Getting hurt and being hurt are normal, and actually necessary.
I want to start here by sharing a video meme that went viral. This meme clearly, yet unconsciously, portrays what this article is about.
Many of you may have heard of the “Charlie Bit My Finger” video on Youtube. You can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_OBlgSz8sSM
A little over ten years ago, when this video was sent to me, I watched it in delight. The older brother gets bit repeatedly by his infant little brother, Charlie. He seems surprised that by putting his hand at the teething infants mouth, that eventually he would get bitten, and also might experience getting hurt. He narrates what happens, and seems to have surprise, shock, disappointment, and amusement, as he focuses on the novel pain of having been bitten. In this video, the older brother to Charlie, seems to be able to tolerate and even find humor in being hurt by his brother, but still shows a fixation on the pain of being hurt. We all do this, and perhaps this is why this innocent video went viral?
In my many years since watching this video, I think about it often. In studying human behavior and trauma, as well as observing wellness, happiness, and resilience, I have come to notice that we all are hurt to one degree or another, in our childhoods, and this continues on through adulthood. Our fingers get bitten a whole lot, often because we have to engage in the world, and live life, and this means metaphorically, or sometimes literally, putting our fingers in “mouths”/mouths. In fact, getting hurt and hurting others, is inevitable.
Spiritual and religious teachings and practices, as well as the fields of mental health and self-improvement, seek to tackle this fundamental, existential phenomenon. They seek to tackle it, so we might learn to tolerate or prevent pain or suffering.
So, what’s the issue here?
In response to the cumulatively deep pain and powerlessness we experience from this hurt in life, we all tend to form a variation of a certain core belief. This core belief ends up being wildly problematic.
In my eyes, this core belief revolves around, at the deepest level, believing that a measurement of being a good or right-living person, being in a good relationship, and having a good life, is in avoiding (awareness of) hurting others, or being hurt. We genuinely believe that when someone or something causes hurt in us, this shouldn’t be happening. That something is clearly wrong with us, another, the context, or life, if we are getting hurt, or, have hurt another! As though this isn’t just a natural human experience, and hurt could somehow be avoided altogether!
This belief that causing or getting hurt is somehow the human experience, gone wrong, perpetuates what I refer to as a collective, infantile fantasy. This fantasy involves the delusion that with the right amount of effort, skill, privilege, and resources, an idealized, completely friendly, egalitarian, no-pain, no-conflict, non-violent, harmonious, unconditionally loving way of being in the world together, is possible. That somehow, arriving at not feeling pain in relationship and life, is the central task worth pursuing, because it is indeed a reachable goal.
There is actually absolutely no record in human history of this type of culture or group of people existing without hurting each other and feeling a resulting pain, in some form or another. Yet, we carry on with this fantasy, and are surprised, outraged, and self-righteous when the people in our life or around us, hurt us, or we realize we have (unwittingly) hurt them. We then perpetually focus our energy on setting our self, others, or the circumstances, “straight”, to return back to the “right” path again. We don’t tend to stop to reflect that as humans, despite our tendency to hurt and be hurt as a fundamental aspect to our existence, there is so much that is “right” about us, and in many ways we haven’t been led astray. As a species, we still exist on this planet, there are many amazing cultures, places, and people, and there are also many powerful teachers, healers, and “positive” influences on this planet. How could all this exist if somehow getting hurt was unnecessary or wrong, and led us off the proper course for human life and development?
In fact, I want to frankly state, here, that our collective belief and fantasy, aimed in protecting our selves from hurting others or getting hurt, actually leads us further from the peace, harmony and healing we desire. It is part of the reason so much added suffering and destruction occurs on this planet.
Why and how might this collective belief and fantasy about hurting and being hurt, lead us further from where we want to go?
To organize one’s life around feeling outrage/surprise at being hurt (or hurting others), worrying about, or protecting oneself from getting hurt (or hurting others), is actually a surefire way to end up hurting others, and getting hurt.
First off, focusing on the fact that we were hurt, thinking a lot about it, and ruminating on how bad the other person or thing is, to prevent feeling this hurt again, is not solution-focused. The same goes for if we find ourselves in the perpetrator role, and have hurt another. Perpetuating a shock, disbelief, or lack of acceptance that the hurt happened to us, or we hurt another, and staying at the level of trying to “figure it out”, and feeling shame or whatever other emotional response to it, just keeps one at a level where the more they focus their sight on the hurt, their vision narrows, and they unwittingly trip over the next part of the path, and thus hurt themselves, another, or get hurt by others, once again. We focus on the problem, and thus never find a solution, yet instead stumble upon more opportunities to see and experience the problem, or new problems.
Additionally, when in the position of receiving hurt, fixating on when someone has hurt us, tends to distort our ability to see the full picture. We become fearful, and our focus ends up on a self-absorbed tracking of our own feelings, and a resulting desire for self-protection. This self-protection leads to closing off from relationship or shutting down, and then taking a moral high-ground against the person or thing that hurt us. We self-righteously focus on our pain, and how whom or whatever caused us to hurt, now must be responsible for getting us to open up and move forward, while we de-emphasize any way we initially were being hurtful to them or it, before we got hurt, or are currently being hurtful towards them/it in response to being hurt.
And finally, when we uphold the belief that getting hurt can be avoided, and a lack of hurt is a sign of a good person, situation, or life, as a culture, we designate that our individual responsibility and job in life, should be to exist to not hurt others, and for others to return that agreement to exist to not hurt us. Then, we punish our selves or others when we do happen to cause hurt or be hurt, because how dare we/they break this agreement!?! Rather than exist as completely imperfect, autonomous, diverse humans, we all start to expect some level of co-dependence, in fulfilling the agreement to not hurt, or be hurt.
This stance perpetuates conflict, because it is based on a constant expression of a fundamental fear or mistrust of our deepest human nature and expressions. From this mistrust, we create a standard for un-human kind of perfection in relationships/life. We end up wasting energy dramatically pointing the finger at whomever or whatever hurt us, or trying to deflect blame, and strive to become more perfect, rather than moving to the next phase of where our human development could go.
What is this next phase?
In this next phase of development, we finally drop the act, the belief, the fantasies and expectations around hurting and being hurt. We stop focusing on our hurt finger, so to speak, look up, and take in the view of the other and the world. We don’t double down on how to avoid putting our hands in any “mouths”/mouths, and stop the process at why we feel the way we feel about this problem of getting our finger bitten, and who we are to be a “hand-biter”, or to be someone who gets bitten. Instead, with our new view from looking up from the hurt, we take in new information, we feel connection to our self and others, we experience humor in acknowledging how normal it is to be hurt or hurtful, we feel (self-)forgiveness, love, empathy and compassion, and we learn, heal and grow together.
We then learn that a worthy, healthy, good, relationship to anyone or anything, is not defined by not getting hurt, but rather it is defined by your willingness to acknowledge and honor when you have the been the receiver or the giver of pain, and to empathize, apologize, and wholeheartedly attempt to heal and grow (together).
The end point is in embracing our selves fully, for all the ways we feel pain and cause pain, and in increasing our love and openness to match this reality.
THIS process of working through the hurt together, as it inevitably keeps arising, is what creates the positivity we currently see in the world. THIS is what will create more of what we want.