Sunday, August 14, 2016

How to Deal with Painful People

She talked you down after your first heartbreak. He made you smile in the kitchen that one Christmas when you were so stressed out and sick all you wanted to do was cry. She gave you her cucumbers each and every time because she knew you loved them so much. He listened to your worst, darkest confessions and kissed you anyways. She gently ran her nails up and down your arm for hours and gave you the very best goosebumps. He held your hand and whispered praise while you birthed his children.

And then these people, these moments you once cherished and can still recall with such clarity, they become bathed in red and confusion. The metamorphosis of someone you love becoming someone you do not recognize, someone who would so easily tear at your happiness in a way only they would know to do, that reality tosses you into a place you don't recognize. Sometimes the change is instant, jarring, like a stab wound, deep and wide and open. Sometimes the change is slow, gradual, like an infection that started with something small and seemingly insignificant but then spreads and eats its way through your flesh. Either way, the pain is indescribable. Such betrayal leaves you breathless. Such hate leaves you searching for answers. Such insanity leaves you questioning your judgement.

But you're not crazy. I promise. The presence of painful people in your life does not render you incapable, or weak, or worthless, or disgusting, or stupid, or any of the things you might say to yourself, or the painful people in your life might say with their actions and words.

Painful people, I am realizing, are simply a part of life. They will find you no matter what you do. They could be a stranger. They could be a sibling. They could be someone you married. The random, terrifying ability of someone to change on a dime and become capable of inflicting inexplicable harm is not something we can predict, I don't care how fancy your tarot deck is.

So that's the first step in dealing with painful people: Know that the harm they cause is not your fault. You do not deserve to feel pain. You do not deserve hate. And most importantly, there is nothing you could've done to prevent the painful people in your life from causing harm.

Do you remember when Nancy Kerrigan got whammied by that stupid blonde chick's hitman or whatever? I was a little girl when I watched her on tv screaming again and again, "why, why..." I've done a fantastic impression of that very moment, real-time, way more than I care to admit. It's human nature to want to know why. I want to know why. I want answers.

But there are no answers. Step two: Accept that there are no answers. The painful people in your life made up their mind to act exactly how they are acting and you'll get no help from playing the why and what if game. And if you're anything like me what I just wrote won't stop you from asking those questions anyways so here you go - here are the only answers to be had:

Why are people painful? Because they are miserable.

Why are they miserable? Because they allow themselves to be.

These painful people are not reflections of your abilities. They are not reflections of your judgement. They are not reflections of you. 

Every broken relationship was once whole. And the shattered pieces of every relationship, if you look closely, are speckled with the remnants and hopes and dreams that take us so high, make us think we are invincible, lead us to believe real, lasting destruction is impossible and love will always overcome. And there's only one truth in all of will always overcome. Just very likely not in the way you expect it to.

This is the time to keep your eyes wide open and search for the love. Remember that juxtaposition I talked about a few weeks ago? Every time there's dark, there's light. Find the light. Step three: Seek out the light. Before you even start to think about how you're going to deal with the painful people in your life, hold fast to your light. Find your confidence. Seriously, reread that confidence post. Get back to standing on your own two sexy feet. You're going to need it.

Painful people thrive on inflicting pain. Sometimes they are outwardly proud of it, sometimes they are in denial, sometimes they don't even realize how much they enjoy repeating behaviors that suffocate, stifle, and strangle those around them. Sometimes they are otherwise good people that truly just for whatever reason want to harm you. Whatever their modus operandi, you've gotta realize the results, regardless of the reasons, are always the same: you are in pain, they are thriving off it. Excuses cannot work here. Step four is to cast out your excuses for that person. He may be great at math. She may donate regularly to your favorite charity. You may love his parents. She may be a good person, deep, deep down. Irrelevant. What matters right now is that he is harming you and consequently, is no better than a common criminal (who, in all fairness, would at least outwardly admit he wants to cause you pain).

That's one of the hardest parts, I think....setting fire to those memories and moving past what once was so you can fully accept what actually is. What's actually happening is someone is trying to tear you apart. What's actually happening is you are being threatened and will be eaten alive unless you act defensively. And, dear readers, painful people do not play fair. The more they know you, the deeper they will cut you. The more vulnerable you allowed yourself to be with them, the more open and exposed and trusting you were of them, the quicker they are capable of gutting you. This is a dirty, dirty game that often results in simply cutting the infected person out of your life forever. In some cases, however, cutting the painful people out of your life isn't possible. Game plans are key.

There's a stack of bricks waiting within each of us, piled up in the corners of our heart, patiently holding out for the day we need them for protection. Slowly, surely, these bricks become our internal fortress against those who seek to harm us, tear us down, make us feel like we are nothing. Slowly, surely, one by one, we need to slam these bricks down and knock the dust off our self-worth. The wall doesn't need to exist all the time, or be impenetrable to everybody, but to the painful people in your life, the wall needs to become a reality. No more letting the painful people in and out of your life at their whim. No more answering their cries of change and commitment with love and understanding. Step five is to build your wall. It's a sad step but it needs to be done, lovely readers. You are not this person's friend. They are purposely harming you. Write down your boundaries. Write down topics you will and will not share. Write down what they are and are not allowed to know about you. Create your boundaries and be prepared to defend them. If there's one thing a painful person doesn't like, it's learning they actually really did lose access to you in every way imaginable. It will be game on once they realize what they lost.

