There is an old adage: hurt people hurt people. I saw it time and again during my years in grad school, in case studies and in my internship. I’ve seen some variation of it in private practice either directly or indirectly.
People who are hurting seem to have a greater tendency to lash out and hurt others.
But does it have to be that way? Even though it seems to have been that way?
In most cases, it’s a pattern or a behavior that can be changed with a simple, but necessary, intervention: listening.
Not just listening, but really listening.
What do I mean by that?
Well, if you think about the last time you got angry because you were hurting inside, what would have been the one thing that made the difference between calming you down or escalating your anger?
What if you felt heard? Truly heard.
What if the person in front of you paused and listened, not to respond, but to hear you? To hear what you weren’t saying (“I’m hurting”) and then listened to your story.
When we feel heard – truly heard – everything becomes just a little easier.
It’s this acknowledgment (which is not the same as validation) from another human being that helps us take the edge off and remember who we really are inside.
We are not our reactive emotions – our hurt, our anger, or our fear. These things show up when we have wandered too far from our core. They’re there to protect us until we can find our way back (offense as defense).
So, while I could list at least ten stories right now of hurt people hurting people, I can also unequivocally say that when those people felt heard, their reactive desire to lash out diminished.
Perhaps with the impending holidays and upcoming family gatherings it might be a good time to remember another adage:
Listen twice as much as you speak – that’s why you have two ears and only one mouth.
Actually, I think that’s good advice, no matter what time of year. 😉