3 — So there you are with yourself

So the­re you are with yourself
in a tight, lonely space
bea­ting up the one
who is in pain.

Linda: I would like to talk about fee­ling hurt. I’ve heard you say befo­re, “What is wrong with being hurt?” I just don’t get that. To me it’s a cra­zy ques­ti­on.
I live with someo­ne who is very dif­fe­rent from me and we start hur­ting each other very easi­ly. I with­draw and then I think I’ll speak to her later about the hurt and then I deci­de it’s not worth brin­ging it all up again or get­ting more hurt. Then I come back to the ques­ti­on of why do I fear get­ting hurt so much?

But that’s a very important ques­ti­on. It’s not a ques­ti­on that’s very often asked becau­se the assump­ti­on is that hurt is sim­ply some­thing we don’t want. So I pose the ques­ti­on to you becau­se you are brin­ging up your direct expe­ri­ence: Why do you feel ten­se about being hurt? What is it that makes you ten­se in the experience?

Linda: I think may­be it’s that I’m afraid I’ll get out of con­trol and scream and get angry and pile more hurt on.

Is that what you think or is that what you know?

Linda: I don’t know anything.

That’s a guess then?

Linda: Yes, that’s a guess.

So, we sit like this for a while and then we ask: When you feel this hurt, whe­re do you feel it?

Linda: I feel it in my heart. I feel as if I’ve rui­ned a peace. I want ever­ything to be right and I want ever­ything to be peace­ful and I want ever­y­bo­dy to be happy.

Do you reco­gni­ze the dif­fe­rence bet­ween fee­ling hurt and having tho­se thoughts? Do you see that they are not the same thing that fee­ling hurt and having that seri­es of thoughts are two dif­fe­rent inter­nal events? The thoughts are an attempt to exp­lain, but the hurt its­elf is some­thing dif­fe­rent. Let’s go back to the body. What is it about being hurt that you don’t like?

Linda: It’s very hard to descri­be. I would say, who wants pain?

I’m just explo­ring with you. I’m not try­ing to make a point. Are you sure it’s pain?

Linda: It feels like pain.

It feels phy­si­cal­ly like pain. Do you try to get away from it or the cir­cum­s­tan­ces that seem to be causing it? Are you sug­ges­ting that when I ask what is wrong with being hurt that I am sug­ges­ting we should stay in situa­tions that are hur­ting us? Is that part of the confusion?

Linda: I feel like I’m mis­sing some­thing. When you ask me that ques­ti­on, I feel there’s some­thing I don’t under­stand. To me, that pain is strong and being hurt is wrong. It’s not the way that I want or expect to be.

But you are sometimes.

Linda: Yes.

You use the word wrong” deli­ber­ate­ly. Is it wrong to be hurt?

Linda: I don’t know, may­be unna­tu­ral. My natu­ral sta­te is to be happy.

But is that the sta­te you find yourself in?

Linda: No, I’ve got­ten away from that.

Then, on what basis do you con­clu­de it’s natu­ral to be happy?

Linda: I don’t know.

I mean it’s a thought. I’m not say­ing it’s not a cor­rect thought. I’m sim­ply asking you what evi­dence you have to con­clu­de unhap­pi­ness is unnatural?

Linda: Here I am. It feels right.

It feels right that you should be hap­py and it feels wrong that you’re not. So, when you’re not hap­py that means that you’re wrong?

Linda: Yes. I think also that it feels that I could have cor­rec­ted it. If I’d cho­sen to use dif­fe­rent words, I could have avoided the who­le thing.

You could have avoided your hurt if you had done some­thing dif­fe­rent. So, what we come down to, as we begin to work through this, is that get­ting hurt is one expe­ri­ence. Then a secon­da­ry expe­ri­ence emer­ges which encir­cles the hurt — that is, an attack or self-bla­me. If you were more suc­cess­ful at human rela­ti­ons the­re would be no hurt.

Linda: Yes.

Which is more pain­ful — the hurt of the rela­ti­ons­hip or the self-attack?

Linda: The attack.

So the­re you are with yourself in a tight, lonely space bea­ting up the one who is in pain. You ask me the ques­ti­on about what is wrong with being hurt, but you clear­ly think that not only is being hurt wrong, but it is a per­so­nal fail­u­re.
We have a child who comes home at the end of the day and is hurt by some­thing that hap­pen­ed at school and we take him into the room and beat him up. You would be the first per­son to reject that as a solu­ti­on. It would be unt­hin­ka­ble to you. It would be an outra­ge bey­ond reck­o­ning becau­se your code of jus­ti­ce is so strong. But what about this?

Linda: I’ve never even thought about it that way.

It’s so uncon­scious that you don’t see how you’re trea­ting yourself. This is the way you try to get rid of fee­ling vul­nerable — by bea­ting yourself up. Now, it may be natu­ral to be hap­py, but is it natu­ral to hit yourself when you’re not?

Linda: No, I would con­si­der that to be very cruel.

