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How frequently does someone say something hurtful to you, and you wonder what you did to deserve that? I used to react to people as if every offense was purposeful and meant to cause me great harm. I now get that what people do and say often has nothing to do with me- it’s just what they’re experiencing and I happen to be in the way.

I overheard a remark by an elderly man recently about how rude a store clerk had been to him, and how that never happened when he was younger. His younger companions countered that they too had experienced rudeness and catty behavior. The prevailing disbelief was “How dare they treat me like that!”

There are several reasons why you get caught in the maelstrom of people’s emotional discontents. People often throw out barbs because of what’s going on inside of them- you are just the innocent bystander. Unless you gain skills at reading people and noticing who to shy away from (like the fire-breathing office mate), it is likely you will routinely encounter people just living out their own particular type of suffering.

You also may “resemble” someone who has previously hurt this offending person. Perhaps a moody spouse or an insensitive neighbor offended them in a way they can’t get past. And you just look/act/speak like that other person and wham! You get the misdirected dose of resentment or revenge.

Lastly, you could have done something offensive to cause the reaction. Is there anything you said that could have been interpreted as malicious, unjust or intentionally hurtful? It doesn’t mean that the offensive behavior was warranted, but there may have been an act on your part that precipitated it.

What’s the possibility that you could just walk away from whatever it was that someone spit up on you? Not knowing what kind of pain the other person may be feeling, is it useful to dwell on the insult? If you try to dredge up compassion, you may think of a number of reasons the person may have acted that way.

I’ve discovered that there is so much that I used to confront and try to “fix” that is not possible in this lifetime- people aren’t ready. I now get that. So to avoid further damage and more heartache for myself I choose to let go and move on.

If you’re feeling empathy for the person, you might swallow your pride and ask the person what is bugging them. Find out what’s underneath the hurt. People often don’t know why they’re angry- you can be a tool for their healing. It may lessen their animosity, and will open a door to understanding yourself. You don’t have to absorb the emotion coming from the other person, but allow its presence in the space between you. Talk about it so the other person can understand it, and then move it out in a more constructive way.

Marshall Rosenberg, author of Nonviolent Communication, a Language of Life, instructs that there are four steps to establishing compassionate communication with others: a) Observing the action that affects our well-being, 2) Feeling how we are in relation to our observation, 3) Recognizing the needs that create our feelings, and 4) Making a request for action that will enrich our lives.

You learned these habits as a child like I did? Hardly. But, with practice, they are useful for creating “space” so you can  process the emotions that come from others. You’ll save yourself from being the victim of another unintentional attack, and create an opening for your own and their healing.

How have you learned to let go of the hurtful words or actions of others so you can move forward in your life? Have you learned some tricks for communicating more effectively with others? Leave a comment in the Comment Box below so we can learn from your experiences.