Have you ever been hurt by a family member, betrayed by a lover, or rejected by a close friend? How did you respond? Maybe you decided to lash back, detach, or avoid the conflict. Some of us would rather keep quiet but cut the person out of our lives while others choose to be aggressive and say mean and hurtful things in return. Still others prefer to be passive-aggressive and get back in more subtle and covert ways, like talking behind the person's back, not responding to their efforts to connect, or choosing a sarcastic response to everything they have to say. There are also the passive, silent sufferers, who avoid the conflict altogether, and harbor bad feelings without saying a word. The best response is, of course, to choose to be assertive, sharing your thoughts and feelings directly in a respectful and constructive way without expecting anything in return. Being assertive doesn't imply the other person will acknowledge wrongdoing or apologize, and that should not be the expectation. Being able to say it and leave it, hopefully enables a person to let it go and move forward. Unfortunately, things don't always run that smoothly.
It can be incredibly difficult to do the right thing and not be vindictive when we are hurt or disappointed by others. Sometimes people want to hang onto the emotional pain as a reminder to avoid being vulnerable again and maintain their protective armor. In some cases repetitive hurt, rejection, and abandonment can result in mistrust and isolation. Either way, letting go of the pain is in our best interest even if we decide not to reconcile with the offending person. So what do I mean by the phrase, "choose the right path?" I'm referring to making the decision to choose a different response than the one you received from the hurtful person. When we maintain our dignity and character by handling a conflict or hurt appropriately we take away the power and energy from the other person. They can't justify their actions or continue to blame us for their pain. When we respond appropriately to a person who hurts us we force them to take a look at themselves and consider their actions rather than perpetuating the negative interactions.
Many of the couples I work with get stuck in blame, justification, and defensiveness which keeps them from healing and moving forward. We are all guilty at times of responding to hurt with hurting back, but if we can resist the urge or instinct to lash back, we can move towards forgiveness and possible reconciliation. Every action has a reaction, but if we think before we respond, maybe we can choose a better comeback. We are also role models for our children, so they learn from our interactions with our loved ones, good or bad. Choose wisely when you respond to others' painful words and remember that engaging in similar behavior reinforces their bad behavior and enables them to justify their actions. We certainly can express our feelings constructively without lowering ourselves to their level. We have the choice to carry the pain around like baggage or release it through healthy and appropriate means. When we choose the right path, we increase the likelihood of a good outcome and feel better about ourselves.