Did your family teach or model for you how to successfully deal with the many emotional hurts that can occur in all types of love relationships? Are you good at learning from love related hurt and using it to make love relationship improvements? If your answer is mostly “no” to these questions, take heart, all this can be learned.
Good “hurt” diagnosis means figuring out three, basic, big things. First, what ‘harmful’ event is occurring, or is in danger of occurring? Second, what is to be done about both the hurt and the possible harm it points to? Remember, hurt is the enemy of harm (see blog entry “Dealing With Love Hurts: Pain’s Crucial Guidance”). And third, what can we learn from it? This means asking ourselves questions like What’s wrong, What can be done to make it right or to make it better, What can be learned to prevent what’s wrong from happening again, and What can be learned to advance and sustain improvement?.
Also it may mean asking ourselves what useless, fruitless, self destructive, wasteful, idiotic, unhelpful, wrongheaded, prejudicial understandings do we have that we need to get out of the way before we can diagnose our hurt accurately? Many a person messes up their ability to diagnose and improve their hurtful condition by seeking to blame someone (maybe themselves), or they spend a lot of time on useless defending of mistakes, or they just dodge the whole thing because it’s hard to figure out accurately. Then too, lots of people only work on what went wrong and never get around to working on what can be done to make it better. Good diagnosis means arriving at a good treatment plan or improvement strategy. Nevertheless, if you want to diminish hurtful and harmful happenings in your love relationships, or want them to be eliminated, the useful diagnosis of what your hurt can tell you is vitally important.
When working with love related hurt I like to ask people what they think the guidance message is that’s inherent in their hurt. Usually at first this question is confusing but then with work an understanding of hurt’s natural guidance message starts to emerge. Some of these guidance messages are easy to understand and others are quite complicated. The hurt called ‘loneliness’ is likely to be telling you to go find someone good and loving to be with. ‘Love related anxiety’ is usually attempting to guide you to search and discover what love-destructive thing may be on the way to happening. Of course, once identified you’ll probably have to do something about it. Frequently this involves doing more work about creating love relationship safety. Love hurt from ‘betrayal’ in a love relationship usually carries the message to be more careful about investing one’s trust. Hurt in betrayal also is usually about not giving one’s power away to others so that their actions can damage you or be used against you.
When you don’t learn from hurt in a love relationship situation, hurt likely will act like a good friend and come on stronger and more often until you get its guidance message. I like to suggest that almost all forms of suffering which have to do with love relationships contain a common basic message. They all usually are, in essence, saying “learn to do love better”. Much like the message of hurting your hand on a hot stove, the hurtful message is to learn to cook more carefully. It does not work well to quit cooking or give up eating because you got burned touching the stove. Don’t give up on love, just learn to do it better. Like it is dysfunctional to give up driving a car because you got hurt in an auto accident, so it is dysfunctional to give up on love because you have been in a love wreck. Learn to drive the car and the love relationship better or you may have another wreck.
Unfortunately love hurt is one of those areas in which lots of people don’t know how to arrive at an accurate diagnosis of what’s going wrong and what to do about it. Therefore, they don’t get the helpful message inherent in their hurt. The basic diagnostic message that says “learn to do love better” may not be one of your culture’s or your family’s teaching.
Consequently that message may be rather strange and working with it may be unfamiliar to you. In the Western world culture, and others, too many people have been programmed to believe that love is all automatic and magic, and that we are but helpless fools waiting for our love fate to overtake us. I never trust training in helplessness. All hurt tries to tell you to diagnose what’s wrong and do something about it so harm is avoided. Hurt related to love is no exception. Sometimes the diagnosis tells us to temporarily endure the hurt so as to avoid greater harm. Occasionally the diagnosis yells “Escape as fast as you can because you’re about to be destroyed”. Often the diagnosis is telling us just to change some of the ways we go about love and learn to do it more fully and better.
Another destructive training sometimes occurs which damages the love dynamics of that special love relationship called parenting. It usually goes something like this, “What was good enough for my parents is good enough for our children”. Usually this type of statement means that the parents who think this are resistant to learning the better, more well researched and discovered, improved ways of doing parenting. I sometimes like to ask people to name some areas of life in which there have not been improvements over and above the way their parents or grandparents knew to do things. I don’t get many good answers. Let me suggest ‘love and parenting’ are not exceptions.
