There's a woman in my life who consistently ignores, slanders, and screams at me. I've done my best to befriend her, but, over the years, as my efforts have been rebuffed and she has never apologized for her behavior, my kindness turned to rage. However, instead of lashing out at this woman, I lashed out at people I love.
I pride myself on having a high level of self-awareness, but only recently did I realize what I'd been doing. I felt humbled and ashamed. I then sat with my rage, and it guided me to its core: a deep well of hurt stemming from when I was ignored, slandered, and screamed at as a child.
Beneath every aggression is pain.
Rage and righteousness are tools of the inner Defender. They serve a vital purpose in our lives - signaling when our boundaries are being violated or when our lives are in danger. They also mask feelings of sadness or weakness so that we'll take action and stand up for ourselves. The strong the Defender, the greater the pain.
Rage is a very convincing disguise for pain.
However, problems arise when our inner Defenders turn us into aggressors, committing those same acts that were committed against us. This is what my Defender had done within me, and it's what we are seeing in full force all over our world today:
Inner Defenders at war with inner Defenders.
People in pain fighting people in pain.
The black woman screaming at a white supremacist may do so because standing up gives her a feeling of power - masking the pain of the abuse she's suffered at the hands of white people. The white supremacist may believe that whites are superior because it gives him a feeling of power - thereby masking his own feelings of inadequacy and shame.
The aggression and conflicts we see in our world aren't so much
clashes of issues or ideologies as they are clashes of emotions - of pain.
So what if we were to see conflicts this way - not as right or wrong,
one side or the other, but simply as people in pain?
Recognizing aggressors' pain does not mean condoning their behavior. After all, as my mother says: "It's okay to be angry. It's not okay to hit." We all have a right to feel how we feel, but that does not mean we have the right to do whatever we want with how we feel.
Recognizing aggressors' pain simply means seeing through their behavior to the flame that's fueling it: pain. And here's the surprising thing: it doesn't start with honoring their pain - it starts with honoring yours.
When we honor our own pain,
we become more wise, peaceful, and empowered
to face it in others.
Once I realized that the woman's behavior had been triggering that deep, hidden wound within me, I acknowledged the pain, and my rage towards her subsided. I've since apologized to my loved ones for my behavior, and our relationships are flourishing again.
As for the woman, the last time I saw her, she ignored me completely, as she has done many times before. And it's sad. But it's her choice. It's her Defender doing what it thinks it needs to do to protect her. The stronger the Defender, the greater the pain. And what incredible pain she must carry to treat people the way she does.
We all have pain. That's why we fight - with others and with ourselves. If we all simply honored our own pain, imagine what could happen over time...
Libel could become listening.
Arguments could become agreements.
Hits could become hugs.
Instead of fighting, what if we all just sat down and cried? It's a thought.