Monday, November 8, 2010
Why Do People Hurt?
I think I was anticipating my response based on how I would’ve reacted when I was drinking. Back when I was drinking, by the time race time came around, I would’ve been totally under the influence, and so I would have amplified any emotion I felt at the outcome. This time, I was stone cold sober, so all I felt was a little disappointment, and then some pride after all, because she had given it her all and almost got to the wire first. You can’t really fault that. There was no one to blame (but Blame. Sorry, I can never resist making a bad joke.) Days later, I actually feel proud of her and I know, with that incredible big run down the stretch, she proved what her detractors kept denying: she can totally race the boys on dirt. She beat Lookin At Lucky, she beat Quality Road, and had she not run into traffic, she probably would’ve beaten Blame.
Besides all this, I just have a total different attitude about expectations any more. I seem to have eased into a place of general serenity because I have ceased to have expectations. In their stead I have only hopes. There’s a world of difference between the two. Hopes allow for the possibility that you might not get what you want. Expectations don’t.
Thus, in AA, we have a saying: “Expectations are just premeditated resentments.”
And all of this got me thinking about hurt, and why we even feel hurt to begin with. The truth is, nobody has the power to hurt anybody else. The truth is, we’re only hurt when we have an expectation dashed. There is no other reason to be hurt. Feeling hurt means we had an emotional investment in an outcome. It’s nothing more than that.
But, man. It is painful and uncomfortable and awful to feel hurt. We hate the feeling. In moments, when hurt is fresh, we may be so devastated that we don’t know how we’ll ever recover from the blow. So, as often happens, in order to cope, to deal, to offset the pain a little, we’ll blame the person who hurt us. (I’ve blogged about this here.) Then things can get ugly. The person being blamed will understandably get defensive, and the person doing the blaming will refuse to admit to any responsibility for their hurt.
Then you’re stuck at an impasse until the hurt person gets over it.
So what gets us over it? It’s only when we stop playing the victim and OWN the fact that we had an expectation that we’ll get over it. If you can just admit you had an expectation, then you can look at what, precisely, caused you to have that expectation, and then you’ll realize that it wasn’t reasonable to have that expectation in the first place. Here are three examples of this principle at play.
• So, Jimmy wouldn’t commit to you after several months of dating? Why does this hurt you? The degree of your hurt parallels the level of expectation you had that Jimmy would commit. But how reasonable was the expectation? Did Jimmy even know you had that expectation? Besides, do you NEED Jimmy in order to be happy? Now, be honest with yourself: Aren’t you hurt because you failed to control Jimmy? Isn’t the real reason you’re hurt is that you didn’t get what you wanted? The answers to these questions may be unpleasant to acknowledge, and you might even be mad at me for challenging you to ask them of yourself, but once you can acknowledge them, your dashed expectations will lose their power. The feelings of hurt will drop away. You’ll own your part of it, and you will stop blaming Jimmy for the fact that you’re hurt.
•So, are you hurt because somebody insulted you? Why? Why does their opinion of you matter so much to you? The important thing is, are you happy with yourself? The point is, if you start expecting everybody to love everything you do, you’re going to be hurt constantly, because you have zero control over other people’s opinions of you. Besides, what they think of you has everything to do with them, and very little if anything to do with you.
• So, are you hurt because your best friend betrayed you and blabbed to someone else something you told them in confidence? Well, is it reasonable to really expect that another human being can keep a juicy tidbit of information to themselves? Yeah, not really, huh? They’re human, and you’re just silly for expecting that they might. Sure, it’s reasonable for you to have hoped that they would, but hopes aren’t expectations.
The point I’m really making is that your self-esteem should not be dependent on other people, so you shouldn’t hang your happiness on an expectation regarding others’ behaviors. When you do that, you wind up hurt.
I know all this is easier said than done, and I'm certainly guilty of spending most of my life having expectations instead of hopes. But stop having expectations, and you will be as flexible as wheat waving in a gentle breeze. When hit by a heavy gust, you may bend, but you will never break.