And this is where the best step comes into play. What is the most beautiful, serene way to communicate with another person? It's your smile, gorgeous. Your smile lights up the room. It stops hearts. It forces people to pause and wonder. Your smile conveys your strength, your ability to see beyond this trivial, momentary blip on the radar of life. Your smile communicates that these painful people cannot defeat you. You are unstoppable. You are unbreakable. And this person, this person who wishes to see you cry, who wishes to see you fall, will only see you smile as you rise. Step six is to smile. Smile at the painful people in your life and know that despite them and the pain they choose to inflict, you are protected and you are loved and they will never conquer you.

Now, I'm no fool. I know what it means to cry into my pillow and I know that need to call someone you love just to take a few deep breaths. I know what it's like to lose countless hours of sleep and I know what it's like to despise yourself for all the wrong reasons. I know what it's like to smile even though you are literally breaking inside.

But the point is they'll never know one way or another. The painful people in your life don't get that power anymore...the ability to control when you're happy and when you're sad. They don't get to see the results of their efforts; whether executed out of tenderness or spite, their actions will always end with the same reaction - indifference. They cannot phase you. They cannot beat you. Cuz let's face've already won. 

Do you have painful people in your life, dear readers? How do you deal with them? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so very much for reading :)



  1. Thank you for sharing this post, Jen. Doubtful there is anyone on the planet who has not been on the receiving end of the shattering pain that can only be inflicted by someone close, someone loved. First disbelief. Second disbelief. Third disbelief. Then it sinks in. Mind-numbing sorrow. Appetite lost. Then anger. Then rage. Sleep impossible. Clear-headedness unattainable. All encompassing.
    How does that heal? How long does it take? What do we do in the meantime?
    I’ve found that people who have hurt me – well – it’s often not about me. It’s about them, where they are mentally, emotionally. Its indifference toward me and that is why it hurts so much. Because I thought they cared.
    Most of the time hurters act on emotion rather than reason. Lots of times it’s anger with hurt underneath.
    I’ve found that sometimes harm is truly intended but sometimes this person is trying to convince me of their point of view, their position, their desire. Sometimes they are utterly impatient with me. Often I’ve found the hurter is so saturated with their own stuff (situation, experience) they cannot see, or think to see, or want to see, from any angle but their own. Sometimes the attack comes from their minds unique perspective (which I might think is nuts) and often it’s difficult or almost impossible to comprehend their perspective.
    Sometime (later) they say they are sorry. Sometimes they do not say they are sorry.
    I totally agree: often the hurters are miserable. Some maybe exceptionally confused. If they are adults and are damaged (who isn’t) that damage cannot be the reason. An adult is not allowed to have such excuses for bad behavior. Bad behavior is a choice, a decision.
    I have been astounded by the utter lack of understanding of the pain their actions, words, behavior causes to others. How can someone be so oblivious to the perception of others? I really struggle with that. Can this behavior be attributed to the lack of emotional intelligence and perhaps an unwillingness to look in the mirror? Is there a lack of willingness to embark on the Life Long Work of:
    Coming to terms with the past
    Recognizing the cognitive distortions in their own mind and re-framing those long held beliefs
    Learning to be gentle, forgiving, compassionate and loving toward themselves and others
    Sometimes we do need to detach then the question is to what degree? And yes, boundaries are extremely important. We get to decide what and what not to share. Vulnerability is a very large part of intimacy. Again, we get to decide what to share just as you said.
    Again, Jen, thank you for sharing this post. I really appreciate your insight. It’s cliché but these struggles have value. In the end we wear them like patina, our wisdom and strength for all to see.

    1. What an incredible and insightful comment, as only you can do, mama :) I think you have the most beautiful patina of them all!! :)

  2. This is a great post! I definitely have had these people in my life. After many years I finally said enough. I cannot make people happy, and only I can make myself happy. It was difficult getting to that realization, but now that I am here, I am definitely happier and more in control of my own life and path.

    1. Thank you Heather! It can be so hard to take those steps - it requires a ton of bravery and honesty but in the end you are FREE. I am glad you took those steps and are happier for it! I am well on my way to that place, too! Thank you so much for stopping by :)

  3. I am in the midst of a divorce right now so this is so helpful in that aspect of my life as well as others. I love what you said about smiling. It just makes all things better. Thank you for this. :)

    1. Thank you Elaine :) I am also smack-dab in the middle of a divorce so I am sincerely overjoyed this resonated with you. Sounds like we might be in the same place in our lives and some of the things I wrote up there I wrote honestly as a reminder to myself. Smiling isn't easy when your heart is breaking, but do it anyway. I'll be smiling right next to you! :)