When I was a teenager, I stole twenty dollars out of my dad’s wallet. I knew in my head it was wrong, but my thoughts justified my getting away with it. My dad would not miss the money. Knowing it was wrong in my head did not cause an immediate change in my behavior. I continued to rationalize my bad behavior until one day, I was hit by the truth: Knowing better with our heart or soul is a completely different matter than knowing in our head.
One of the fundamental reasons we ego-box with others is we think they should know better, and therefore do better. By letting them have a piece of our mind, we think we’re going to teach them to do better. Not in my experience. We cannot ego-box with others and expect them to throw their arms around us, kiss our cheek, and admit they are acting like a jerk. Would you?
When people are cut off from the emotional responsibility of their heart, ego takes over, with endless justifications and rationalizations for negative, thoughtless, and self-centered behavior. It takes sensitive awareness to remain connected to and responsible for the way our actions impact other people and all life. The way we distinguish when people have awakened emotionally is when we see they are no longer blind to their impact on others. They begin seeing themselves in other people and other forms of life, and caring for them.
While growing up, a friend of mine was used as a punching bag by his father. He was the daily target of misplaced rage, disappointment, and feelings of inadequacy. Today my friend is a loving, peaceful, and thoughtful father. He chose to break the cycle of abuse by assuming responsibility for dealing with his emotional wounds, in order not to take his baggage out on himself, other people, or living things.
My friend knew better because he made the deliberate choice not to be like his father. He realized no amount of fighting back or screaming at his father had ever changed the man or gotten him to own up to his negative and physically abusive behavior. The only option my friend had was to do better, because he knew better.
When people know better on an emotional level, they do better. Which means, until people assume responsibility for the way their actions negatively impact others, they will continue to rationalize their bad behavior. Believing other people should have known better, and therefore should have done better, is a fantasy. No matter what anyone else chooses to do, you can choose to let go of the fantasy.
Knowing better with our head and knowing better with our heart, so we actually do better, are two different things. Over the course of my life, I’ve done many things I am not proud of. I knew stealing the twenty dollars out of my dad’s wallet was wrong, but I did it anyway. Then one day I woke up emotionally by putting myself in my dad’s position. I questioned how it would feel to have money stolen from me. Asking “how would it feel?” connected me to a new level of awareness. It made me realize I am personally responsible for the consequences of my actions.
For me, stealing is a big issue, and wrong. For some people, stealing is wrong but still thought of as acceptable behavior.
So yes, those who abuse others comprehend, intellectually, their unsuitable behavior. But no, they do not realize it with emotional consciousness. If they did, it would enable the sensitivity of their heart to overrule the rationalizations of their egocentric mind and control their behavior.
I was around age eleven when a sixteen-year-old male babysitter molested me. He said, “I’ll cut your tits off if you ever tell anyone what I am doing.” I was terrified. Since he was the son of one of our neighbors, I was forced to see him often. I felt completely powerless. I had to keep the secret, unable to expose him or ask for protection.
When I was seventeen, a physician casually ordered his nurse to leave the room so he could molest me in private. He justified his actions as being part of the examination. But I knew he was touching me inappropriately.
These are two examples of times I’ve been deeply hurt or betrayed by the actions of others. For years I held onto the pain of being let down, ridiculed, bullied, slandered, persecuted, and abused. A continuous loop of negative memories played in my mind, keeping me shackled to a suitcase of blame and resentment for unjust mistreatment. Each day I grew angrier and more self-destructive from holding on to what I thought the people who hurt me should have done differently.
Refusing to let go of the fantasy of what could have been was like endlessly tearing a scab off a wound, preventing it from ever healing. I was unhappy and misguided, wandering aimlessly through life without the ability to focus on much else other than the growing list of ways I had been victimized. Perpetuating an angry-victim persona caused me to spiral downward into a state of constant annoyance, blame, and lack of self-respect.
Frustrated and feeling like a prisoner of the past, I finally sought help. I got other people’s advice. I went to a counselor. I attended support groups. I looked outside myself for years for the answer to how to heal. Yet no matter who or what I brought in to help, no matter how good the advice, I did not achieve the release I wanted until one day, like a bucket of ice water thrown in my face, the truth opened my eyes. To heal, I had to intentionally choose to move away from the past by no longer expecting people to know better.
The “aha” moment necessary for me to begin healing was accepting the lack of understanding on the part of the people who hurt me. They did not know better with the sensitivity of their heart. No matter what happened to me back then, or what may have happened yesterday in an encounter with a rude driver, I was the one choosing to relive the negative event in the present. I was choosing to keep the hurt and resentment alive by assuming people who behave rudely, self-centeredly, and in hurtful ways should know better.
Those who mistreat others are oblivious to the pain they inflict. Even if the person who cut us off in traffic and then flipped us the bird were to emotionally wake up, assume responsibility for his actions, and beg our forgiveness, the past would still remain unchanged. What is done is done.
The act of understanding we cannot change the past allows us to wrap our heart around the truth: We are the only one capable of changing our present circumstances. To have the best rest of our life, we must take our power back by releasing the idea “people should have known better.”
Unless people are actively working to heal from their past pain, they unconsciously pass their injury onto others. We must remember, those people are clueless about how to change themselves to better their lives. So we must be the one who chooses to become more awake and aware. We are the one who takes responsibility for ourselves, our past, and our wounds, because it is by healing the holes within our heart that we become whole.
We have to be the one who ends the wounded dynamic from which we came. Each of us must look within to find the source of our pain. Each of us must make the decision to heal. Healing our issues is all about the actions we take to release the resentment that came from wanting someone, or some situation, to be different than it was.
If you are currently in an abusive situation, you must set a boundary with those people who hurt you. You must choose to respect yourself and walk away, if necessary. No matter how your heart might long for the other person to know better, they will not have a clue about their negative behavior until they choose to look at themselves with the honesty of their own heart.
Whether it is dealing with past abuse or someone who stole from you, release your “they should have known better” fantasy. Since you know negative behavior is not the way to create your best life, it is up to you to be the one who does better. The solution to healing your past and staying peaceful in the present is to let your behavior be proof: you know to do better.