Recently, someone shared with me feelings of anger about negative words they heard through the grapevine, someone allegedly said about them. They had not overheard the information first-hand, but if these words really were spoken, it was justifiable, my friend felt wounded by the terms. It hurts when we find out someone has said something unpleasant about us.
So how do we respond when someone hurts us in our family, workplace, faith group, friend circle, or a community organization?
Often we assume that we are the victim and the one who needs to forgive, but sometimes when someone hurts us, we try to find catharsis by venting to others. The height of all irony is that we often end up victimizing the person who hurt us. And then the venomous cycle of hate-filled words continues. We point the finger towards them and share our rage with others about what they supposedly said about us. When we vent about others like this, we can demonize them to the point that we, too, need forgiveness.
Does any of this sound familiar to you? In recent years, I have witnessed the growing tendency of people to react in this way. So, I’d like to offer some advice about how to respond in an emotionally intelligent way, when someone hurts us.
1. Give Others The Benefit of the Doubt
I remember someone telling me they were no longer speaking to their dad because of something her brother had said to her that her dad had said about her. What if her brother had misunderstood their dad, lied, or just told the story through his own lens?
It is important to remember the telephone game we played as children. We can’t assume everything we are told is %100 percent accurate.
And even if we are mad at someone for something we have experienced first-hand, our anger towards them is usually connected to our own sadness and pain in life, and not necessarily just the actions or words of the person who has hurt us.
It is easier to stay angry at someone who has let us down than it is to see what we can learn about our self from the situation. We demonize others because it is safer to attack them than to face our own demons. But the real growth happens when we start to process why we are feeling such vitriol towards someone.
Often we are inclined to avoid the person who has hurt us, but it is better to find a non-threatening way to talk with them. Sometimes when we communicate with our offender, we realize there was a misunderstanding, we see the situation from their perspective, we find out they are going through a stressful time, or we recognize we have blown things way out of proportion.
When we are brave enough to be vulnerable with a loved one or colleague about how we experienced what they said or did, it can allow us to work things out with them. Surprisingly we might even become closer with the person than we were before the incident.
2. Vent To People Outside of the System
Benjamin Franklin once said, “Three may keep a secret if two of them are dead.”
Now, does this sage and humorous advice mean we can never share frustrations? Of course, this is not the case. In fact, it can be healthy to share feelings of hurt and betrayal, but we need to do this with someone outside of the system. A system is a group you belong to, and it can be your family, friends, religious assembly, workplace, or community group.
If something painful has happened at work, we either need to go and talk directly to the person who has hurt us, or we can vent with a friend, but I advise you not to vent to another work colleague. They are in the same system, and this is just creating triangles that can cause more problems and anxiety in the system.
Almost every time I have vented to someone about another party within the system, I have regretted my words. But when I have gone to someone trustworthy outside the system, it usually is a safe space to share my pain.
It also means I am not disparaging someone to others in their system. This is indeed not fair to them, and it can create a toxic environment, where gossip starts to thrive.
3. Be Mindful We ALL Make Mistakes
I want to start by owning the fact that I have said things I regret about others. I also have been hurt by others who have spoken harsh words about me. And the truth is, we are all in need of forgiveness and grace.
We put ourselves on a totem pole of self-righteousness when we assume other people are in the wrong, and we are in the right.
If someone close to you at work has hurt you with their words, you might want to ask yourself if you have ever said anything negative about them, or at the very least, spoken unloving words regarding someone in the workplace. If your answer is ‘no,’ I command you, and you are a much better person than I am, and maybe even on the road to canonization as a saint!
But in truth, we know we have all said unkind things about someone or done something to hurt others. We all can be both kind and callous. It is good and evil in all people. When we are mean to others, it is usually because of jealousy, personality differences, difficulties in our own lives, feelings of inadequacy, and other reasons.
4. Wish the Best for our Offender
When someone hurts us, we don’t have to be best friends with them, but one way to find healing from hurt is to send joy and love to those who wound us.
Why are people so easily irritated at one another these days?
I believe the polarization in our country has a trickle-down result, affecting the way we see one another and speak about one another. And similarly, growing divisions between nations, races, and religions in the world, also inform our increasing animosity towards one another.
If the tide doesn’t change soon, we are on our way to becoming a reactive and mean-spirited country and world. But I believe we can turn the tide and it will make a dramatic difference in this world, if we learn to give people the benefit of the doubt, vent with people outside of the system, be mindful we all make mistakes, and wish the best for our offender.
Getting hurt by others’ words is a prevalent issue, all of us face in life. Every hurt you experience allows you to learn more about yourself. You will have a chance to learn more about your values, rules, and personal expectations. It is an opportunity to learn more about others and about how you relate to other people socially and intimately.
You will see insight into people’s motives, feelings, and intentions. Learn from knowing yourself and your emotional tendencies at a far more profound level and discover the power to forgive.
Learning how to forgive is complex, and it can’t happen overnight. However, it is possible, and you’ll be so much better off when you ensue life’s challenges.
When someone hurts you, will you choose to respond in an emotionally intelligent way? These loving ways of responding can change our reactive world.