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Hurt People Hurt: Breaking the Cycle!

By Rae Lewis-Thornton

November 2, 2011

This piece originally appeared in Rae's blog, Diva Living With AIDS.

Hurt people hurt people is a true reality. Sometimes we do it intentionally. Someone does something to cause us pain and our first impulse is to say,"I'll show them." And that becomes our motivation. And you've allowed them to put you right in the gutter with them. I say often, don't let people make you something you're not.

And other times someone hurts us unintentionally, they don't give us the answer we want to hear, or they say it in such a way that our demons take control. Yes, everyone has them, but we also have angels. One's life is filled with the good, the bad and even the ugly. And most of the day it dictates our behavior both good and bad.

I inherently believe that no one is born evil, even sociopaths are shaped by their environment. I say often, our sick ass parents grow us up to be sick and then we have to figure out what healthy is on our own. It's like growing up all over again.

Someone does a thing or says a thing that sets off every worst feeling that you have and you lash out. Yep, we may not always say it, but we act on it and before you know it you've kicked someone straight in the gut. And I gotta say it again, the first impulse is to lash back because you want them to feel an ounce of what you felt. But often times you simply want to stop hurting and you think lashing out is the way to achieve that goal. So the cycle of hurt people hurting continues to be KING.

So I asked the simple question, when does the cycle end? Or better yet how do we stop the cycle? I've given a lot of thought to it. At the core of it all is the demon that runs our life. At some point we must stop holding on to him like a crutch. Yep, we hold on; Stop lying! We hold on because in some ways it's the easiest thing to do, and in other ways it's all we know, and we know him best so it becomes our defense mechanism.

In my own life I started out on a journey to live healthy about 7-8 years ago. Through therapy and prayer I had come to understand the central cause of my demons and I started undoing years of unhealthy behavior by doing it right, even when it was painful to me, I knew in the long run biting the bullet now will have more of a positive impact on my overall emotional well being.

Oprah says often, when you know better you do better. But I think that's too simple. Knowing does not always translate into doing. Unhealthy cycles takes on a life of it's own and it requires work, painful work. Its like undoing years of learned behavior.

Unless you are a sociopath at their core, no one really wants to hurt someone they love and care for, so how do we change this? I don't have all the answers, but I will give a few ideas.

At first glance is this thing called forgiveness. Forgiveness is a powerful tool that will get us far. As a child when I first heard the last seven words of Jesus I was amazed by his prayer for those who killed and taunted him. "Father Forgive them, for they know not what they are doing." Wow for even a murderer there is forgiveness. Why are we always talking about what Jesus would do, and yet not make that central to what we would do?

So why is it so hard for us to forgive for unintentional mumbled words? Why do we hold onto how we felt about the words? Why do we allow the words to control our very being? What will it take for us to say enough is enough. When will we at least start to take baby steps to make the change to live beyond our demons?

Have we considered stepping back and journal... Maybe just jot some notes down. What did this person really say to me and what did I hear them say? Based on what they said, how does that fit into who this person is and what they are to me?

Has their action toward me been loving and caring? Is this thing I'm feeling worth hurting them because I'm hurting? The Bible says treat people how you want to be treated. Then ask yourself, is this how I want them to respond to me in the same situation ? And most fundamental, why do I feel this way over what they said or did to me? Why is it important to me?

Now of course some people hurt you and it's the meanest shit on the planet. Now those people are a different kind. Those are the people you forgive, forget and keep it moving. Yep, when someone show's you who they are believe them. Don't explain it away nor make excuses, just keep it moving or keep getting hurt. That's what we often do in relationships and by the time we leave, we are bitter and mad. When you could have left at any point.

But for those relationships we value, we must say enough is enough and begin to take steps to do better and be better, even if it's baby steps. While it is difficult to undo years of unhealthy behavior, it is not impossible. No, you may not get it right every time, but sometimes it's better than none at all. And the more you do it, the more it becomes the norm.

It's up to us to stop the cycle of hurt hurting hurt...

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See Also
10 Things You Can Do to Enhance Your Emotional Well-Being
More Advice on Coping With HIV/AIDS


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Rae Lewis-Thornton Speaks

Rae Lewis-Thornton

Rae Lewis-Thornton

Rae Lewis-Thornton is an Emmy Award-winning AIDS activist who rose to national acclaim when she told her story of living with AIDS in a cover story for Essence Magazine. She has lived with HIV for 27 years and AIDS for 19. Rae travels the country speaking and challenging stereotypes and myths about HIV/AIDS. She has a Master of Divinity degree and is currently working on her Ph.D. in Church History. Rae has been featured on Nightline, Dateline NBC, BET and The Oprah Winfrey Show, as well as in countless magazines and newspapers, including Emerge, Glamour, O, the Oprah Winfrey Magazine, Jet, Ebony, the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune, to name a few. She earned the coveted Emmy Award for a first-person series on living With AIDS for Chicago's CBS News.

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