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Self-Knowledge • Trauma & Childhood

Why Those Who Should Love Us Can Hurt Us

Part of why it is so hard to understand ourselves is that people are constantly doing things to us that defy the common-sense of view of how human beings might plausibly behave around people they claim to care about. We expect that those who might carry the title of mum or dad or husband or wife would, unless they had very clear reasons to do otherwise, show us kindness. And yet the brutal reality (which we must take on board for our own sanity) is that humans are frequently beset by feelings that are so intolerable and difficult, they develop urges to pass them on to others in a version of emotional pass the parcel. 

Put another way, humans can end up being cruel, not for money or territory, but in the hope of alleviating their own sufferings by making someone near them suffer in their stead. Cruelty is at heart an attempt to make ourselves feel better by doing to someone else a version of what was done to us. 

Amidst the seeming normality of family life, people will hence inject someone else (a spouse, a child) with a poison — an ill will, a contempt, a hostility — which they then deny ever having put into their bloodstream and which the victim themselves can’t clearly detect, so invested are they in thinking well of those around them.

A mother might, for example, inject her daughter with a poison that ‘says’: ‘Don’t ever succeed in your life; it would make me feel too bad about myself.’ Or a father will inject his son with poison whose meaning is: ‘I want you to fail in your career to alleviate my sense of disappointment.’ Or a spouse will inject their partner with a poison that carries the meaning: ‘I will constantly but very subtly disrespect your intelligence and your sexuality to lessen the feelings of rage and powerlessness I experienced when I was little.’

Such injections wouldn’t work if they were noticed, so enormous energy goes into the cover-up. It’s debatable how much the injector even understands what they are up to; they are more ‘driven’ to act than cleanly aware of how or why they are doing so.

A big part of self-knowledge means realising that those we love and have trusted may have put some hugely damaging ideas inside us that need to be identified and corrected to help us to attain the freedom and light-heartedness we crave and deserve.

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