Very cru­el. We’re hur­ting becau­se of a cer­tain deli­cacy, becau­se we feel vul­nerable, alo­ne, like somehow someo­ne doesn’t love us or we’re not loved. This is very rough.
We hurt becau­se we don’t feel loved and we want to. We hurt becau­se the­re is a lone­li­ness and a lon­ging in the heart. Then we beat our­sel­ves up. Where did that par­ti­cu­lar solu­ti­on come from?

Linda: I don’t know.

I don’t eit­her. It doesn’t even mat­ter. The actu­al insight mecha­nism is useless in the face of such an approach to our­sel­ves. In our pro­cess, we just look at the cho­reo­gra­phy of this cru­el dance. Why is the­re a pro­blem with being deli­ca­te?
Let’s say that it is easy for you to get hurt, that you are vul­nerable to the sting of strong words, or wha­te­ver. Does that mean that the­re is some­thing wrong with you? Is that a weakness?

Linda: I wouldn’t con­si­der it a weak­ness in anyo­ne else.

But in you, it’s not only a weak­ness, it’s an offen­se that’s punis­ha­ble. Isn’t that true?

Linda: Yes.

Some of us are woun­ded in a way that makes it har­der to put up a defen­se and, in your moral code, that unde­fen­ded aspect is wrong.

Linda: This per­son I’m tal­king about is my adult daugh­ter. On top of all of that, I also can see that what I do is I give mys­elf a mes­sa­ge that if I had been a bet­ter mother, then she wouldn’t be get­ting so upset and toe wouldn’t be into this.

Now, is that true or is that an opi­ni­on? And if you think it is true, how did you come to that idea?

Linda: Well, becau­se of all the mista­kes I made as a mother.

Let’s just look at that a litt­le bit. How do you know they are mistakes?

Linda: Because I felt so often I wasn’t doing what I should. I was out of con­trol. I wasn’t com­ing from the place of love. I couldn’t come from the place of love all the time. I felt so bad when I couldn’t do that. I felt so bad.

Of cour­se.

Linda: They were child­ren and they nee­ded to be cared for.

That’s right. I know what you are say­ing and I cer­tain­ly don’t make light of it. I under­stand that some­ti­mes we can look back on our past and see things we did that we are not abso­lute­ly ful­fil­led about.
But now this child still comes to you and gets the same lack of care, the same aban­don­ment that you were just describ­ing to me.

Linda: What did you say?

A child still comes home, insi­de your heart, and gets the same tre­at­ment. When does it stop? Until you’­ve paid the pri­ce for what you did? When does it end? Is it any bet­ter to con­ti­nue to do it to yourself than it was to do it then?
A per­son car­ri­es some sen­se of reg­ret about their rela­ti­ons­hip to the child­ren. We were hard on them, perhaps, when it would have been kin­der to be soft. Sometimes we were har­sh and even out of con­trol. Things do hap­pen and the­re are times, par­ti­cu­lar­ly after we’ve grown a lot, that we look back and under­stand that we were con­trac­ted, afraid and une­a­sy with our­sel­ves. We were in pain. We were unab­le to do what see­med to be the hig­hest at the time.
But then we keep doing it to our­sel­ves. So the ques­ti­on beco­mes — are you worth less than they are? Or is this in some way a com­pen­sa­ti­on for the past? Is this a mecha­nism which whips out of con­trol or do you think it is some­thing that could be stopped?

Linda: I feel out of con­trol becau­se I can see that I’m not as hurt as I used to be, but I’m still sur­pri­sed that I stop­ped being hurt in the work place. The minu­te I step across my own door that hurt is the­re. I’m still so vulnerable.

Vulnerability makes you ter­ri­b­ly afraid. In the face of what’s vul­nerable you think you’re going to lose con­trol. When you con­si­der the rela­ti­ons­hip bet­ween mother and child, for instance, clear lines of deli­ne­a­ti­on fade. Their pain is yours at a cer­tain level. When they are vul­nerable, it beco­mes yours and frigh­tens you deeply.
There is even a tone of vio­lence in your respon­se to vul­nera­bi­li­ty, par­ti­cu­lar­ly when it’s clo­se to home. Maybe not so much when it s not clo­se to home. In the social, poli­ti­cal sce­ne you take on an ideo­lo­gy which is the oppo­si­te. Your ideo­lo­gi­cal posi­ti­on, poli­ti­cal­ly, is com­ple­te­ly oppo­sed to the way you tre­at yourself. People shouldn’t be trea­ted cru­el­ly. The ideo­lo­gi­cal posi­ti­on is a com­pen­sa­ti­on, an ide­al that you pro­po­se to ever­yo­ne else except you.

Linda: What did you say about the violence?

What I hear is that when you’re hurt and the­re is that vul­nera­bi­li­ty, that pain and that lone­li­ness, then your reac­tion is almost vio­lent. You start to hit and get out of control.

Linda: Yes, that’s true.

You see­med to indi­ca­te that this vio­lence affec­ted your rela­ti­ons­hip with the child­ren when they were young and that even now you use the fact of the past to bru­ta­li­ze the pre­sent. Do you think you can stop?

Linda: Over the years, there’s been a healing. I have dia­lo­gues with mys­elf and try to get mys­elf back on track. Now when I beat mys­elf up, it doesn’t last as long.

I can see when I’m doing it now. I’d real­ly like to stop.

