Usually, my best thinking is done on the toilet. However, I realized something the other day while I was driving to a dance class. I’ve come to realize that often times (if not all the time), when I’m hurting emotionally, it is because someone else is/was hurting. Two recent poignant examples…
A good friend of almost 20 years committed suicide in early February. I’ve gone through a roller coaster of emotional highs and lows. I know that he was in a tremendous amount of pain. Losing someone close is one thing, but suicide is something else. The best way I can describe it for me is that is feels like I’m burning from the inside out. Rich was someone who used me as a personal reference when he joined the Air Force, applied to Cal Poly (which he graduated from), and applied for a job at Intel (which he got!). The influence we had on each other’s lives was profound. We rode motorcycles together, shared stories of skydiving together (although we never jumped together), shared everything about our love lives, went to clubs, talked about deep social and personal issues, encouraged each other, and inspired each other.
Perhaps the most difficult part of Rich’s suicide was knowing what a positive influence I had on his life. Had he just been a close friend who I talked to every day/week/month/whenever… But Rich was not just someone I was close with. Rich was someone I inspired, and he let me know I inspired him. He was also someone who inspired me, and I let him know. The pain of losing someone with so much mutual admiration is incredible.
A few days after Rich committed suicide something happened that I still can’t believe. My closest friend, someone that I spent countless hours with every week, someone I’ve go through hell and back for, someone I’ve stood for through insurmountable crap went on a tyraid and started slinging some of the most vicious insults I have ever heard in my entire life. I am still having difficulty wrapping my head around the words because I have never been attacked like that before.
Now, getting back to my theory… In the case of Rich, I know he was hurting tremendously inside. We had spoken about the burden he felt in his life many times over the years. In fact, his letter mentioned the amount of pain he felt. In the case of my other friend, I know there was a lot of pain there as well. What was said was coming from the pain that my friend was feeling. In both cases, my friends were hurting.
Pain is almost like something we pass along because we don’t know what to do with it. It’s like playing hot potato. You hold onto it with your bare hands, and you are going to get burned. So, instead, we toss the hot potato from one person to the next out of natural instinct. We don’t think, “Should I hold onto this potato?” No, we just toss it along. It’s a natural things. Same thing with pain. We pass our pain to the next person because that’s the natural instinct.
Once I realized this, my own pain began to ruminate in the back of my mind. It was almost like another section of my grey matter was activated and started diligently working on this concept.
Then something else dawned on me: I don’t really know everything that is going on inside of me all of the time. We all have this, those moments when someone points out something to us about ourselves and we realize that we just weren’t aware of it. If you are thinking that there is nothing about yourself that you aren’t aware of then I rest my case 😉
So, if I don’t even know everything that is going on with me all the time, how could I possibly know everything that is going on with someone else?
Tying it all together, my brain came to the following conclusion:
Pain is transfered from one person to the next because we don’t realize that we are doing it in the moment and partly because we don’t really know how to deal with our own pain. Working through that pain looks different for everyone. Some write songs. Others paint paintings. Others turn into axe murders. Some start smoking, doing drugs, or drinking. Some take up some other form of addiction: gambling, adrenaline rushes, sex, etc. Some dance. Some write blogs. Some just shut off. The list goes on and on.
In most cases, if we knew in advance that what we were going to say or do was going to hurt someone, we wouldn’t do it. However, that still leaves us with the pain that we likely don’t know how to deal with. Some people will never deal with it and just keep passing it along, and it will always keep coming back to them amplified. Some people will never deal with it and internalize it to the point of no return.
Dealing with pain is a matter of understanding the root cause of the pain. Think of it like treating a fracture. You may feel the pain in the tendons or muscle, but you’ll never heal a fracture by giving yourself a massage. Same thing with emotional pain, but the origin is a bit tricky. The origin of the pain is not some deep seeded emotional baggage you have from childhood or some emotional scare from years gone by. The origin of the pain lies in the other person. While you may not be able to understand the other person, you can empathize with that person. After all, whatever pain you are feeling must be several times worse inside of them.
Of course, this all left me with one gigantic question: Aren’t I just making excuses for other people’s behavior? At first, I thought yes. Then I thought about it some more.This isn’t a justification of any choice or action that someone takes. This is an acknowledgement that someone has done/said something and there are consequences. The choice we make is whether we want to continue to pass along pain or not.
In short: Life Happens, deal with it.