Hurt People Hurt People (and We\’re All Hurt People)

Hurt people hurt people. You can’t spend 5 minutes on Instagram without seeing some meme with a spin on this concept.

And you know what? In my experience, it’s TRUE. People who are hurt, or who lack confidence, or who are burned out…people who need external motivation to push them to their goals…people who can’t control the real pain and trauma in their lives…these hurt people DO often hurt those around them.

It isn’t right. It isn’t fair. But it is real. (And I’ve spent a lot of time in therapy, so I’ve done quite a bit of digging into this, so I can be less reactionary and take fewer things personally.)

But “hurt people hurt people” doesn’t actually ask us to do any introspection. It allows us to deflect or ward off our own negative reactions to people being dismissive to us, or even downright cruel.

I had to come to grips with this myself when I posted the same phrase – “hurt people hurt people” – in a comment to a colleague…

…and she said to me:

“Yes. But we’re ALL hurt people.”

I honestly lost my breath when I gave that some deep thought. Sure, I’ve been the victim of someone else’s pain before – but have I also inflicted the same pain on others? Have I experienced my own painful circumstances – personal, professional or both – and in turn, taken my out-of-control situation out on something or someone I did control?

The answer is…of course I have! Not because I’m some evil caricature or mean-spirited jerk.

I’m human! And when I’m feeling hurt or tired or burned out…I can’t always hide it.

A good example for me is when I was at PEAK burnout in my corporate job. Small things would set me off – and normally, I’m a pretty even-keeled, “everything is figureoutable” kind of gal.

If I got to work and I was the first one in – I immediately started building my mental case against my co-workers. 

“Nobody else works as hard as I do.”

“It must be SO NICE to waltz in at 9 am.”

“A lunch break? Don’t they see me working through my break, fixing the mistakes they made?”

Now…to be clear. None of those team members had done anything to deserve my nastiness. And I never said those things out loud or to their faces. But the struggles I was having in setting and holding boundaries meant that anytime I saw someone else doing what I couldn’t do…

…I immediately made him or her the bad guy. And there’s no question that it brought an extra edge or lack of patience to the rest of my interactions with her.

Another example, sadly, is with my family. Again, when I was SO BURNED OUT that I was experiencing adrenal fatigue, panic attacks and more, I would get home and have no fuse left for even pleasant interactions.

If my kids were playing loudly? I’d shush them. If my husband asked me to help put away laundry or unload the dishwasher, I’d do it…but reluctantly and with an attitude.

Thank goodness they are who they are and not only forgave me…they helped me realize how far away from “ME” I’d gotten, and supported me through the painful journey of recovering from burnout.

But my kids – who were 8 and 5 when things were really bad – have those memories imprinted on them. I was hurt and I felt out of control…

…so I fell short of my expectations as a mother and a wife and a daughter and a friend.

I am FULLY here for a better understanding of trauma and the role it plays in how we are treated – and absolutely, bad, toxic or even just mean behavior should be called out, or we should all feel empowered to walk away…

…just because someone is experiencing something hard doesn’t justify their hard behavior toward us. Grace has its limits.

But that is only fair if we are also open to reflecting on the role that pain and hurt has played in our lives – and how it’s led us to treating others in a way that may have negatively impacted them.

Here’s how I’m trying to be a better person when I’m hurt. First – I journal. Often, writing out how I feel – where it won’t be judged or fixed or held against me – gets the ugliest and least rational thoughts out of my head.

Second – I speak up! I’m more transparent with everyone around me, so they have context for why I might be on edge. Recently, I said to my husband, “I had a rough day with one of my clients and it’s really sticking with me. After we get the kids to bed, I’m going to take a walk and listen to a podcast so I can shake it off and start fresh in the morning.”

Small, I know, but telling him that I was in a funk, why, why I also needed some alone time and making sure he knew it had nothing to do with him – helped both of us feel totally at peace!

Another example of this came with a client who I felt was asking me for work well outside of the scope of our agreement. Past Katy might have just done the work and seethed about it. 

This time, I asked the client for a brief 1:1, I let him know how I was feeling and I offered two solutions – it turns out, he appreciated that I’d raised the issue, chose one of the solutions, and our working agreement is now STRONGER because of this.

And finally, when I’m feeling hurt…I work it out in therapy! Talk therapy has been a powerful experience for me. Like journaling, it’s an outlet for me to say what I’m feeling without having to validate or rationalize it…but when I express my feelings to an expert, I often find an ending to the pain. My therapist can help me explore what really happened, why it triggered a negative response, what I can do – or not do! – about it…and this release valve is so much healthier for me than I kept things bottled up…

…like a pressure cooker that will blow at some point, if the steam isn’t released.

Hurt people hurt people. And we’re all hurt people! So let’s do our best, forget the rest, extend grace to ourselves and to others and remember that every day is a new day.