People who are hurt, specifically in an emotional or psychological sense, tend to hurt other people. Hurt people hurt people; they do so with harsh words, biting comments, derogatory statements, ridicule, condescension, sarcasm, yelling and screaming, cussing and innuendo about family members or friends. It doesn’t really matter how a person came to be hurt, for there are hundreds of ways it can happen: childhood trauma such as physical abuse or rape, parental neglect, peer bullying, sibling conflict, to name a few. These painful experiences can be lodged in the psyche and seek outlets whenever possible. Hurt people are known to have ‘triggers,’ i.e., situations that can activate their hurt and cause them to lash out with vitriolic and vehement words and actions, often directed to the people closest to them. Because trauma and hurt are so very common in the world, it behooves anybody to have some understanding about how best to respond to such outpourings upon us, and avoid being hurt ourselves by such, should that occur.
- Don’t take it personally. Hurt people are a little on the blind side when it comes to discrimination. They don’t readily see that you are an innocent bystander, had no intention of triggering their pain, were only trying to help, etc. If you happen to inadvertently say something or behave in such a way as to trigger a painful memory in someone, recognize it as a healing process on his or her part. They were just allowed to express old hurt that needed an outlet; you just happened to be convenient at that time and in that place. Whereas the vitriol may be directed at you, and may appear to be about you, it is far more likely it is about something that happened in the past, and about someone other than you.
- Listen. Arguing and reacting against the onslaught of hurtful words can only serve to make the person serving them bolder and more aggressive. You can even employ ‘active listening skills’ by mirroring and paraphrasing what they are saying to you. This can be very effective in defusing the situation. Of course, by hurling back hurtful words to them helps nobody and only increases the hurt. So, say little, listen much.
- Have Compassion. There are some lovely Biblical sentiments that can help prevent us from getting upset, angry or hurt ourselves by the onslaught of hurtful energy that may come our way. Consider “forgive them for they know not what they do” or “judge not, lest ye be judged” or “forgive those who trespass against us…” and “ blessed are the merciful.” It can be an empowering experience to express these ideals in a situation where they can actually be quite helpful.
- Be your own authority. It is often said that nobody can hurt you without your permission. You need not give a hurtful person permission to hurt you with their words. You can recognize that they themselves are hurt, but that does not mean that you allow them to hurt you. It is almost as if you have a protective shield which disallows the acceptance of words that are untrue, inaccurate, invalid, false, fictitious, fallacious, faulty and, yes, hurtful.
- Walk away. If you cannot yourself take the hurtful venting from a hurtful person, then leave. You are not obligated to remain. You can even state to them that you are not in a position at this time to listen and then excuse yourself. If need be, go talk with a friend, or a professional, about the incident so you can debrief and defuse it within yourself so it does not become some trigger for you later on down the road.
Perhaps the most helpful piece of advice one can remember when interacting with a hurt person is to avoid being hurtful back. It may prove useless trying to be nice to them as they are not in need of niceties; they are in need of an avenue of venting, releasing and pouring out the hurt that is there within them, and has probably been there within them for a long, long time, festering over the years. It is sufficient that you simply not add to that pile of hurt either through leaving, or listening.