The Intent to Hurt
Driven by emotions, we explode, seeking revenge
BY: Troy Murphy | August 2015
A recent poster, for unknown reasons, attacked my character, with severe, unsubstantiated judgments, drawing conclusions from scanty evidence. Perhaps, they thought I was someone else. I expect a few hate-mails; it’s the nature of the social media beast. While cutting remarks are never pleasant, hate-mail—mean unjustified attacks—although slightly vexing, suggest more about the attacker than the receiver.
Immediately such attacks are met with a retaliatory emotion. Meanness projects danger. Usually a facebook message is simply the relieving of tension and no physical danger is imminent. Emotions, though, aren’t so smart. They signal threat and push for action. Mindfulness is a handy little tool to work through these moments. Once settled, we can view the incident from a more dispassionate position. An aggressive-attacking response can now be examined in a more general context rather than through the lenses of hurt subjectivity. The aggressive attack is an ugly method commonly used to manipulate, drawing energy from a relationship to satisfy present want; knocking down the others self-confidence, suggesting insufficiency in some ways satisfies—only momentarily—a sense of power. By recognizing this harmful tool, we can identify and eliminate it from our communications. Those powerful digs, striking at the others character, does little to strengthen long-term security. The hurts cling to memories, destroying trust, and creating resentments.
Painful attacks are effective if our goal is to damage. Inflicting pain, especially over long relationships, leaves deep scars, and interferes with future connections. If our goal is intimacy, painful attacks have no purpose. They hurt, they separate, and they destroy. These unhealthy barbs of manipulation frustrate security intentions. Mean spirited attacks exact a high cost on relationships; we must identify these behaviors, eliminate them, and learn to constructively express hurts.
Healthy relationships are a basic ingratiate for well-being; they provide security. When attachment is threatened, we feel emotions. Disagreements, Jalousies, or unloving acts scare us. We respond to protect.
When emotionally alert, we interpret experience through the magnifying power of feeling. While afraid, we suspect ulterior motives; the normal words of conversation take on sinister meanings. We respond with power to match our brightly colored interpretations. Whether emotions are stimulated by faulty perceptions or real threats, the fear demands attention. We hate feeling pain, the hurt, whether physical or emotional, jolts the system to life, seeking an effective response. Even when experiencing subtle and unintended hurt, we respond. A punch, a gesture, or even a facial expression may create hurt triggering emotion—discomfort. The discomfort motivates defensive responses--attacks on the triggering element. A strong defense, retaliatory attack may be appropriate, protecting boundaries and chasing off unwarranted abuse; but many reactions drag us further from intended purposes, damaging important relationships and failing to resolve the source of the hurt.
Identifying personal discomfort during exchanges creates opportunity to intelligently intervene, rather than blindly act from the stormy emotions; once overwhelmed, we are incapable of redirecting hurtful responses to more appropriate action. Mindfully entering the flow, we observe as an uninvolved spectator, the feelings in the soul and the protective drive to scream, punch, or devalue. Once acknowledged, we can slow down, regain composure and invite creative resolutions. In arousal, we strike back. John Gottman, a modern leader in relationship studies, identified four common destructive responses; he calls these responses the four horsemen: criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling.
We can’t let these destructive behaviors trample our relationships. They fail to achieve our purposes. They protect the ego while destroying the connection.
We must get our brain into the interaction, stepping back, calming the physiological symptoms. Once our systems have settled, we can address issues with long-term goals as the guide. Fashioning relationships with the wisdom of John Gottman and not from the example of John Gotti will prevent much hurt, make discussions less stressful, and lead to greater intimacy. We will always contend with emotions, whether a obnoxious poster or a dearly loved partner. As we skillfully learn the art of connection, these moments will lose their power, we will feel, examine the source, and respond with compassion, kindness or power as appropriate.