-6 Ways to Respond to the Pain of Others-
You just got out of a ‘conversation’ with someone, where you tried to communicate that something they did hurt you. They made you feel like it was somehow your fault, and suddenly you think it was silly to bring it up. You leave the interaction feeling worse than when you started. Very small. And very un-seen. You get angry at them for treating you this way. Then angry at yourself for letting them.
Or how about this scenario. You meet someone new - a new friend or a new romantic interest. Everything is wonderful & great until they do something small that kind of hurts you. Maybe they made plans with you & end up cancelling at the last minute. Maybe they said something that was slightly demeaning. You pause. Should I say something? Yes. Will I? I don’t know. I don’t want to mess things up.
Living in relationship with others can be beautiful and life-giving. It can also have its challenges. No matter how healthy our relationships, we will do things that hurt others. Others will do things that hurt us. Let’s face it - humans are selfish beings. And when two selfish people come together, hurt is inevitable. The hurt usually isn’t malicious or intentional, but it stings nonetheless. But here’s the big idea: How someone handles your ‘Ouch that hurts’ says everything you need to know about them.
How does this all begin?
Visualize the scene with me. There’s a young boy who gets hurt on the playground. He runs home to mommy and daddy crying, knee all scraped up, saying ‘Ouch, it hurts!.’ Mom and Dad have a few options here. They could:
Visualize another scene with me. There’s a young girl who is spending time with her dad and he says something that upsets her. She starts crying. Dad has a few options here. He could:
Some of us have learned to not share our Ouch. We travel in and out of relationships like riders on a train. As soon as someone hurts us, we get off at the next stop and board a new car, only to repeat the cycle. We don’t have enduring relationships because we don’t know how to communicate our Ouch. We just pick up and leave at the first sign of hurt. Others of us stay in relationships where people repeatedly hurt us (they probably don’t even realize it) and we let them, because we don’t say a damn thing about it. We stifle our Ouch and suffer silently.
There is a better way.
Oh, the beautiful and all-encompassing feeling of being wrapped in love and attention when you say Ouch. The person who Leans Forward, who says ‘I’m so sorry I made you feel that way. What can I do to make it better in the future.’ It’s that warm snuggly embrace a baby feels when swaddled in a blanket on a cold day. It’s the feel-good glow of the crackling fire against the fierce blackness of the forest. It’s the plate of scrambled eggs and fresh hot coffee someone brings you in bed when you wake up in the morning. Unexpectedly held. Refreshingly seen.
I can hear you already. Okay, MaryBeth. That’s beautiful but what concrete things can I look for to assess if someone is responding appropriately? I’ll give you 6.
1. Calm Demeanor
When you’re sharing your Ouch, the other person should have a calm demeanor, neutral like. They don’t flare up, they don’t get defensive, they don’t close off. They are open to what you are saying, curious even. They genuinely want to know what’s wrong. Their emotions are even-keeled. They listen patiently & don’t interrupt.
2. Narrow Focus
The listener focuses on this specific occurrence. They don’t change the subject. They don’t bring up past things that you did that were similar. They are focused on this instance and only this instance. Someone who keeps short accounts.
3. Check for Understanding
A person who cares will often try to paraphrase what you said and repeat it back to you, making sure they are understanding it correctly.
The other person takes responsibility for their actions. They apologize for the pain they caused. They don’t make excuses. They don’t try to explain why they did it. They don’t blameshift. They don’t gaslight. They own their behavior.
5. Seek to Remedy
They ask how they can make it up to you. They are open to suggestions, as well as pose their own ideas. They are eager to right the wrong.
6. More Presence
After the discussion, the person will show up more - not less - in your life. They will give more of themselves - not less - after you’ve communicated the hurt. They Lean Forward. They reassure by their presence. Your Ouch didn’t scare them; it challenged them to show up stronger and better.
Let’s do some hard mirror gazing here. How do you square up in the list above? When someone confronts you with something you did that hurt them, how are you in responding with calmness, focus, understanding, ownership, remedy, and presence? We can’t expect others to give us what we ourselves don’t extend.
I write this not as someone who has mastered the art of communicating pain, but as someone who is growing in her ability to do so. I invite you on this journey with me. Let’s do the hard thing. Let’s say our Ouch early and often, not loudly, boastfully, or angrily, but humbly and with expectation that the other person will care to hear it & redeem it. Let’s give others the opportunity to lean forward, show care, seek remedy, and extend love.
And let’s have the courage to walk away from anything less. Our ability to say ‘nope, I deserve better’ will make us indestructible. It will free us up to say ‘yes please’ to those who have proven they can handle the full weight of who we are.
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