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The Only Person Who Can Ever Really Hurt You

08/05/2014 10:59 am ET | Updated Mar 12, 2015
JGI/Jamie Grill via Getty Images

The author of The Seat of the Soul explains how to defend ourselves without hitting back, yelling or going on the attack.

By Gary Zukav

Most of us assume that our pain is the result of what someone else does or does not do to us. We say to ourselves things like, "My life partner just left me for another person, did not even say goodbye, and now I am left with my grief and bewilderment and anger and humiliation. How much damage can this person do?"

The real answer: None. Only you can do the damage to yourself. Your former partner may lack integrity (or may be seeing things about you that you do not see about yourself), but he or she does not have the ability to hurt you, no matter how much it appears otherwise. He or she has only the ability to activate dynamics within you -- ones that have nothing to do with him or her and everything to do with you. Until you choose not to be controlled by these dynamics, you will feel that you have been "hurt" by other people, just as you will continue to feel that you have been hurt by other people in the past.

Even if you change the circumstances and people in your life who appear to be causing your pain, that pain will recur: the pain of abandonment, the pain of betrayal, or being abused or being judged. Further, when you look back on your experiences, you will see that already this pain has recurred many times in different situations, different places and with different people. Eventually you will see that you are the common denominator. You are the thread that connects. Judging others, blaming others, trying to punish others and gossiping about others will not ease your pain or prevent it from returning, because your pain is not caused by others. It occurs only when the dynamic is activated within you.

This is good news. Each time the dynamic is activated -- for example, anger, abandonment, humiliation -- you will have another opportunity to look inside. You will again feel the magnetic attraction of fear, the powerful pull of judgment, the need to prove that another person is causing your pain. But you can choose to experience the interior source of your pain -- instead of blaming it on others. For example, my older sister and I had been estranged for years. The only time we chose to see each other was for family gatherings like birthdays. Last year, she and I were sitting together in her house discussing ideas for birthday gifts for our niece. I made a suggestion. My sister reacted with, "You are so tight with your money." I noticed a jolt of pain in my solar plexus. I breathed. In this moment, I chose not to react to my sister's comment, as I would have in the past, by withdrawing or reacting with an insult. There was a pause as I noticed my pain and decided not to speak. Then my sister said, "Sorry for saying that. You can be very generous." In this moment, I felt an opening between my sister and me. I did not engage in my usual pattern of being defensive toward her and she did not engage in her usual attack.

Every time you break your usual pattern, you melt the wall between you and others can connect from an open heart. Eventually, you will recognize that each of your emotions is a free-standing experience, independent of what others do or say -- and that the activation and reactivation of painful dynamics will end when you intervene consciously in this process.

This is the first step to creating authentic power. There is nothing you need to use against those who appear to "hurt you" because the appearance of others "hurting you" is an illusion. It is based in fear, and that is why acting on it cannot bring you peace or joy. Only love can do that. Every time you feel the need to blame someone for a painful experience, but you choose consciously not to act on that need, you take a step toward love.

Gary Zukav is the author of The Seat of the Soul and you can find more about his work here.

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