"It is so much easier for people to cause others pain than it is for them to feel their own pain."
~Brené Brown, On Being with Krista Tippet
I was driving along the highway listening to Barry Manilow. (No dissing of my musical taste allowed. Manilow was and is a musical genius/national treasure. Do not argue with me.) I haven't heard his music in years. Ever since the digital revolution made my LPs and CDs irrelevant. But a recent Spotify subscription is restoring my music library and giving me access to my youth via music yet again.
Music, we all know, transports us, often to the past. I landed somewhere around 1984, the year that my best (ha!) friend, recently dumped by her boyfriend, began dating mine. Technically, my boyfriend and I had broken up a few days earlier. We were "taking a break" (yeah, I know). I was at school in another city and it just wasn't working. But I was heartbroken and he was heartbroken. Enter "friend" (ha!).
And so my friend (ha! again) made her move. First she told him what a crappy girlfriend I had been (which might have technically been true). Then she told him that I already dating. (I had gone on ONE date and I was sad through the whole thing.) I didn't find all this out until later. I knew she wasn't returning my phone calls, which was weird. And then, a week later, I show up at a party and the two of them are clearly a couple.
My heart shattered.
I give you this backstory because, over the years that have elapsed since 1984, this episode in my life has become something of a punchline, a sort of "wow, I was young and stupid and had really bad taste in friends" kinda story, punctuated with laughter.
But, with Manilow singing about heartbreak, I didn't feel like laughing when I remembered. I felt like crying. Because I suddenly remembered how painful that was. I was so young. And so in love with this guy who was completely wrong for me. And I had trusted both him and my friend (HA!). Not to never hurt me but to not intentionally hurt me.
Thing is, this friend (ha! ha! ha!) carried her own pain. Lots of it. She had done this to other friends. She fed on male attention. And so, even acknowledging so many years later, courtesy of Manilow, just how painful that was, I was able to see exactly what Brené Brown is telling us: It's so much easier for people to cause others pain than it is for them to feel their own pain.
Think about how often that happens in your life. A mother who can't apologize to you for something cruel she said. A friend who would rather sever ties than face your hurt, or her own. A husband who convinces himself that it's okay to cheat on his wife. That "nobody" is getting hurt.
It's psychological (not to mention moral) gymnastics, this ability to numb ourselves to our pain while hurting others. But it's as common as dirt.
All of us carry wounds. We cannot reach adulthood (hell, we probably can't reach first grade) without having suffered an emotional wound, some deeper than others, of course. And many of us learn to ignore it. In a culture where expressing emotional pain is seen as weakness, we pretend we're "fine", especially men. In a family in which our emotional pain makes us a target for more, we learn to hide it. We lie to the world. Nothing to see here. And then we believe our own lies.
But that pain doesn't go away just because we pretend it isn't there. It simply drives our behaviour in ways that aren't so obvious. We eat more than we should. We drink more than we should. We spend more than we should. We cheat more than we should.
And we refuse to accept responsibility for the pain that we're causing to others because we're so divorced from our own.
I've always been a sensitive person. "Too sensitive", if you ask the most wounded (but least aware) people in my life. When I was about 12, I came home from school upset about something a friend said. "Why are you crying?" my mother asked me, even after I'd explained. She was so removed from her own emotions that she, literally, couldn't fathom tears. Not surprisingly, she spent a decade at the bottom of a vodka bottle, numb to her own pain. It was only when she got sober that she got in touch with any feeling other than shame. There was a world of hurt waiting for her to face it. But until she was able to own her pain, she caused me a world of it.
That's the challenge as we deal with infidelity. And it's such a tough one. The challenge is to acknowledge our own pain at being cheated on, while also acknowledging the pain that drives someone to do something so contrary to his own moral code (if it isn't contrary to his moral code, then that's a whole other problem). Healing from infidelity isn't a zero sum game. It can be true that you are in the worst pain of your life because of what he did. And it can be true that he never addressed the pain in his life, which is why he did what he did. Your pain doesn't cancel out his and vice versa. Each of you must tend to your wounds. Especially so that you don't carry them with you in a way that allows you to hurt others without regard.
We cannot be whole until we are able to acknowledge our own pain and the ways in which we've hurt others. Only then does healing begin.