We all have different ways of responding to trauma and misfortune. Some of us suppress it until it eventually bursts out. Some of us crack jokes and make millions in stand-up. Some of us hide in alcohol, or drugs, or sex, or novels. Some of us build walls and never let anyone near us again. And some of us – many of us – pass on the pain to others.

Unfortunately, the people who receive that pain are often undeserving. You reject the nice guy or nice girl because of someone who wasn’t quite as nice. You become transactional in relationships with someone that’s given you their money – and their hurt. Sometimes, you get downright violent in your words, actions … or your stubborn lack of both.

I’ve explored religion a little bit, and while Christianity says to turn the other cheek, New Agey Buddhism says there is no cheek, there is no hurt. That everything happens for a reason and if you take a big picture view, that ‘nasty experience’ was for your benefit. Something in your past life (or the past life of your harmer) brought you together in this painful situation at your request.

While I won’t go that far, I don’t believe anything happens in a vacuum. Nothing is random in my world. There’s always a reason for the way things go. Now – in my line of thinking – a reason isn’t an excuse. It may explain what happened, but it doesn’t make it okay. Knowing someone was abused in childhood may explain why they hurt another child, but it doesn’t justify their action, or mean they should be forgiven.

Some of us are wired with empathy. When something bad happens to us, we do our best to make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else. Others are more drawn towards vengeance. If I suffer, we all suffer, and that somehow makes it fair. Like the example I like to use so frequently, two young brothers watch their dad batter their mum. One grows up thinking it’s normal – even expected – for women to be beaten. The other promises never to raise his fist.

 

They say the way someone treats you is a refection of them, not you. If someone abuses you, there’s nothing wrong with you. The problem is them. On the other hand, people only treat you the way you let them. Yes, they are the ones with a flaw, but as long as you sit there and take it, it doesn’t stop.

So I guess the trick is to know when to walk away, and have the courage to do it kindly. Be brave enough, strong enough, and soft enough to say, ‘Hey, I know you’ve been hurt, and I’m sorry that happened to you. And I’m not going to stay and let you do the same to me.’

Be wise enough to know acting out is not the same as working out, and indulging negativity is not a way to solve it. They need professional help, not a psychological punching bag, and that letting them use you to exercise their demons is no good for either of you.

Some people see that as abandoning someone that needs help. It feels more loving to martyr yourself, to give them another chance, to believe that your wholesome love will get through to them, heal their hurt, and make them better. You’ll be patient. You will fix them. And they will love your forever in return. You’ll be the one person in life that never gave up on them.

Or, you know, you’ll be dead.

It’s hard to walk away, and some people never do. They just stay there and take it forever, losing themselves in the process. So now you just have two broken people instead of one. Well, the older I get, the more I learn to be kinder to myself. Sometimes, that means refusing to ‘save’ someone else.

♫ human ♫ Rag ‘n ‘bone man ♫

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