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Hurting Others on Purpose

It's hard to believe the principles of Nonviolent Communication (NVC) when you hear someone say, "I did it just to hurt them." Hearing this it's easy to think that some people are just acting from meaness and not from universal needs.

How do you get from hearing someone say their motivation was to hurt others to believing that everything everyone does is an attempt to meet a life giving universal need?

You can start by distinguishing conscious intention from subconscious motivation. In NVC, we are working to make our subconscious motivations, universal needs, our conscious intentions.

Consciously intending to hurt another is a tragic strategy to meet a need. Someone who uses this strategy is not conscious of the need motivating their behavior. I'd guess the need behind this strategy is usually for empathy and mutuality. The thought that goes with this is "If I hurt you, you will know how I feel or you won't hurt me like that again."

When someone's needs have been unmet for a long time, it can be difficult to believe they are really acting from needs. Sometimes the needs they are acting from don't obviously relate to the events at hand. When your partner lashes out at you unexpectedly over not shutting the bathroom light off, it's likely about some unrecognized and unrelated feeling and need, either in your relationship or from long before your relationship.

Hurting others on purpose can also show up in a tit for tat kind of mentality.  For example, you have a date with a friend and some more interesting invitation comes up for the same evening.  If you are in tit for tat thinking you might have a thought like this: "She's flakes out on me all the time, why should I worry about breaking our date."  Rather than checking in with your own needs, you try to make things equally painful.

Strategies like this just don't work. They don't meet needs for integrity, empathy, caring consideration, or mutuality. They just add suffering to suffering.

The more conscious you are of the needs that come up for you in challenging relationships, the more you can act in ways that really meet them, without hurting others.  Sometimes this means letting go of relationships that consistently don't meet your needs and turning your attention to who is a consistent and benevolent presence in your life.

This week reflect on someone who you think acted "just to hurt someone else" make some guesses about what feelings and needs might be alive for them. 

For yourself notice, when you have the impulse to try to meet needs for mutuality or empathy by doing little things that hurt others.  Some common examples are:  not making eye contact, waiting longer than usual to return a call or email, canceling a date, not doing your part in some shared responsibility, intentionally arriving late, not dressing up for a formal event, cooking a meal without loving attention, etc.  When you catch yourself in one of these behaviors, pause and connect with the feelings and needs up for you and take action to meet your needs.

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2 Responses

  1. Aug 30, 2013

    This piece was so illuminating to me. Made me aware of how I've done the "get-back" game in my life. Made me cry to see how unconsciously I've operated in life. This will be a lesson I will be needing to practice and reflect on with myself. There were things I did in my youth that I'm ashamed of, deliberately hurting others (like pulling a chair out from under someone I didn't like, and pretending it was an accident) and now I can see there were needs I wasn't aware of that were going unmet. So much to learn and forgive oneself and others for. Keep up the good work. Thank you,

  2. Aug 31, 2013

    thank you for sharing Chris. I am glad to contribute here and hope that you will be gentle with your past selves.

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