Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Words to live by: "Say You're Sorry If You Hurt Somebody"

Today, I read a fascinating blot post on the Current Conscience about sensitivity and gaslighting (this terms comes from the Hitchcock movie where a husband tries to drive his wife crazy by setting the gaslights in their home to flicker while he denies that anything is happening). In the post, the author talks about the responses women tend to get about being too sensitive, too emotional, or too dramatic, in situations where they express frustration, sadness or anger about something that has been said to them (often by spouses, bosses, friends, etc). I started thinking about what happens when we hurt each other's feelings.

How often do we apologize right away? Do we apologize immediately, do we need to be convinced that we did indeed hurt the other person's feelings, or do we more often try to deny that we have even hurt that person's feelings to begin with. It's a lot easier to deal with when you place the blame of the issue on the person who raised that issue. It's an apparent escape route, isn't it? If the problem sits with someone else, we don't have to deal with our part in it. Whew.

And how differently do we react when we inflict different kinds of pain on others. For example, if you step on someone's toe, they immediately have a reaction. They might say, "Ow!" or something like it. You get immediate feedback for your actions and you can feel free to apologize and you both move on. For unintentionally inflicted physical pain, it feels pretty easy to say you're sorry and move on. But, emotional pain? Well that's an entirely different story. The infliction of emotional pain is a tricky bugger. That brings up all sorts of stuff inside us. The first of which is often a knee-jerk, "No I didn't. I'm not that kind of person." And so often we want to deny that we could even begin to hurt someone else.

I tend to have a memory like an elephant and so it's challenging for me personally to let go or forget about it if someone has hurt me. Are there others of you out there like that? Do you remember those incidents even though it would be easier/nicer if they would just fade into the background obscurity of your mind and eventually cease to matter? Or do you just eventually see it fade and move on to more fun parts of your life?

So, here's my personal take on it when someone hurts my feelings. If you do or say something that hurts my feelings, and I tell you that my feelings have been hurt, and you don't acknowledge it or address it or validate it, please don't expect that time (and you ignoring the issue) will make things all better. It really won't.

I'd far prefer it if we talk about it and resolve it rather than having it simmer in the background for some indeterminate amount of time. If someone hurts my feelings (and hears about it from me - I'm not expecting mind reading, here) and then apologizes or we at least talk it through, then things can mend very quickly. If that person ignores it or worse tells me it's my fault for being too sensitive, we will have issues.

I believe we all owe each other the validation of our feelings. We all have feelings, but often I believe we are taught at a pretty early age to either bury them or discount them. It's no wonder then that so often when we are faced with having hurt someone's feelings, that we want to turn away, run away, or ignore the entire situation altogether.

On the one hand, we might hesitate to accept that our actions caused someone else pain. On the other hand, when we need to deal with someone else's pain, we have to reach inside for our empathy, and that can be painful for us. Having said that, I still believe we can only improve our relationships if we find the courage to face our own transgressions and our own historical lessons. I am reminded of one of the lines of the poem, "All I Really Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten." "Say you're sorry if you hurt somebody." It's a lesson we ought to have learned early on, but some of either didn't or we have forgotten it. http://www.scrapbook.com/poems/doc/842/36.html

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