Cruel or cutting remarks from strangers can be hurtful, but 99 percent of the time, we are hurt by someone we know, and these injuries are deeper and more painful, because a person who should be the source of love suddenly betrays that love—intentionally or otherwise. It's hard to admit, but wherever a relationship exists, the possibility of someone getting wounded exists.

The most common reason we get hurt by another person is: Our ideas of hurt don't match. Because we all learned as small children to accept our family life as normal, we forget that every other family has their own "normal," and the differences between those normals can be significant. For instance, one family sees shouting as "friendly advice," which is easily accepted or ignored; in another, yelling can be a sign of open hostility.

The one distinguishing factor is the creation—and observation—of boundaries. When it comes to being hurt, situations where everyone's boundaries are respected are completely different from situations where those boundaries are not respected. Signs of respecting boundaries:

  • You feel secure in who you are and make others feel secure.

  • You expect to be respected for your opinions, even if the other person disagrees with them.

  • You understand that each person has emotionally sensitive areas that need to be handled delicately.

  • You don't point out other people's faults.

  • You don't automatically find fault or argue just to get a rise out of someone.

  • You listen, even if you don't agree with the other person.

  • You find it easy to empathize with someone else.

  • Your default position is to accept rather than to reject.

  • You are happy when the other person succeeds.

    If you can tick off all these characteristics, you grew up in a very healthy home psychologically, or if you didn't, you've learned how to undertake personal change very successfully. However, if you find yourself struggling to achieve these things—or to get them from the other people in your life—your upbringing probably included some of the following negatives.

    Signs of not respecting boundaries:

  • You hide your vulnerable spots for fear that the other person will either attack you, or in some way take advantage, if you expose weakness. At bottom, you feel that being hurt is the same as being weak. You expect to be rejected if you stand up for your opinions and beliefs.

  • You point out other people's faults to gain the upper hand, or to distract attention from your faults.

  • You habitually find fault or argue, for no good reason.

  • You listen to others only to seek more evidence to strengthen your argument.

  • Blaming and judging other people are ways to reinforce that you're right most of the time—or is it all the time?

  • You feel insecure in who you are and easily become defensive. You feel the need to justify yourself quite a bit.

  • Your default position is to reject rather than to accept.

  • You are jealous when the other person succeeds.

    The value of these two lists is in understanding that respecting boundaries is the best way to protect yourself from being hurt. In soap operas, the heroine may suddenly realize, "He doesn't love me anymore." But in real life, the hurts come in small doses, with occasional larger, dramatic flare-ups.

    The problem isn't that one person is angry, sadistic or a control freak. The problem is that you and the other person have different stances about respecting boundaries, and you've never settled the differences between you. Because it takes two to tango, you are often playing a part in your own wounding. This has to stop, and the most important step to take is to go through the two lists and take responsibility for your part. If someone hurts you by disrespecting your boundaries in any of the ways listed, ask yourself two questions: 1) "Do I do the same thing?"; and 2) "Why do I give permission for the hurt that's aimed at me?"

    You'll never change your parents—or your sibling or grandparents—but you may change your relationships with them. In every close relationship, be it with a family member, friend or co-worker, there is room for negotiating boundaries (except in cases where the relationship is abusive or violent). Simply saying (for the hundredth time) "I don't appreciate being criticized" or "You're never happy for me when I succeed" doesn't work, because you and the other person are imprinted with very different habits of respecting boundaries.

    My advice is to try honest, candid negotiations first. When you get hurt by the same person more than once, there are usually ingrained patterns that are hard to break or even see. Find a time when both of you are in a good place, sit down and point out the pattern. Don't take a critical tone; don't ask for change. Instead, say, "I want you to be aware of this pattern and how it's affecting me." Then wait for a response. If the response is negative, ask if the two of you can begin negotiating toward a solution you both can agree on.

    Since the worst sorts of hurt come from unconscious behavior, increased awareness is always the first step. Sit down with the person who is hurting you, picking a time when you both feel good. These are rational choices that need to be faced, not impulses in the heat of arguments and tears. It helps if you have both taken time beforehand to look at the two lists and make notes about what's wrong and how much you are each willing to change.

    And if agreement between the two of can't be found, you must fall back on three very basic choices: 1) Can I fix the situation?; 2) Do I have to put up with the situation?; and, 3) Should I walk away? I've presented these choices in several previous articles because I really believe they are key. Most people keep getting hurt because they are indecisive. One day, they are determined to fix a bad situation and perhaps even take some positive steps. The next day, their resolve weakens, and they go back to putting up with something that hurts. Once they get too fed up, they promise themselves that they're going to walk out. All hope for resolving the problem has faded. By wavering between three alternatives, nothing gets permanently solved.

    If negotiation doesn't work and you are consistently hurt, abused, disrespected or ignored, it's time to take seriously the three choices outlined above. Sit down and list all the reasons for trying to fix the problem, the reasons for putting up with it and the reasons for leaving. Be deliberate. Revise your list several times, and show it to a confidante whose wisdom you trust. Having found the right choice, follow up on it.

    Educating yourself about being hurt and what causes it (not just who causes it) is a very effective way to get yourself out of that hurtful situation. The more aware you are, the closer you are to a solution.

    The Future of God Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 80 books with 22 New York Times best-sellers, including The Future of God and Super Brain, co-authored with Rudolph Tanzi, PhD. He serves as the founder of The Chopra Foundation and co-founder of The Chopra Center.

    Next Story