The knowledge exists on how to do both far better than once was commonly practiced. However, in some cases truly ancient knowledge, that somehow went out of style, and the most recent developments correspond beautifully. One of the newer and yet ancient understandings is “learn from your hurt, that’s what it’s there for”. Another one is “it’s insanity to expect new and better results from repeating old actions that have failed time and time again”. So, unless you’re hurt is overwhelming I want to suggest you work to understand every part of your hurt’s guidance message. That is likely to be the best way to eliminate or reduce the hurt and not repeat it. If the hurt is overwhelming get some help from a good love-knowledgeable counselor – you don’t have to suffer interminably.
Feeling hurt is a natural life system and all life systems can malfunction. There can be too much hurt just as there can be too little hurt. Hurt can be both subconsciously and consciously exacerbated or denied. Frequently doing either can be detrimental. Hurt can go on too long and hurt can interfere with other life systems designed to assist us. However, most often if you work with your hurt you will learn and be guided to that which is healthier and happier. Deny or over sedate your hurt and it may get worse so that its guidance message gets through to you.
Another thing to be cautious about concerning hurt has to do with what you were previously taught to do about it. Blaming others, or blaming the stars, the fates, etc., just submitting to it, toughing it through without learning, using it for manipulating others as in ‘guilt tripping’, and playing the victim for sympathy, or getting to be the virtuous martyr and a host of other misuses are to be identified and eliminated. Lots of people have learned to use their hurt as an excuse for not being ‘response able’ and then get drunk, or do drugs or destructively act out. For some their love hurt is an excuse for doing violence to others, seeking to ‘get even’ via vengeance, retribution, etc. Such anti-love actions usually are self defeating and may represent no real love being there in the first place.
There are a few special cases of desired and enjoyed love hurt. Pain can accentuate pleasure when both are conditioned to occur together, and when the pleasure exceeds the pain. When a person has felt almost nothing strong or intense for a long time pain can help some people feel much more vitally alive, and for that they are glad. Case in point: Steve felt he was stuck in a dull, boring job and a marriage that wasn’t any better, neither from which he saw an immediate good way to escape. He became entangled in a complicated, difficult, painful affair. He actually was grateful for it because it made him feel excited and intensely alive as nothing had for a long time.
This is an example of a ‘good’ coupled with a ‘bad’. I am not saying that his approach was all that healthful but it was desired and enjoyed more than bland living. Certain kinds of physical pain and sexual pleasure occurring simultaneously, especially when there is intense, emotional, love-filled intimacy can greatly add to sexual pleasure for some people whose neurological physiology is built for that. Some people have been conditioned to believe their pain signifies great love occurring or other similar positive things. In these cases it still is best to diagnostically think about the presence or likelihood of harm. The enjoyment of getting permanently damaged is to be avoided no matter how pleasurable it might be to someone.
Let me now challenge you to think about when you have had hurt in a love relationship. Any love related hurt you have experienced will suffice. It may have been with a parent, or sibling, or friend, or lover, or a spouse. Can you identify what the guidance message was in that hurt? Practicing the skill of identifying hurt’s guidance messages using old hurts can be quite useful in learning to do love hurt diagnosis well. If the old hurt still hurts it could mean you have more guidance messages yet to identify. If the old hurt no longer hurts it could mean you have gotten over that, strengthened yourself, and learned a lot, so be proud of your growth in diagnosing and following the guidance messages from that hurt.
Did the love relationship hurt that you just thought about lead you to break up or go away from someone who would have been destructive or inadequate for you? If so, be thankful for that hurt. If similar hurt started today would you diagnosis its guidance message sooner and act upon it quicker? If you get your feelings hurt in a love relationship today are you quicker to diagnose what you are doing poorly, or wrong, and make improvements in your own behavior. Are you then quick to figure out what you want different from what you are getting – and ask for it? Remember, it is important to diagnose your own contribution to your hurt as well as another person’s, and don’t forget to diagnose what circumstances contribute to the hurt.
By reading this you are studying love hurts and how to diagnose them, how to avoid them, how to fix them, how to learn from them and, thereby, do better at love. So then, the question is “are you going to keep studying”? If you are having trouble diagnosing your love hurts, remember, it is quite smart, appropriate, efficient and usually highly useful to get help from a love-oriented and love-knowledgeable therapist when dealing with the pain involved in love relationship difficulties.
As always – Go and Grow with Love
Dr. J. Richard Cookerly
Image credits: Original graphic, "Stethoscope" by Flickr user tjmwatson (Tess Watson) modified for use here by Wade Watson.