it better, you would still have to learn how to honor and respect your hurt. The argument that it was your fault or that you could have done it better is not a justification for self-abuse. Let’s say that there’s no talking to yourself, there’s no talking yourself out of it. There is a hurt that you feel in the body and you weep if you need to and you touch the location of the hurt with your hand. You wait and stay easy. You allow it to be. Do you think that would be a mistake?
Linda: No, it sounds very simple.
Very simple. I’m allowed to hurt. I’m also allowed to be wrong. I’m allowed to have made mistakes. I’m allowed to have regrets. I’m allowed to care for myself.
Linda: I remember one time you asked me if I cared for myself and I really didn’t know what to say.
It’s a very big question. There s so much dilemma-making around hurt, so much confusion. The mind begins to invent battle lines, creates an urgency to take sides. This is not compassion.
Linda: It’s very hard for me not to sit in judgment.
Particularly about something so soft as hurt feelings.
Linda: Most of the time both my daughter and I get hurt, not just one of us.
I’m sure that’s true. You’re both hurt. It’s understandable. The chances are that the arguments you two are having are about the past in some disguised form. The chances are that the guilt you feel in relationship to what is being covertly discussed would suggest a need for punishment. Sometimes we have a discussion between an adult and a child which is about making up for something which seemed to happen in the past, even though that discussion seems to be about a current situation. It is an attempt, often on the child’s part, to find compensation. The discussion is so veiled that guilt and remorse tend to dominate but in the background.
I would be willing to wager that the arguments, if the guilt weren’t as strong, would not be as painful or as long as they are now. Your need to engage is a reaction to the feelings which have been exposed as a result of her complaint, even though they seem to be about something else.
Do we achieve happiness by avoiding hurt?
Linda: It’s a side track.
It sure is. Not only do you feel hurt but there is also a great sense of guilt. Those two things sit side by side. What do you feel now in your chest, in your heart? What do you feel now?
Linda: I feel the beginning of a peace.
A sense of relief.
Linda: I think I want to understand why I fear the hurt so much.
I could perhaps give you an anecdotal or philosophical statement in relationship to your question, but you would still feel hurt.
Linda: Yes, I want to know how not to feel hurt and you’re saying just be with it and I’ll find out that it’s not as bad as I think.
Very much so, and that the hurt itself is asking for tenderness and you’re not responding in that way. Therefore, it won’t heal. It won’t go away.
The hurt is saying that it wants your tenderness and you are saying, “Get out of here, go away. I don’t like you. It is wrong to feel this way.”
Linda: I get it.
The attitude you take toward hurt is probably a part of a survival mechanism that seemed necessary in the past, but it bears no relationship to the present. It is no longer useful.
Linda: The secret is out.
The secret is out. “I want to be taken care of sometimes.”
Linda: I had to keep that in for so long.
Of course you did and the way you dealt with it was not wrong. It’s simply no longer appropriate.
Linda: Thank you, Steve.
From Stephen R. Schwartz. Angelic Dialogues – The Work of Compassionate Self-Care. Riverrun Press, Piermont NY: 1993. pp. 21-32.