What if, when faced with hurt, insult or betrayal, you opened into it with love and curiosity, instead of recoiling, clamping down, striking back, running or numbing out?
In those moments when someone I love breaches our connection with disdain, devaluing, or betrayal, my ability to find unconditional love for them is often challenged. The sensations that sting draw me into reaction and judgment or into numb, lofty bypass, or to withdrawal from them.
To steer towards compassion for them, to find their heart below their pain and love them despite or even because of the acrimony; to seek to bring the same to myself in my own moments of upset, is a labyrinthine maze filled with pitfalls. We all fumble, and hurt each other. How do we love each other, and ourselves here without getting lost in spiritual bypassing, pretending it didn’t really affect us, or spending time only with people who are unlikely to hurt us (until they do.)?
Where is the blossoming of non-duality without a deep and personal exploration of how to love through the hate, the pain, and the hurt?
And, how do we find boundaries within the frame of complete acceptance of another, in all their shadows and light? How do we dance gracefully on the razor’s edges of love and fear, of self and other, of freedom and codependence, without getting lost in our shadow or prematurely imagining it’s transformation?
My occasional ability to find glowing appreciation, and even love, for the one who attacked or hurt me, has sometimes been a beautiful experience—one that can bring me to self-compassion when my own unconsciousness and unlovingness appears. Learning to love when we feel hurt or afraid or betrayed, and still be in reality, I believe is where the rubber meets the road for humanity: right there—where all the heat and friction and intensity that life and death and love brings.
To recognize where another is unaware, or unwilling or unable to bring repair or restitution to such unloving interactions can be a cue to firm up my boundaries. Or, experimentally, it is also possible to allow them in, to be vulnerable to them, and then do what they do.
Then I can feel what I feel, and stand and experience who I am in that moment. Perhaps to be seen by them in the vulnerability and pain of it. This can be a powerful experience for me to help me drop into understanding what I have spent my life bracing from, avoiding, and fearing. And, perhaps it could be healing for them, if they are willing or able to present to what is.
Part of what has been fruitful for me to contemplate is that the level of activation that my nervous system and emotions feel when someone is (or appears to be) unloving to me, is almost always out of proportion to the violation itself. When affronted, my nervous system goes into red: fight or flight, danger, and a level of activation that is on a par with a life threatening experience. Sometimes I even go numb, or seek numbing solace.
But the truth is, it is not life threatening. Someone can be unconscious, or mean, or cruel, or betray me and I will not die, even though everything in me might scream that I will.
Trauma in primordial times occurred in various ways. Social-emotional traumas happen when banished out of the tribe, or if abandoned by mother. Predatory animals, other humans, and nature itself were much more likely to cause injury or death than they are today. Our instincts were honed over millennia to prevent this from happening, and this exquisite wiring for this is still in us, and runs our lives.
During the Apollo space missions, NASA focused more on training the astronauts to stay calm during stressful times than any other task. Panic and reaction lead to bigger problems in space. They needed to find a new way to navigate their emotional reactions, as they were not in reality. The reality of it is a bit hard to swallow:
just because we feel fear does not mean we are in danger.
The exploration of our evolution here has to include the current typical response to feeling fear, which is to reduce the danger: set boundaries, get more powerful, evade, outsmart, defend. What is not often done that really needs much more attention, is to explore our fear: are we really in danger? Can we learn to tolerate and transform the sensations of fear in such a way as to be able to relate to life and to reality from a more centered, agile place?
Let me be clear: I am not suggesting that we not feel our fear and emotions. Rather, I am just saying that each of us, in our own way, and in our own time, needs to find a relationship to our emotions that has a presence and witness to it that allows us the freedom to act or not on what the emotions are beckoning us towards or away from.
In fact, to be able to feel fully whatever happens in me when my lover insults or betrays me, or dismisses me in a wave of unconscious self-absorption, and to honor them in their choices and impulses, and to fully feel that landscape. To be fully able to honor them in their lack of interest in empathy while simultaneously honoring my own fascination with it.
From that deeply explored journey of knowing other and self, to be free to step back from a place of love, or to walk away completely if that feels right. Or perhaps, to stand there, as it is, in full acceptance of the depth of what is, and let the waves of pain or fear wash over me.
From this place of more acceptance and love, I can feel into this person’s heart a bit more, and whether they have the willingness and desire to apologize and do repair work when there is a problem. And to feel into how this fits for the level of intimacy that I desire. Is this someone I want to continue to be deeply intimate with, or less intimate? Or walk away from completely?
My desire is to love who I love, how I love. I do not wish to let another person’s lack of it block my love for them, nor to fall into patterns of victim, rescuer, and persecutor. I do not wish to brace against life or love or pain. I prefer to trust that I am safe and lovable, that I am potent and loving, regardless of what appears in the moment. Even in my love for another whose actions sometimes hurt.