People hurt us, and let us down. We all have bad things that happen to us from time to time. Shit happens, as we all know. There’s nothing you can do to prevent it entirely. Sure, you can take precautions, and you can make preparations, and you can do everything right, and be perfect in every way, but you’re still going to be hit by shitballs sometimes.
Your spouse cheats on you. The office gossip spreads a false rumor, and gets you fired. Someone cuts you off in traffic, or hits your car, causing severe damage. Someone assaults or abuses you. Intentionally or not, someone has physically, mentally, or emotionally hurt you. Someone has done something to you, and has caused you pain.
You’re feeling hurt, stunned, confused, scared, angry…maybe all at once. Your adrenaline is pumping, your mind is racing, your nerves are tingling…every fiber of your being is on high alert in a phenomenon known as the “fight or flight” response.
This moment…this fleeting instance of time…is the most important split second of your life. At this moment, you are at the peak of your power. At this moment, all of the powers of creation and destruction are at your command. At this moment, you are a god or goddess, and the entire universe bends to your will. The quality of your life is defined in this one moment. The quality of your friendships, your intimate relationships, and your other relationships; your financial health; the job you have; the place you live…literally every single aspect of your life is dependent on this one single moment.
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
~Viktor E. Frankl
It is human nature to want to lash out, to retaliate. You hurt me, so I’m going to hurt you! I’ll show you what happens to people who hurt me! Maybe you decide to hit back. Maybe you call the other person a nasty name, or you flip them off. Maybe you feel powerless to attack that person directly, so you take it out on somebody else. Maybe you punch a wall or kick a tire. Maybe you throw something. You were attacked, and now you want to retaliate.
If you choose to retaliate, you will only cause yourself more pain.
Once you have chosen to retaliate, there are only two possible outcomes, and neither one is good for you. Either you fail in your attempt to hurt the other person, and you embarrass yourself (causing yourself even more pain); or you succeed, and cause the other person pain. At first, you feel good. You feel strong and powerful. Righteous, even.Ha! I sure showed you! So then what happens? The other person attacks you back, and the pain returns, only it’s amplified because you’re still hurting from the first attack. The situation continues to deteriorate until one of you chooses not to retaliate.
You can be the first person who chooses not to retaliate. In that moment, right after you have been attacked, you can choose not to retaliate. It isn’t easy. At all. In fact, it’s one of the hardest things you’ll ever learn to do in this life. Why? Because it goes against millions of years of evolution and biological programming. It goes against every fiber of your being. It’s called the “fight or flight” response, not the “stand there looking like a dumbass while you thoughtfully consider your next words” response. You have been designed to fight back, or to run away. Taking a moment to pause isn’t even on the menu, biologically speaking, but it’s your best option.
When you choose not to retaliate, you make your life better in almost every way. You become more calm and peaceful. Your stress levels drop. You increase your self respect and gain confidence. When you do this in front of other people, you earn their admiration and respect as well. When people respect you, they treat you better. They’re nicer to you. They want to help you in whatever way they can. Simply by choosing peace instead of conflict, you’re able to improve every area of your life. People pay thousands of dollars learning How to Win Friends and Influence People, but really, all you need to do is learn how to master that space between stimulus and response like our good friend Viktor Frankl described above. Master the space, master your life.
Even though you don’t have to retaliate, you DO have to respond. You owe it to yourself to respond. Failing to respond leads to anger and bitterness that eats away at your mental health. Over time, it can lead to passive-aggressive behavior or even depression. So basically, if you don’t respond, you’re hurting yourself on top of the hurt you just got from the other person.
So, you have to respond. The question is, how? The best response is calm, clear, and direct: “Hey, that really hurt me,” or “Hey, that really hurt my feelings.” You can use humor, so long as it doesn’t dilute the message, something like, “Oh, ouch! Straight to the heart! But seriously, that hurt.” You can even release some of your anger in your response, but you have to be really careful. “Hey! That hurt! I don’t like being treated/spoken to like that!” releases some of the anger inside you, but isn’t an attack on the other person. That’s really tricky, though…it’s a very fine line that’s easy to cross, so I recommend not trying it until you’ve gotten used to delivering the message in a more neutral manner first.
My personal go-to response is, “Oh, hey. That really hurt me.” It’s simple, direct, and non-threatening. I don’t say “You hurt me!” because that can come across as confrontational…and lead to defensiveness or another attack from the other person. “That really hurt me” focuses on the words or action, not the other person.
Mastering the pause and choosing to respond instead of retaliate is the work of a lifetime. I’ve been practicing it for over five years now, and I still get it wrong more often than I get it right. It gets easier over time, and each success makes it easier for the next confrontation, but it never really gets easy. The truth is that we all have our buttons, and we all have our triggers. Choosing response over retaliation is easy until it’s your buttons being pushed, and then it’s one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do in life.
One Final Note (Very Important!)
When you say “That really hurt me,” pay close attention to the response you get in return. Their response will tell you everything you need to know about that person, and your relationship with them. A person who laughs, or rolls their eyes, or shrugs it away is not your partner, not your lover, not your friend, not even your ally. It’s not anyone you should keep in your life. If they don’t value your feelings, they don’t value you, and you’re better off without them. The first time, you might let it slide, and maybe even the second or third time. But the third time…that’s a pattern. Not just any pattern, but a pattern of abuse.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in life, it’s that abuse always escalates. Today they rolled their eyes and dismissed your feelings. Tomorrow, they’ll be making fun of you. Next week, they’ll be pinching you or squeezing your hand too tightly, and a month from now they’ll be punching you in the face and kicking you down a flight of stairs. Do yourself a favor, and learn to recognize the early, little, almost imperceptible, signs of abuse, and get out as soon as you can.
Photo by Jessica45