How much more qualitative would your life be if you effectively knew how to deal with hurt? In the following paragraphs, I am going to show you a simple yet very effective trick to not only get rid of hurt, but prevent it from ever coming up. First, I would like to take you with me to London to meet David.
On a sunny afternoon, as I was standing on the curb of Picadilly street, contemplating the passers-by and bathing in the effervescence of the English capital, a stranger named David approached me.
David was in his late 20’s. He had long unattended hair, rundown khaki clothes, and a breathe that suggested the beer can he was holding was not the first he’d drunk that day. But, David was smiling. He seemed to be having a thrilling day; and, curious, I decided to reciprocate his greeting.
I felt in control in spite of David’s apparent taste for lengthy handshakes and prolonged silent stares. Yet, within a few minutes, the judgement I had made of a complete stranger came firing right back at me, when he said:
“Look, Ben. One thing I know is that whatever you are going through, it will turn out alright. I too was homeless not long ago. Today, I am living in a one-bedroom apartment. You can stay there tonight if you want.”
“I too was homeless?! I am not homeless! That dude is completely mistaken”, my mind was racing. “I am travelling, that’s completely different! I may not have found a place to stay at tonight, and I may be coming short on funds, but… No! I’m not homeless!”
I could feel an anxious nod tying itself inside my stomach. I was hurt. I excused myself to David and walked away. The avalanche of negative thoughts kept cascading through my head. David had questioned my identity as a young professional out discovering the world, and I was falling in despair and self-pity.
How can a label be so powerful that it can flood our emotions and disturb our very sense of identity – even when it’s false?
Each one of us has their own idea of how the world is supposed to be. Through our set of values and beliefs, we expect people and things to behave in a prescribed manner. When they don’t, we sometimes experience a feeling of loss (i.e. identity, respect, friendship etc.) – that is hurt.
So then, how to deal with hurt and ultimately prevent it altogether?
The secret resides in one simple yet powerful question we ought to ask ourselves any time we feel upset because our expectations have not been met: “What else could that mean?” These 5 words give us a chance to redefine the meaning we attach to an experience, and it empowers anyone to regain control of their thoughts and emotions in a snap.
Here is why it works. The minute we come to realise that the very experience that hurt us did not in fact take anything away from us, we free ourselves from it. No loss, no hurt.
In my case, raising this question at the right moment would have allowed me to see what David was seeing: a nomad in need of sleep, a shower and some clean clothes. When he met me, I had just gotten off a 14-hour flight and was crumbling under the weight of my 80L backpack; of course, I looked like crap! But I failed to understand that; I set my ego on the front line and paid the price.
Next time your spouse tells you they wish they had never married you, instead of falling in rage, ask yourself: “What else could that mean?” Could they, for instance, be experiencing uncertainty about the future? Could their blaming of the past be a desperate cry for guidance? If so, you’d better show them support and compassion rather than your teeth.
I hope you make it habit to distance yourself from the events that happen in your life and consciously decide what meaning to attach to them. There starts the journey to emotional empowerment and lifelong fulfilment!
Photo by Sofia Carvalho.