One of the most interesting aspects of my work is that I constantly see people responding to hurt. It is interesting to me that the majority of people always assign maliciousness to an action by someone else. On the other hand, people usually readily see the self-protective nature of their own actions. Social psychologists call this the “attribution error.” We see the other’s action as character flaw, and our actions as mistakes.
I find it important that individuals work to see that there are very few people who are actually malicious. The chances of being married to one are fairly low. But the chances are good that seemingly malicious actions are really rooted in self-protection. When we are hurt, we lash out. The lashing out may feel malicious to the other, much like what we were lashing out against: seemingly malicious actions.
This truth applies to parenting, also. When we are able to view our child’s actions as response to hurt, this requires a different response than when we assume it is from maliciousness. A two year-old is pitching a fit because he or she wants something or is threatened by something, not because he or she is mean.
A teenager may say attacking words, but they are often retaliatory in nature. They may be trying to establish a “self-hood” that they think is being threatened (curfews, groundings, and anything else that reigns in freedom), or may feel slighted. The words coming out may be malicious, but that does not mean the person is malicious.
My daughter loves the bumper sticker that quotes Ghandi: “An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. . . leaves the world blind and toothless.” What would happen in relationships if we worked from an assumption that the attack from another comes from hurt and pain, not mean-ness? What would happen if we worked from a point of forgiveness? After all, if the person is seen as hurt and in pain, it is much easier to offer forgiveness and understanding.
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