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keeping your side of the street cleanLast night, I was talking to Sarah, a client of mine who was filled with anger, rage and hurt because she felt that a friend had totally betrayed her. Sarah had told her best friend Angela about a job that she was going to apply to and then, without telling Sarah, Angela went ahead,  sent her resume in, was called in for an interview the next day and offered the position on the spot. All before Sarah had even had the chance to apply.  Angela called her Monday to tell her about the new job. Sarah was shocked, “wait, I was applying to that same job! I told you that.”

“Well,” said Angela, “when you told me about the job, I thought I’d throw my hat into the ring,”

“But you stole that job right out from under me!” Sarah said.

“You didn’t even apply,” Angela said, “If I hadn’t gotten it, someone else would have, it was never yours, I couldn’t have stolen it!”

Sarah was absolutely devastated. She’s not spoken to Angela, her bestie,  all week, and she’s been bingeing pretty much every day since she got the news. So what happened there?

I’m not going to go into who is right and who is wrong. I don’t have an opinion about that one way or another. Life is life and things happen. But what happens when something that someone does totally hurts your feelings or has you feeling betrayed? What is an appropriate way to behave?

Let’s look at what happened to Sarah. She was hurt by what Angela did. And she took personal offense to it, feeling as though it was something that Angela did to her.

Rule #1. DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY.  This was not personal. Angela did not set out to intentionally hurt Sarah. This was something that Angela did without thinking about Sarah at all. It was completely about herself.  But, playing devil’s advocate, what if Angela did want to hurt Sarah’s feelings?  Maybe she did. Maybe she wanted to hurt Sarah by taking the job that Sarah wanted. However, that’s still not personal. If Angela did in fact want to hurt Sarah’s feelings, that’s still not about Sarah. That’s about Angela needing to feel better about herself by doing something to sabotage her best friend.

Sarah then sat there and ruminated about how she’ll never have a good job and how she’s a failure and how she was so irresponsible and how could she have totally blown her chance, why was she so lazy. 

Rule #2. DON’T BLAME YOURSELF.  Sarah’s response was to victimize herself. So she coined Angela as the perpetrator and then turned around and perpetrated herself. She became both the victim and the perpetrator. She became so stuck in this that she was numb and couldn’t take any action to move forward.

Sarah spent the next several days bingeing and even doing some purging after she found out. 

Rule #3. DON’T HURT YOURSELF.  Often, people wind up hurting themselves when they really want to hurt someone else. They will act out in self harming behaviors such as bingeing, cutting, binge drinking, drug using, smoking cigarettes or other self destructive behaviors because someone else hurt them. Just because you were hurt by someone else doesn’t mean you need to hurt yourself. It’s not okay. 

She was also telling anyone who would listen what a sneaky bitch Angela was to go behind her back. 

Rule #4. KEEP YOUR SIDE OF THE STREET CLEAN.  In AA, the motto keeping your side of the street clean means to hold yourself with respect when someone does something that hurts you. Don’t try to hurt them back, don’t try to sully their name and by all means, don’t hurt yourself.  You make your side of the street dirty when you try to retaliate or when you go around saying nasty things to lots of people about the other person. There is no reason to become a toxic person yourself. The best thing that you can do is begin to pay closer attention to yourself, be kind to you, be kind to the people around you, be the kind of person you respect, surround yourself with loving, kind friends and talk to someone who you love and trust about your hurt feelings (mom, husband, sister, brother, therapist). But it should be about you and how you were hurt.

Ultimately, as we talked, Sarah realized that the pain was more about feeling as though she didn’t know how to step up to the plate and get things done and how Angela’s ability to easily send in a resume and get a job illuminated Sarah’s shortcomings to her and made her feel bad about herself. 

Rule #5. IT’S NOT ABOUT THEM EITHER

Don’t make it about the other person, because just like their act wasn’t about you, your feelings aren’t about them. And you shouldn’t give them that space, this is about you healing your own wounds. Often when someone does something that hurts you, you get hurt because old wounds are opened, not because of the actual event. So your hurt feelings are often an opportunity to heal some old wounds.

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