Hurt People, Hurt People: Breaking the Cycle of Pain

Hurt People, Hurt People: Breaking the Cycle of Pain

Have you ever heard the saying, “Hurt people, hurt people”? 

When I came across this phrase some time back it changed the way I saw people.  

You see, whilst this is a simple phrase, it carries a lot of truth and wisdom. It means that those who are hurting inside often end up hurting others. Even when we don’t mean to.  Even without realising it.  

Accepting the phrase “hurt people, hurt people” requires effort from both sides. The person causing the hurt needs to acknowledge their actions, while the person being hurt must offer understanding, compassion, empathy, and forgiveness. Without both, the balance is lost. Often, those who have been hurt are ready to forgive and show compassion, but the person causing the pain may not recognise their impact. By the time they do, the ones who have been hurt may have moved on, having given forgiveness too many times.

So what can we do to break the cycle?  

Let’s dive into this idea and explore how understanding it can help us break the cycle of pain and build healthier relationships.

First, let’s think about why hurt people hurt others. Imagine a person who’s been carrying around a heavy backpack full of emotional pain—maybe from past relationships, childhood trauma, or recent life stresses. This weight can make them feel overwhelmed and reactive. When you’re in pain, it’s hard to see beyond your own suffering. So, sometimes, without even realising it, without even meaning to, people lash out at those around them.

When we are in this cycle it is very easy to think and feel that the problem rests with everyone else.  After all this behaviour has been born out of survival.  It has been a defence mechanism for their entire life. 

Take Sarah, for example. Sarah grew up in a household where love was conditional and criticism was constant. She learned early on that to avoid getting hurt, she needed to protect herself by keeping others at a distance. As an adult, Sarah found it hard to trust people. She often assumed that others were out to hurt her, just like her family had. When her friends made harmless jokes or forgot to include her in plans, Sarah would snap at them or withdraw, thinking they didn’t care about her. In reality, her friends were puzzled by her reactions and had no idea why she was so upset.

And when Sarah behaved this way she didn’t think that there was anything wrong with it.  For her, this was her.  This was who she was and if people didn’t like it that’s on them and not on her.  But what Sarah failed to realise here is that who she is as a person, and how she acts are two very separate things.  You can always change your behaviour without changing who you are.

So how we can break this cycle.

The first step is recognising and acknowledging the pain and acknowledging that our behaviour does not define who we are.  

It’s important to understand that everyone has a story and that our behaviours are often shaped by our past experiences. If you find yourself lashing out or withdrawing when you’re hurt, take a moment to reflect on what’s really bothering you. Are you reacting to the present situation, or is something from your past influencing your feelings?  Be honest with yourself.  It is easy to put the blame on the current situation – it clearly triggered you. But is that honestly, deep down, the real cause or is there another reason for why you are behaving that way?

One powerful way to start healing is through empathy. Empathy involves understanding and sharing the feelings of another person. It’s about putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and seeing the world from their perspective. When Sarah started to realise that her friends’ actions weren’t meant to hurt her, she could begin to see their side of the story. She learned to communicate her feelings instead of assuming the worst, which helped her build stronger, more trusting relationships.

Another crucial step is self-care and seeking support. Healing from past hurts often requires professional help. Having someone else with you whilst you unpack that emotional back pack can do you the world of good. They can help you unpack your emotional backpack in a safe environment; helping you to understand the roots of your pain, and develop healthier coping mechanisms. For Sarah, therapy was a game-changer. It gave her the tools to process her childhood experiences and taught her how to respond to her emotions in a healthier way.

Communication is also key.

Open, honest conversations can help clear up misunderstandings and prevent hurt feelings from festering. If someone has hurt you, talk to them about it calmly and respectfully. Explain how their actions made you feel, and listen to their perspective too. Healthy communication can prevent a lot of unnecessary pain and help build stronger, more resilient relationships.

Finally, remember that healing takes time. It’s a journey, not a destination. Be patient with yourself and others. Everyone is fighting their own battles, and sometimes we all slip up and hurt those we care about. The important thing is to acknowledge it, apologise sincerely, and strive to do better. Reset will definitely help you with this.

Ultimately it is up to you to do more.  “Hurt people, hurt people” and without addressing your emotional pain it is probable that this behaviour will continue to have an impact on those around you.  But you can change this – when you are ready. Until then, let’s strive to be kinder to ourselves and others, and remember that while it’s nice to be important, it’s more important to be nice.

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