An Empowering Way to Respond to Hurtful People
When pain cuts deep and resolution is nowhere near, ask yourself this question to bring healing and hope.
I can vividly remember certain times in my life when I have been deeply hurt, shamed, excluded, or violated by someone.
I clearly remember wanting the violators to understand the pain they caused, offer me a genuine apology, and hear them pledge to never do it to anyone else.
That happened once.
All the other times, there was either no resolution or no remorse. I walked away from the painful experiences feeling angry, conflicted, hopeless, and confused.
When my daughters began coming to me with their own hurtful experiences, I felt a familiar wave of unsettledness. In a few cases, there was somewhat of a resolution. But most of time, resolution did not happen. The person who inflicted the pain was either unremorseful, unaware, or unchanged. My children’s hurt was their hurt to bear and to deal with as best they could. As we talked through it, I wondered, is this it? Is this all we can do when someone hurts us?
Then I came across a powerful perspective offered by renowned author and speaker for young people, Kari Kampakis. Kari wrote:
“Everyone in your life serves a purpose. Everyone has something to teach you.
And while people who are kind and friendly help teach you who you do want to be, those who are not kind and friendly teach you who you don’t want to be.
So when you encounter someone who hurts your feelings, lean into that feeling. Ask yourself what they did to make you feel that way. Was it the words they chose? Their tone? The way they picked favorites and then ignored everyone else?
Whatever they did, make a pledge. Promise yourself that you’ll never treat anyone the way they treated you. This is how you become a kinder and more compassionate person. This is how you learn from their mistakes.
And when you meet someone you really like, lean into that feeling, too. Ask yourself what they did to make you feel so good. Then make a pledge to yourself to be more like them. This is also how you become a kinder and more compassionate person.
Regardless of how anyone treats you, you stand to benefit. While some people teach you who you do want to be, others teach you who you don’t want to be. And it’s the people who teach you who you don’t want to be that provide some of the most lasting and memorable lessons on social graces, human dignity, and the importance of acting with integrity.”
That’s it! I thought hopefully. This empowering perspective was the resolution I’d been searching for all these years. Kari’s perspective — that even hurtful, unresolved experiences can feel resolved by viewing them as a learning experience — was both empowering and liberating.
Just when you thought think there isn’t anything you can do, there is! That hurtful person can teach you how to be a more compassionate human being who someday makes someone else’s life better with that knowledge.
I knew I’d be using Kari’s wisdom in my own life and with my daughters — little did I know the very day I read her words, they would be needed.
As we were driving home from swim team practice, my younger daughter, who was nine at the time, said something happened at school that made her very sad. She has given me permission to share.
When she told her friend she was going to have to have surgery, the friend immediately went into worse surgeries people she knew have had.
My daughter further explained that each time she shares either bad news or good news with this friend, she treats it like a competition and tries to “outdo” my daughter.
Talking to her friend about how her response made her feel that day only caused her friend to become defensive and angry.
“She walked away mad, Mama,” she said sadly.
After talking for a few minutes about what that response says about her friend’s own insecurities and how one friend typically can’t meet all our needs, I had something empowering to offer.
“Take a moment and envision this person as a teacher. While she may seem like an unlikely teacher or an unqualified one, see this person as someone here to teach you something. What did she teach you today?”
My daughter thought for a moment. Then she said, “To be happy for other people’s good news and not be jealous. To say something comforting when people tell me they are scared or when they share bad news.”
“Yes, exactly!” I said. “I’m very sorry you had that experience today. It doesn’t sound like that friend is going to change anytime soon, but all hope it not lost — you can be the change! Now when someone tells you something bad or good going on in his or her life, you can respond with the compassion you would have liked to receive today.”
I told her it might be a good idea to make a pledge of what she’s going to do, as Kari instructed.
We came home and made a pledge notebook. We both agreed to use it whenever an unlikely “teacher” taught us something through a hurtful experience.
Some of our pledges include:
I pledge to try to remember to always ask, “How are doing?” and listen.
I pledge to be honest.
I pledge to pick up guests on time when they travel a long way.
I pledge never to say, “You owe me,” after I do something nice for someone.
I pledge to support someone’s dream no matter how farfetched.
I pledge not to judge someone based on appearance.
I pledge to give my full attention when someone is talking to me.
I pledge to consider who I might be excluding.
I pledge not to dismiss someone’s feelings just because I deal with things differently.
I pledge not to talk about someone’s weight.
I pledge not to jump to conclusions.
I pledge to make it easy for people to be themselves around me.
Our pledge book has become very cathartic for us. Taking hurts and offenses and turning them into positive intentions feels empowering and healing. I even revisited some of my past hurts that went unresolved and made them into pledges.
Last week, my daughter’s pledge reflected what I have been seeing amongst some adults. She gave me permission to share.
I pledge not to call someone a bad name just because we have a different opinion.
She had been hurt. And when she told the person that the name-calling hurt her feelings, she was met with anger and opposition. While the tendency might have been to:
Hold a grudge
My daughter did something better.
She pledged to stop the hurt rather than perpetuate it.
She pledged to be the change she wanted to see.
She pledged to take a negative and turn it into a positive.
And I am seeing it. I am seeing the pledges in her book come to life through her actions and words. And mine too.
You might even say the pledge book sitting on my dresser is a Playbook for Bettering Humanity.
Just imagine for a moment, if we all had one.
When hurtful words are thrown like confetti,
When quick judgements are made in a couple of keystrokes,
When pain cuts deep and resolution is nowhere near,
We could pause and ask ourselves: What is this person here to teach me?
And from that unlikely teacher, a painful experience could become a pledge, igniting hope for all of humanity.
Rachel Macy Stafford is the New York Times bestselling author of Hands Free Mama and Hands Free Life. Her latest national bestseller, ONLY LOVE TODAY, offers soulful, bite-size encouragement for busy individuals yearning to anchor themselves in love and connection despite everyday distractions, pressures, and societal discord. “Only Love Today” began as a mantra to overcome her inner bully, but it is now the practice of Rachel Macy Stafford’s life. It can be a practice for all of us with Only Love Today. Join this certified special education teacher, author, and speaker and her supportive community, The Hands Free Revolution, for more inspiration.