What Actually Happens Inside Us When We Are Hurt By Another?

We feel that someone has hurt us, but is the hurt we feel caused by the other person?  Or are the actions of others merely the “approximate cause” of the suffering—in other words, the trigger, but not the actual cause of the suffering itself?

Put that way, it might seem obvious. Others can’t really make us suffer, at least theoretically! But it sure can feel that someone else is “making” us suffer, right? Nonetheless,  even the common wisdom is that for someone to hurt us, we have to let someone “get inside our head.”

Some of us can be hurt by a slight offense, intended or unintended. And others of us have made ourselves so tough and armored that we may feel no one can make us feel bad, by God—or Buddha!

But whether we feel powerless against the harm of others, or think we are one tough cookie is in one sense irrelevant. In either case, Buddhism says the underlying mental/emotional process is the same, and we need to understand the self-inflicted mental origins of our suffering.

This excerpt from an essay by Bhante Bodhidhamma on forgiveness explains how Buddhism analyzes what happens when we are hurt by others. This particular passage focuses only on the “how” of creating our suffering. For what we can do about when we feel hurt, you might want to look at some of these prior posts. While a number of the posts focus on what we do when we have hurt others, there’s plenty about what we can do about our own hurt feelings, when we are the hurt one:

A Look at the Ninth Zen Precept—I Do Not Indulge in Anger

Yes, Buddhism Teaches Forgiveness

The Difference Between Forgiveness and Reconciliation

Buddhist Forgiveness—When We Have Hurt Another – Part 1

Buddhist Forgiveness—When We Have Hurt Another – Part 2

Buddhist Forgiveness—When We Have Hurt Another – Part 3

All-embracing Compassion—The Heart Practice of Tonglen

More Buddhist Forgiveness—Using Tonglen

I hope this short teaching below helps you skillfully look into your hurt feelings to discover your own participation in your suffering. Reading and working with this has been a great help to me, that’s for sure, and I bring this teaching to mind every time feel hurt by another!

Bhante Bodhidhamma

So what happens when we are hurt by another’s behavior?

by Bhante Bodhidhamma

Let’s take the first occasion of an insult.

The word arrives at the ear. ‘You idiot!’ We perceive with the ear not just the sound of the word but also the tone of anger. We perceive with the eye the signs of anger on the face and in the body language. We can also sense at the ‘heart’ level the emotional feeling. For instance, we can sense the tension in a room where there has just been an argument.

All this is the point of ‘contact’. After this the process is internal, dependent on our inner dispositions.

It is recognised. Upon recognition, it is labelled as ‘dislikeable’. That is the point of ‘feeling’. This is determined by our past experience of insults and how we have reacted to them. Some people will be slightly hurt, others incensed. When this happens, the heart has reacted upon the hearing. It feels hurt.

Immediately there rises the ‘craving’ to be rid of the hurt. The normal reaction is to get rid of the person who hurts us and respond to the person in kind. Or if the threat is too great, we swallow our pride and retire. These reactions are possessed by the self. This is called ‘grasping’. It is only at this point that we actually identify with the process. Only now does the idea of ‘me’ arise.

Once the sense of ‘I’ has grasped the reaction of craving, this craving is empowered. The reaction is willed. A kamma, an action of thought, speech or body, is performed. This is the moment of ‘becoming’. We become the reaction. We start shouting. All this, of course, happens in milliseconds.

So the sound of the word strikes the eardrum. It is recognised. A feeling of dislike arises. A reaction of ‘don’t want’. The concept of me grasps it. ‘I’ don’t want. The reaction is empowered. ‘I’ do something.’

Everything from the reception of the word at the ear door and the feeling or touch door has been an internal process dependent on our own inner conditioning. In this case, we have reinforced a conditioning of angry response, which causes mental turbulence. This is the way we cause ourselves to suffer.

Even should we swallow the insult and not respond, it festers. The tiny quip in the morning is inflated through fantasy throughout the day until the heart is so inflamed with its desire for revenge, we cannot sleep! In that virtual reality of the mind, we have punished the person a thousand fold, even to the point of murder! And all this mental anguish is of our own making.

Excerpt from “Towards the End of Forgivness” by Bhante Bodhidhamma


About Steven Goodheart

"I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them." Spinoza

2 Responses to “What Actually Happens Inside Us When We Are Hurt By Another?”

  1. I needed this today. Thank you. Namaste.


  1. How Loving-kindness Practice and Meditation Can Help with Military Suicides | Metta Refuge - 2011/08/23

    […] What Actually Happens Inside Us When We Are Hurt by Another […]

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