When we are exposed to harm or are a witness to harm through words, threats, or physical injury by a parent, an important family member, teacher, or a boss, there are many ways we can respond. One such way is trying to define ourselves in opposition to them.
This makes sense. We are exposed to harm. Harm is certainly bad. We fear the repercussions of visiting such harm on someone else, so we swear that we will do the exact opposite of the person who has harmed us or someone else.
The problem is that, even if you do not think of someone well, the more you think of them the stronger your relationship (to them) will be. Even if it is a negative or oppositional relationship, it is, after all, a relationship.
Keeping this relationship close to your thoughts will also have some unintentional results. The more often you think about someone who has harmed you, the more often you actually experience the harm.
Defining yourself in opposition to someone also means that you work very hard to do what they have not, but you also bear the anxiety and stress of worrying about becoming like them. If this is a loved one, you might actually take on one or multiple qualities if this person dies just to keep the idea of the relationship intact.
Perhaps the strangest side effect of defining yourself in opposition to someone is the potential for unconsciously taking on a quality or two simply because they are available to your unconscious mind. My first clinical seminar director, Dr. Beck, would often say that there are no negatives in the unconscious. This means that the unconscious mind does not see a great big NO and then the behaviors of the offender. It just sees the behaviors. As these behaviors are part of the brains frequent process (defining yourself in opposition to something means reminding yourself what it is you do not want to be), they are available.
From a self-compassion perspective, the harm you or others have received initially is more than enough. When these thoughts emerge, the kindest thing you can do is to acknowledge that you have come by them naturally, that as all beings have suffered in some way you are suffering, and that because you are suffering you deserve kindness. Giving yourself kindness will slowly allow you to build the resources to bring kindness to the parts of yourself that are still afraid of what happened and fear these things will happen again.
Over time, the fear from past harm will be replaced by generosity to the self and warmth, but until it has remember Narayan’s words from an earlier entry. You do not have to kick these offenders out of your heart (you can still wish that they understand their offense and live a good life), but by all means kick them out of your house (cut them off or become the determiner of contact). You cannot fix another person’s problems. That is their work. The pain and reward in resolving them belong to them.
People who harm you are not owed any continuance in your storyline moving forward. They are irrelevant to your primary goals, a life of happiness and well being surrounded by others who seek and promote the same values.
One of the most important reasons to not wish someone who has harmed you harm or to try to define yourself in opposition to them is that it brings you harm. In order to protect you, we acknowledge that harm has taken place and that it is not ok. We also acknowledge that we do not want to give the harm that has taken place any more power than it has now, so we find a way to discontinue the relationship.
As this is an ongoing and sometimes very challenging process, the most important thing is that you give yourself permission to honor your experience and your process, and to seek those who will support you in the pursuit of a happy, healthy life. Enlist as many people as you like. What is important is that you feel safe and supported.
In the end, you deserve a life of well being, healthy supports, and love, and we do not continue relationships (oppositional or welcoming) that deprive you of these necessities. Instead, we develop a deeper relationship of kindness and compassion for the self because in that practice lies healing and the health to find and even expect healthy relationships.
Kindness, self-acceptance, healing, happiness, loving relationships, an inner world filled with compassion, you deserve all these things. Don’t do it alone. Find others that will support you on your journey. Make an effort to only enlist people in the future for whom your well being is a primary motivation. Whatever your experience, you are enough. The core you cannot be stolen or damaged, only the outer you, and that can be healed with time and compassion.
365 Days of Kindness. Self-Compassion. Day 27. In the Books.