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People are assholes because they suffer
  • Marie Murphy

People are assholes because they suffer

Sometimes humans do things that result in other humans feeling really hurt or wronged or upset.

And sometimes humans do things that result in other humans feeling *just a little* hurt or wronged or upset.

When we’re on the receiving end of this equation, when we’re the one feeling hurt by someone else’s actions (or inactions), we may be inclined to nurture our grievances. We may create elaborate stories about how wounded we’ve become, and tell and re-tell the tale of how we got this way. We may blame the person we hold accountable for our suffering. Maybe we create a whole identity based on how angry we are at them, how unfair life is, and how wronged we were.

Blaming others for our pain does help us reinforce our stories about How Things Are, who is good and who isn’t, and What It All Means. This might help us feel safe and comfortable, and sometimes feeling safe and comfortable is all we can manage to want.

But does blaming others for our pain help us heal? Does replaying the story of how we were wronged or hurt help us get to where we want to go in life? Does focusing on what we think others have done poorly help us be the version of ourselves that we want to be?

You can answer those questions for yourself. But my answer is, probably not.

The thing is, when we’re in pain, sometimes all we can do is focus on our pain… and by focusing on our pain, we’re more likely to keep focusing on our pain and our stories about the pain and who caused it and why they’re bad. This sounds counter-productive, and it is, but it happens all the time. Interrupting this cycle of perception is really important, if we want to heal ourselves, i.e., feel better.

Try this idea on for size: people are assholes because they suffer. When people hurt others, it’s often because they’re hurting pretty badly themselves. When we’re wounded, our pain motivates our actions in ways we’re usually scarcely aware of… and the results may be that we behave in ways that cause other people a lot of pain too.

And so the cycles of hurt and hurting continue.

If you’re feeling hurt by someone, if you feel like someone wronged you or mistreated you or acted inappropriately towards you, see if you can, for just a moment, recognize the possibility that they were experiencing pain of their own when they did whatever they did to you. (Pain comes in many shapes and sizes, remember.) See if you can, even if only for a second or two, wish for healing for all of those who have hurt you or wronged you. Send them a blessing or some positive energy. Bestow upon them all of the peace and wholeness you wish to have for yourself.

Doing this doesn’t mean you have to condone anyone’s bad behavior. Humans do a lot of things to one another that are quite awful, and I am not, for a second, suggesting that harmful actions shouldn’t be dealt with appropriately. What I’m suggesting is separate from matters of justice and social sanctions and the like. In addition to dealing with humans’ bad behavior through external actions, we also have to recognize and heal its internal sources.

Otherwise, cycles of pain and suffering just perpetuate themselves.

This doesn’t mean you have to deny or gloss over your own pain, either. Two things can be true at once: you felt hurt by someone else’s actions. And when they did the things that hurt you, their actions were motivated by their own pain.

We’re all in this together. Just as we work towards our own healing from hurts old and new, let us remember that when people do their worst, they’re hurting too – and let’s extend the same compassion to them that we need for ourselves.

No idea where to start? If you’re hurting, try this: close your eyes and imagine your own pain being bathed in warm, radiant light. The specifics of the story behind your pain don’t really matter. Let the light permeate your hurt. Try to feel into this exercise, rather than thinking your way through it. Notice yourself breathing, notice how your body feels, and just let the light warm you and nurture you. Notice what shifts.

Then do something similar for the person who hurt you. Imagine them being surrounded by radiant, healing light. If you’re tempted to do this from a place of anger or resentment, that’s totally normal – but see if you can set that stuff aside, even if only for a moment or two or three. Imagine giving the person who hurt you a moment’s relief from their own pain.

And who knows? Maybe when you do these practices, the benefits will extend to all beings across time and space. Don’t discount your own power to be an agent of healing and transformation – for yourself, and maybe for the entire universe.

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