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Friday, June 3, 2011

Taking Pleasure in Another's Pain

I was recently accused of gaining pleasure from hurting another person.  Initially it stung.  I got defensive. 

Then I realized that this person was striking out from a place of pain.  I was sad that she either didn't know me very well or couldn't see things as they really are because of her pain.

Other people's pain.  I've spent a great deal of my life concerned about other people's pain, especially pain I caused.  I have given up so much of what I wanted and sacrificed who I am to make sure I don't hurt others.  This is not healthy.

When I first started therapy I was asked what my boundaries were.  I was very confused.  I had no idea what he meant.  I had no idea that I had a right to set boundaries.  The more I learned the more I understood that I had very few boundaries.  I had some legal and religious boundaries, but that was about it.  Other people could push me, manipulate me, into doing what they wanted time and time again.  And the tool they used to do this was their pain. 

By making me feel responsible for their pain they could make me change my behavior.  Even if I knew my behavior was wholesome and healthy, they made me question that and sacrifice that because I didn't want to hurt them.  One of the main motivations in my life is to not cause others harm.  This has been used against me.

I remember sitting in a therapy session sobbing.  I was learning so much.  I was making healthy changes in my life, changes that were so good for me, but they were hurting others.  I remember asking my therapist how these could be good things if they were hurting others.  He told me something that has changed my life.

I felt like I was personally hurting other people.  I was not.  They were hurting themselves.

I had finally set boundaries.  He told me to imagine these boundaries as a brick wall.  They are there to protect me.  I can set these boundaries but others choose what to do about it.  The people who were hurt by my new boundaries were choosing to continually push against that brick wall.  They were choosing to run head-first into that brick wall and then blaming me for hurting them because I built the wall.

I've seen it happen over and over.  Pain is a difficult thing to endure.  We want to blame someone else.  It's easy to see how another person's behavior makes us unhappy.  It's tough to admit that our response to that person's behavior is what determines our happiness.  It's difficult to admit that our own behavior may be causing us pain.

On the other side of it, I've been hurt by others.  By the boundaries that they've set.  Not because these boundaries were unhealthy but because I was unhappy with them and kept banging my head against them.

Seeing another person hurt because of something I did is horrible.  I hate it.  But I must stay true to the boundaries that I need in order to feel safe.  I am not responsible for their pain.  And it's not my job to fix it.


Pastor Sharon said...

Ah, boundaries. . . I remember when I first learned that not only is it okay to set boundaries, it is extremely important to abide by what keeps me true to myself.

You really have done some work!

Running Circles said...

Thanks so much for writing this Robin. You have no idea how relevant it is to me right now and how much I really needed to read it. I'm really happy to hear you've come this far and it helps to give me the faith that I can figure it out too.

Linda said...

With someone we love, it can be so hard to stay firm with boundaries and to give that person responsibility for themselves. In the long run, it also helps them.

Lisa said...

I LOVE free therapy. lol. Seriously though, you might get tired of me saying it but I really appreciate EVERYTHING you write. It's always so relevant to my life. Ugh. Love!

Rob-bear said...

As a person who is in a lot of pain a lot of the time, and who sees a lot of others in pain, I tend to be pretty open to trying to help people.
The other side of that, of course, is that I have to have some boundaries, or I'm no use to anyone.

Bonnie said...

Powerfully true. We begin by knowing this intellectually, but the habit of feeling reactions is much harder to overcome. I genuinely sympathize. Someone once accused me of not "enduring to the end" and failing to "develop charity" because I drew a boundary. I've spent a lot of years thinking about that. Until we develop better definitions of virtues, we are often prey to vice. Boundaries are a key to ours, and everyone's, freedom, because they force us to take responsibility for our agency. Love this post. Wish you peace.