In seeking to be honest with the people in my life one of the questions that comes up again and again from others watching my journey is '...how do you justify hurting someone's feelings?'
If I had to boil down the main reason I was unhappy for most of my life - and continue to make myself unhappy whenever I lose focus and drop back into old patterns - it is because I could NEVER find any justification for hurting someone's feelings. Hurting another's feelings - and wow, that's such an abstract concept when you stop to think about it - was the worst, clumsiest and insensitive thing I could do. Hurting feelings meant that I had failed in my ability to be sensitive and empathic, to understand and predict others' emotions, and had committed that most heinous of all crimes: the crime of selfishness. It didn't matter that I hadn't intended to be hurtful, I should have known, I should have predicted, and above all I should be very very sorry.
Over the years I've suffered several painful rifts with friends - and family - who accused me of hurting their feelings irreparably. I've talked a little before about my response to those situations - both emotional and physical - and how ruled by fear I felt when reacting to those accusations. The pain I felt stemmed from a deeply held notion, that the person I loved had somehow built up a faulty or inaccurate picture of who I was and did not really know me at all. Because if they did truly know me, how could they think that of me? How could they believe I would be capable of such an act?
My hurt feelings came from an idea my image - the Laura I was beaming out into the world, with her carefully chosen words and kind, empathic nature - was under attack. I needed to protect that image, because that image was everything to me; it was the reason people who loved me loved me, it was the reason people I wanted to impress thought I was smart, and it was who my husband loved, who my parents were proud of and who my friends understood. The person those people saw was me, surely? But if that was true, why did it feel so terrifyingly like I was being exposed.
If I imagine that 'my feelings are hurt', I can respond by feeling nausea that I imagine is anguish, or I can ask myself what part of my image of myself feels under attack.
My image of myself as a good mother?
A good friend?
A selfless person?
An authentic human being?
My image of myself as generous?
As universally likeable?
As tough and capable?
As sensitive and empathic?
Damage to these parts of my image registers as very particular physical sensations; I get hot and shaky, my stomach starts to turn over, I get a quaver in my voice, tears in my eyes. If I'm standing my legs start to shake a little, my heart rate speeds way up and my scalp gets tight. I associate these sensations with fear and anger, but mostly fear, and I tell myself a story about how being misunderstood (or revealed) as wanting or less than I appear means that I will be abandoned in disgust, as I was when I was a child who was discovered to be lying.
So my answer to the initial question I was asked is not a simple one. How, in seeking to be completely honest about what's going on for me, do I justify hurting someone's feelings? If my end goal is healing a rift and gaining a better, more authentic relationship, I suppose I could 'justify' it that way. But if my goal isn't to mend a rift but to mend myself, how do I justify it then? That was the question I asked myself for a long time, as someone who isn't selfish, who cares about the well-being of others, who worries about how her words could affect someone, without ever once considering the irony. The reason I was talking myself out of the conversations I needed to have to feel whole, wasn't because I was worried about hurting the feelings of others, it was because I was so damned scared of damaging how they saw me.
I make myself self-conscious about this blog post, because it's far less about sensations than it is about imaginings, but as this blog is about what goes on in my head as I work towards a more sensational life, I figure the occasional 'head-driven' post isn't the worst crime in the world. Please though, do feel free to call me on my head-driven bullshit and tell me to
and stop fucking imagining