I’m an incredibly sensitive person – something that is frequently highlighted by my PTSD and anxiety disorder – but I’ve always been like that. I’d be lying if I masqueraded around pretending like I never used to over-analyse, dissect, and pour over everything I’ve ever said or done, or everything that’s ever been said or done to me.
Seriously – it’s one of my biggest flaws. I don’t always have the ability to let things go when I should (though am working on it), and if there’s anything open to misinterpretation, you can bet your ass I’ve already worked out the million different parables that mean what you could have meant when you asked me to pass the butter.
Each Wednesday, I’m constantly preaching about how practicing mindfulness has been helping me, and I’ve used mindfulness at times to show how it should have worked in the past, or could have, and how it’s been working for me in the present.
It’s really easy, however, with hindsight, to make judgements and assessments – but recently, I was posed with a challenge:
Someone had read my post What About Your Husband? and they’d messaged me, hurt, because they felt that the post was an unfair portrayal and that they hadn’t known what was happening, and if they had, they’d have bitch-slapped the responsible party (no, they didn’t actually say that last part, but they did say they’d have had ours/Scott’s back).
I could have easily been a jerk – for whatever reason (and I’m going to list a few different ones that you may be thinking of, as in how you might have reacted) so you can see why it was good to take a step back):
- It wasn’t about that person, and I thought that was clear
- I could blame my anxiety/PTSD and respond as though it was an attack, or even interpreted it as an attack (rightly or wrongly)
- I could be just a jerk
- It wasn’t my intention, so it didn’t matter
Almost all of these responses, however, follow the fact that, despite my intentions, despite what I might or might not have thought, I had hurt someone.
As I read this person’s message, I didn’t feel attacked: I felt dismayed, knowing that – unintentionally or not – I’d hurt someone’s feelings, and it was a person I have a lot of respect for.
They took the time to write a proper email, so that they could explain that they understood that it probably wasn’t aimed at them, but that they had been hurt, as well as explaining what they’d been going through (because life’s a bitch sometimes).
The email was earnest, heartfelt, and full of pain and confusion.
And it would’ve been really easy to be a bitch and be like, ‘It’s not about you!’ or some other bullshit reason, except that wouldn’t be the point.
It doesn’t always matter what your intentions are (and, I’d like to be clear and clarify something: I’m not advocating for being a pushover or apologising to everyone or any other bullshit), sometimes they hurt people.
This part’s real important, so listen up: The person I hurt cared enough to construct a decent, well-written email to help ensure their intentions weren’t lost, or that I thought I was under attack, or anything else that can be so easily misconstrued when written.
And they also cared enough to make it clear that their intentions weren’t to hurt, which meant that they cared about both me and Scott, and our well-being. They made it clear they weren’t trying to hurt anyone.
So we talked.
We talked about who the post was really referring to, and how I thought that I’d made it clear, but I was deeply sorry that I had not.
After discussing the post, and its history, I then discussed a few changes that I would make to my post to make sure that no one else, if confused, or unsure, or anything, would rest assured that it wasn’t about them. I wanted to make it clear that if the people reading it didn’t know what I was referencing, there was a very good chance it wasn’t about them.
Why change my post? Why apologise? And what does this have to do with mindfulness?
Well, to me, one of the biggest things I’ve talked about is the fact that sometimes, regardless of intention, we hurt people.
And we can hurt them deeply.
It didn’t matter if I hadn’t meant to hurt that person – the point was, I had, and I hadn’t wanted to do so.
It wasn’t about me, and making it about me would’ve been selfish and hypocritical.
To be honest, most of the credit really does need to go to the other person, as they worked incredibly hard at constructing a well-meaning, well-thought-out email, that included their concerns while trying to alleviate any I might have upon reading said email, because I think not only is that a brave thing to do (admit that something’s hurt you and take the time to calmly explain why), but it’s incredibly empathetic on their part. It’s hard, when we’re hurt, to reach out and explain why and make it a conversation, while still trying to understand the other person’s intentions (as opposed to just lashing out, because we’re hurt).
I want to make it clear that this post really is largely to do with the amazing kindness and empathy another person displayed, but also how you can respond in kind if someone comes to you, saying you’ve hurt them, even if you didn’t intend to:
- Explain for context if needed, or an explanation is required, but apologise without an excuse.
- Do not say, ‘I’m sorry you were hurt, but’. You’re not only not apologising for what the other person is saying hurt them, you’re also negating the entire apology.
- Listen to why the other person is hurt. Think about how many fights you’ve had with someone because of miscommunication or a misunderstanding. Do you know how many arguments I’ve had with Scott because he thinks we’re fighting about one thing, but I’m arguing about something different, and it takes someone screaming, ‘Why aren’t you listening!?’ and the other person yelling, ‘I am! You’re upset about xyz!’ and then the actual problem becomes clear. So really listen to why the person is hurt.
- Use the mindful questions to fabricate your response, and what you want to say, so you don’t say anything out of anger, spite, pain or fear.
It’s really easy to justify being a jackass. It’d be really easy for me to sit here and paint a picture where I’m the sympathetic figure, but I’m not.
The other person is.
And sometimes, we need to remember we’ll be the person who isn’t the sympathetic person, who isn’t ‘right’, who made a mistake, and we’ll get amazing people in our lives who gives us a chance to own up to it and fix it.
So make sure you do.