Let’s say you stop bea­ting yourself up — what do you do with the hurt? Let’s say you have ano­t­her argu­ment with your daugh­ter and you feel hurt. What do you do now if you actual­ly give up that par­ti­cu­lar self-attack? What do you do with the hurt?
Let’s say that it’s natu­ral to be hap­py, but let’s say you’re not hap­py becau­se you hurt. What is a sign of self-respect in rela­ti­ons­hip to hurt?

Linda: To honor it or respect it, I guess.

Is the­re ano­t­her alter­na­ti­ve? To fight it and reject it?

Linda: I don’t know. Is there?

Do you know what it might mean to honor and respect your hurt?

Linda: It’s very hard for me to know that.

That’s clear in that your respon­se to it is vio­lent. It’s hard to honor some­thing that we would like to beat up. At this moment you don’t know how to honor your hurt. Hurt is con­nec­ted to a moral tone, a judgment and an idea of right or wrong. Somebody was wrong and some­bo­dy was right and usual­ly it was you who was wrong.
Let’s say that you were wrong. Let’s say that you could have done it bet­ter. Is that a jus­ti­fi­ca­ti­on for bea­ting yourself up?

Linda: No.

Even if you were wrong, even if all the evi­dence poin­ted to the fact that you could have done it bet­ter, you would still have to learn how to honor and respect your hurt. The argu­ment that it was your fault or that you could have done it bet­ter is not a jus­ti­fi­ca­ti­on for self-abu­se. Let’s say that there’s no tal­king to yourself, there’s no tal­king yourself out of it. There is a hurt that you feel in the body and you weep if you need to and you touch the loca­ti­on of the hurt with your hand. You wait and stay easy. You allow it to be. Do you think that would be a mistake?

Linda: No, it sounds very simple.

Very simp­le. I’m allo­wed to hurt. I’m also allo­wed to be wrong. I’m allo­wed to have made mista­kes. I’m allo­wed to have reg­rets. I’m allo­wed to care for myself.

Linda: I remem­ber one time you asked me if I cared for mys­elf and I real­ly didn’t know what to say.

It’s a very big ques­ti­on. There s so much dilem­ma-making around hurt, so much con­fu­si­on. The mind begins to invent batt­le lines, crea­tes an urgen­cy to take sides. This is not compassion.

Linda: It’s very hard for me not to sit in judgment.

Particularly about some­thing so soft as hurt feelings.

Linda: Most of the time both my daugh­ter and I get hurt, not just one of us.

I’m sure that’s true. You’re both hurt. It’s under­stand­a­ble. The chan­ces are that the argu­ments you two are having are about the past in some dis­gui­sed form. The chan­ces are that the guilt you feel in rela­ti­ons­hip to what is being covertly dis­cus­sed would sug­gest a need for punish­ment. Sometimes we have a dis­cus­sion bet­ween an adult and a child which is about making up for some­thing which see­med to hap­pen in the past, even though that dis­cus­sion seems to be about a cur­rent situa­ti­on. It is an attempt, often on the child’s part, to find com­pen­sa­ti­on. The dis­cus­sion is so vei­led that guilt and remor­se tend to domi­na­te but in the back­ground.
I would be wil­ling to wager that the argu­ments, if the guilt weren’t as strong, would not be as pain­ful or as long as they are now. Your need to enga­ge is a reac­tion to the fee­lings which have been expo­sed as a result of her com­p­laint, even though they seem to be about some­thing else.
Do we achie­ve hap­pi­ness by avoiding hurt?

Linda: It’s a side track.

It sure is. Not only do you feel hurt but the­re is also a gre­at sen­se of guilt. Those two things sit side by side. What do you feel now in your chest, in your heart? What do you feel now?

Linda: I feel the begin­ning of a peace.

A sen­se of relief.

Linda: I think I want to under­stand why I fear the hurt so much.

I could perhaps give you an anec­do­tal or phi­lo­so­phi­cal state­ment in rela­ti­ons­hip to your ques­ti­on, but you would still feel hurt.

Linda: Yes, I want to know how not to feel hurt and you’re say­ing just be with it and I’ll find out that it’s not as bad as I think.

Very much so, and that the hurt its­elf is asking for ten­der­ness and you’re not respon­ding in that way. Therefore, it won’t heal. It won’t go away.
The hurt is say­ing that it wants your ten­der­ness and you are say­ing, “Get out of here, go away. I don’t like you. It is wrong to feel this way.”

Linda: I get it.

The atti­tu­de you take toward hurt is pro­bab­ly a part of a sur­vi­val mecha­nism that see­med necessa­ry in the past, but it bears no rela­ti­ons­hip to the pre­sent. It is no lon­ger useful.

Linda: The secret is out.

The secret is out. “I want to be taken care of sometimes.”

Linda: I had to keep that in for so long.

Of cour­se you did and the way you dealt with it was not wrong. It’s sim­ply no lon­ger appropriate.

Linda: Thank you, Steve.

From Stephen R. Schwartz. Angelic Dialogues – The Work of Compassionate Self-Care. Riverrun Press, Piermont NY: 1993. pp. 21–32.