Why “No One Else Can Hurt Us; We Only Hurt Ourselves” Is Bull****

The subject I’m about to delve into stirs deep emotions within me due to the potential harm it can cause. I’m here to challenge a belief that’s been circulating—especially in spiritual and coaching circles—which I believe is a destructive fallacy.

Let’s start with a question: Do you believe you can speak to anyone, however you want, without a hint of tact or empathy, even when you’re aware of the potential hurt your words might cause?

If you believe this, do you also anticipate that your words and tone won’t stir emotions within the recipient?

Here’s a stark illustration: Would you dare to disrupt a funeral, boldly discussing the deceased’s worst characteristics before their grieving loved ones, all under the guise of everyone being responsible for their emotional reactions? If your insensitivity sparked outrage, would you proceed to argue that their reactions are their own responsibility, unrelated to your actions?

Similarly, would you deliberately say unkind things, which you know would strike at the insecurities of your child, best friend, parents, grandparents, or boss?

Despite this, I often hear people in the spiritual and coaching space tell each other that their emotional reactions are their sole responsibility. If they feel hurt or angry, it’s their fault because “no one can hurt us, we only hurt ourselves.” After much consideration, I’ve decided to challenge this notion vehemently.

My conclusion is simple: Yes, people can, and do, hurt one another—emotionally, mentally, and physically.

Here’s why.

Imagine a scenario where a friend or family member knows something personal about you, something that is a trigger for you. They’re fully aware that a few words can reopen that emotional wound. People do this, often intentionally or unintentionally, because they know how to push the right buttons.

I’m not suggesting that the person on the receiving end of such actions is helpless, destined to react to every hurtful act. However, it’s unrealistic to expect that we can remain completely detached from each other’s actions. We are emotional beings, not emotionless robots. Unless we’re perpetually armored, we’re susceptible to pain from thoughtless comments.

This phenomenon is akin to the scientific principle of “cause and effect.” Actions trigger reactions.

To think that we’re in a state of constant zen, impervious to external influences, is naive. We’re living, feeling beings with emotional wounds that can be easily reopened.

That said, I’m not advocating for a complete abdication of emotional responsibility. My point is quite simply that people have the ability to hurt others, which is the very essence of “emotional abuse.” It’s widely accepted that emotional abuse can be as damaging as physical abuse, with long-lasting effects.

We don’t all have the luxury of living like Buddhist monks, with ample time for introspection and personal growth. The reality for many is a world far removed from serene meditation halls and tranquil gardens.

For many of us, our days are filled with navigating a minefield of deeply ingrained false beliefs, wrestling with persistent insecurities, and dealing with the sting of rejection. Some of us carry the burden of neglect, while others bear the scars of various forms of abuse, both from childhood and our daily interactions.

These harsh experiences, often a staple in the fabric of our lives, limit our ability to distance ourselves from our emotional reactions, to separate our worth from others’ actions, and to cultivate a sense of inner peace. This ongoing struggle is a testament to the human spirit’s resilience, but it also underscores our need for empathy and understanding in our interactions with each other.

Moreover, not everyone has access to the knowledge or healing resources necessary to overcome suffering caused by others. It’s a privilege to have the care and support needed to rationalize that other people’s behaviors shouldn’t trigger our emotional wounds.

This belief that “nothing we say or do can hurt anyone else” inadvertently opens a narcissistic door, suggesting that people can act without boundaries, as any resulting pain is the recipient’s fault. It shifts blame onto those on the receiving end of potentially vicious and cruel behavior.

While it’s true that we can learn to see others’ behaviors as reflections of their character rather than our worth, this is a lifelong process, with no guaranteed success.

Our emotions, developed over thousands of years, allow us to connect and remind us that we’re in this together. There’s no love in causing pain, then blaming the hurt person for their feelings. Whether our egos or emotions are hurt isn’t the main issue. The key point is that we should not intentionally add more pain to existing hurt.

If we happen to cause harm, either intentionally or unintentionally, is it really that hard to show empathy and accept some responsibility for our actions? This holds true even if we believe the person should handle their emotions independently.

In essence, my perspective aligns with a common saying, “an arrow may hurt us on impact, but it’s up to us whether we leave it in place and let the pain fester.” Others’ behavior may initially cause us pain, but the duration and intensity of our suffering depend on our capacity and willingness to rationalize and heal.

I wholeheartedly endorse the quote by Louis C.K.: “When a person tells you that you hurt them, you don’t get to decide that you didn’t.”

It’s vital to remember the power of our words and actions, and the potential they carry for causing hurt. It’s a shared responsibility to communicate with kindness, empathy, and respect. It’s not about blaming others for our feelings but acknowledging that we can indeed inflict pain, and when we do, we should take responsibility. It’s about embracing our shared humanity, recognizing our inherent emotional connections, and striving to navigate them with as much compassion and understanding as possible.

So, let’s shift our mindset from blaming to understanding, from accusation to compassion. Let’s move from the belief that our words and actions are devoid of consequences, to the understanding that they carry weight and can, in fact, cause pain.

I invite you to contemplate this: What if, instead of insisting that someone should not feel hurt, we offered empathy? What if, instead of dismissing their pain, we validated their feelings? This is not about fostering a culture of victimhood but promoting a culture of empathy and respect.

This paradigm shift doesn’t require us to be perfectly Zen or perpetually armored against potential emotional harm. Instead, it asks us to be mindful of our words and actions, understanding their potential impact, and taking responsibility when they cause pain.

I’m not suggesting we walk on eggshells, living in fear of causing emotional upset. Instead, I’m advocating for mindful communication, where we respect the power of our words and actions, and strive to use them wisely.

To err is human, and we will inevitably hurt others, just as we will be hurt. However, it’s how we respond to these situations that matters. Do we deny our role, insisting the other person is solely responsible for their feelings? Or do we acknowledge the hurt we’ve caused, apologize sincerely, and strive to learn from the experience?

In the end, it’s about developing emotional intelligence and empathy, understanding that our actions affect others and taking responsibility when they cause pain. It’s about realizing that while we can’t control how others react to us, we can control our actions and strive to minimize harm.

To reiterate, emotional pain is not an isolated, self-inflicted experience. We are social beings, and our interactions inevitably affect those around us.

So let’s step away from the hurtful and dismissive belief that we can’t hurt others. Let’s challenge this notion with empathy, understanding, and a commitment to doing better. Because “when a person tells us that we’ve hurt them, we don’t get the right to decide that we didn’t.”

Alex Myles

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