Can you recount a time when you’ve been preoccupied by feeling slighted, put down, or dismissed in some way? Have you ever ruminated over something someone said to you; feeling as though it was said against you? Maybe it has resulted in your feeling hurt, resentful or even outraged? How big of a space is it occupying in your mind? How does it feel in your body while ruminating on this topic? Is this a pleasant feeling?
Do you find yourself entering into an inner monologue in your head; putting down the person who slighted you? Are you beginning to make a case for why you are right and the other person is wrong? If so, do you feel slightly energized by these thoughts, or perhaps pumped up by them? Does it make you feel better, or more “right,” by putting this person down in your head, or even out loud to others?
This kind of anger or righteous response can serve 2 purposes. When we feel our sense of self is fractured or hurt, anger can hold us together psychologically. It can also lead to us feeling superior, which is usually preferable to feeling put down or inferior. Anger can hold us together (in a perverse kind of way); it can shore up our fragile sense of self.
The difficulty with the above strategy is we need to put down others to feel good. This is a cycle that has no end. You are engaging in a talion response: “you make me feel bad, then I put you down”…and so it goes. Additionally, we are stuck with inflammatory thoughts running amok in our heads, afflicting our bodies with tension and negative feelings. This not only occupies space that we could be using for more creative, productive pursuits, but it is essentially polluting our inner landscape.
One of the reasons this kind of negative thinking takes root, is that there were likely many instances at younger ages where there was no-one to turn to for comfort when you felt slighted, no one who showed they care. When this happens repeatedly, over a long period, hurt feelings can harden into resentments and anger. The biological brain actually creates a superhighway that bypasses vulnerability and goes straight to anger. If we can’t be held or supported when we’ve felt slighted, at least our anger and righteousness can nurse our wound.
Is there another way? How do we change this inner landscape to one that is more friendly, generous and life-giving?
The next time you find yourself telling someone off in an inner dialogue or putting someone else down because you’ve been put down – Stop – look for the hurting place inside. Attend to this place, acknowledge it, find some solace that is healthy and life-affirming. Remember times in the past when you might have slighted someone else, or perhaps put someone down. Entertain the possibility that this person who put you down might be talking out of his/her own place of hurting and fragility that has hardened over into anger. Can you see this behavior as having more to do with their hurting place than with you personally? Efforts in this direction can free up real estate inside your brain for much more productive, creative, healthy and self-affirming ways of being and thinking.
Decide whether you want to spend time nursing your wounds with angry responses or would it be more helpful to offer support to that hurting place inside so you can move out of this destructive cycle into a place that gets you in touch with your real self-worth.