Tuesday, September 7, 2010

When is your pain my pain?

We’ve all faced them at some point in our lives – truly hurt and damaged people. They are jaded and sad and often unable to articulate or express themselves in a way that is conducive to healing. At times, they give the appearance of pulling it together, but underneath that flimsy coating are cracks and fault lines – brokenness.

The question that I find myself asking more and more is whether this brokenness entitles people to a free pass for any and all behaviour. Often, these people act maliciously, wounding others and leaving a path of destruction in their wake. And for those of us reeling in the chaotic aftermath of these storms? More often than not, I find that we justify this reckless behaviour, we condone it because we feel hurt people have the right to express themselves and hopefully find healing. We feel guilty as survivors, believing we need to offer unconditional support because tragedy hasn’t hit us. But how does a perpetual cycle of hurt generate anything other than more hurt?
I found myself asking this question whilst watching an episode of Private Practice last night. The storyline went down like this: Violet, a psychiatrist and expectant mother was violently attacked by one of her patients who cut her open, removed her baby and left her for dead. After a touch-and-go surgery, both her life and the baby’s are saved. But Violet is irreparably damaged and eventually makes the decision to hand her newborn child over to her lover (Pete) and walk away from both of them.

Everyone (including Pete) does everything in their power to accommodate her extreme decision, allowing her “the space” and time to heal. But in this particular episode, her “healing” takes the form of sleeping with a colleague’s father. When Pete finds out, she tries to justify her indiscretion by saying that she now has hope that she can feel again, implying that there is now hope for her relationship with Pete and her son.
Pause that scene… Now replay it again in slow motion. A hurt person inflicting damage in all directions, but finding a way to make it seem acceptable. Sound familiar?

The sad truth is that this phenomenon is peaking in our country. Children and young people struggling with the remnants of Apartheid grow up in poverty, abuse and hopelessness. As such, there is a real sense of their right to grab and hold onto any opportunity at any cost.
But for those of us living on the periphery of these damaged lives, it becomes an intolerable burden to bear. I have walked away more damaged, depressed and lost from many of my attempts to reach out – largely because I give and give and give in an attempt to right the wrongs from these kids’ pasts. But when that giving has no boundaries, when the relationship becomes about supporting someone’s dysfunctional lifestyle, it can only perpetuate the cycle of hurt.

I’m not sure what the answers are, but what I do know is that you aren’t doing anyone any favours by allowing people to behave as they please, especially when that behaviour is hurtful to others. Filing destructive actions under the category of “It’s my life and I’ll live it as I please” sometimes need to equate to a response of, “Well then live your life and leave me out of it.”

Unless you are the direct perpetrator of hurt to an individual, it is not your responsibility to fix them. But when and if you do choose to undertake this task, do so with wisdom and intent. Don’t be railroaded by someone else’s pain. Don’t become a victim. There is no honour in being hurt by someone you’ve reached out to, so don’t condone it. By caring for and protecting you, you can only shine a brighter light to others.


  1. As always... Great article. It's always a tough road for those hurting, but at the end of the day their fragility needs the support of others to help them make the right decisions, not condone the bad ones.

  2. Sjoe!!! Tough post, especially for those of us who are the "damaged ones", who felt we could do as we pleased cause we were "hurt". Truth is we are all "hurt" to some degree or another. Some people just choose to not act like hurtful lunatics because of it. It's a choice...I've done the hurtful lunatic thing. Not sure if "tough" love or "unconditional" love helped me change. maybe a bit of both...as always GREAT POST!!!!

  3. I agree. We are all hurt in some way. I'm no exception. I guess watching that show just made me realise that hurt on hurt on hurt doesn't help anyone heal. And for those of us who are trying to be there for someone hurting, we can become so hurt and jaded ourselves that we become hardened & ineffective. I guess this is just my way of saying that we don't need to go there!