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Nobody Hurts You Harder Than Yourself

Welcome to From Insults to Respect.

This week I happened to be listening to the old Graham Parker song, “Nobody Hurts You.” As I interpret the lyrics and how they are sung, it seems to me that they are a useful jumping off point for a discussion about so many of us being, at times, so disrespectful to ourselves.

Graham’s Song

The first line, sung with anger, goes:

I try to pull my weight, study my geography
It doesn’t seem to get me anywhere

Here we learn that the singer, and in a metaphorical sense, many of us as well, sometimes find we are in a situation in which we begin to feel angry because we are trying to get somewhere, but find we are not making progress.

As the song continues, frustration begins to mount. And then Graham cries out,

Hey baby, I’m out of favor
You can’t always be the right flavor
It just seems that no matter what you do
Someone, somewhere, suddenly gotta punish you

Nobody hurts you, nobody hurts you
Well, nobody hurts you, nobody hurts you
Harder than yourself.

Here, Graham explains to someone he calls “baby” that he is out of favor, and you can’t always be the right flavor. The use of the word “you” in these lines, as I read them, refers to himself, and he is actually calling himself a baby. Punishing himself for not matching what others respect is viewed by him as an immature, baby-like way to act.

Graham then belts out,

Suffocating in suburbia
The new estates build claustrophobia
Grandfather’s money only in the finest stuff
That’s enough! That’s enough! That’s enough!

Well, nobody hurts you, and nobody hurts you
Well, nobody hurts you, nobody hurts you
Harder than yourself.

Here I’m reminded that so many of us hurt ourselves when we see we are in a situation that clashes with what we respect. As Graham cries out the lines, “That’s enough! That’s enough! That’s enough!” he is expressing anguish as he goes about hurting himself over these perceptions.

The next few lines go:

You make me tag along, run into the rent-a-crowd
But they’re just imitation
I try to write the song, you and me are laughing loud
But it comes out frustration

Look no one’s going to illuminate you
All the odds are stacked against you
You’re just caving in right there in front of me
It’s a picture I don’t ever want to see

Nobody hurts you and nobody hurts you
Well, nobody hurts you and nobody hurts you
Harder than yourself.

At this point, the singer leaves us in a fit of exasperation, saying discouraging pessimistic words. Many of us connect with the anger in his voice, recognizing that how the singer is reacting to his frustration is somewhat similar to how at times we may react.

Hurting Ourselves When We Perceive Disrespect

One of the most common way that we begin to hurtfully treat ourselves is when we perceive someone is treating us disrespectfully. Apparently, some people are less likely to succumb to this pattern. I came upon a great example of someone who utilized an alternative pattern while reading Ron Chernow’s best selling biography of Ulysses S. Grant.

There we learn about John Rawlins, who acted as General Grant’s Chief of Staff during the Civil War:

Rawlins “was always getting excited about something that had been done to Grant,” recalled Lieutenant Frank Parker. When someone showed disrespect for Grant, “he would prance around and say, General, I would not stand such things’ to which Grant would say, ‘Oh, Rawlins! what’s the use in getting excited over little things like that; it doesn’t hurt me and it may make the other fellow feel a little good.'”

Grant was widely respected in his day, not only for his leadership during the Civil War, but also for his tenure as US President, serving a full two terms. Sure, he had his flaws, as all human beings do. Nevertheless, his pattern of dealing with perceptions of disrespect does suggest the possibility that it is possible to achieve respect with the use of his pattern.

The pattern I am talking about is more fully described by  several of the lines that Rudyard Kipling wrote in his poem, “If.”

If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Can We Learn Skills that Help Us to Be More Supportive Of Ourselves Even When We Perceive From Others Disrespect?

It may be true that some of us are born with a calmer, more supportive way to react to perceptions of disrespect. If you believe this, you may come to believe that there is nothing you can do to change your innate pattern. However, I, and many others as well, have found that if we come to realize lashing out at others and ourselves at such times is less than ideal, there are some very useful skills that can be learned over a period of time despite innate tendencies.

Now, a major reason people become discouraged from taking helpful action to learn such skills is that they read on this topic, became convinced that the skills make sense, but end up finding that this understanding led to no change in their own behavior. “Oh, I know all about such skills,” they say to themselves, “but with my temperament, I can’t really do anything about this.”

Well, as I explained in an earlier post (see HERE), learning certain skills requires more than just knowing the basic principles of these skills, it requires practice over an extended period of time. Consider, for example, an actor who gets a part on Broadway. This person well knows the basics of acting having gone to the Juilliard School of Performing Arts. Moreover, the script explains what is to be done during the play and the director explains even more what are the motivations and emotions to be expressed. Nevertheless, even after all of this and all the lines are well memorized, there is no way the actor is ready to get up in front of the Broadway critics without some practice over a period of time under less stressful conditions.

Learning skills that are helpful to respond to perceptions of disrespect is similar in many ways. To learn them, you have to apply what you have heard or read by first doing them under relatively safe circumstances, make mistakes, and try again and again until you get smooth at coordinating the skills even in very challenging circumstances.

One of the best ways to learn the skills regarding being supportive of ourselves when we perceive others are treating us in a less than ideal respectful manner is to seek counseling or psychotherapy from a supportive professional. As you discuss with the professional situations that typically have resulted in your being very hard on yourself, these professionals over a few months typically respond in a very supportive manner, modeling for you the type of skills you want to learn. Some will then give you some homework assignments that lead in time to your learning a far more helpful style of functioning during these challenges.

Some counselors and psychotherapists will also encourage you to learn to meditate and utilize other mindfulness techniques. Here you practice observing your physical sensations when you are dealing with the disrespectful perceptions. In time, the disrespectful words that you tend to direct at yourself come to lose their disturbing nature. For a period of time these words still come, but you end up smiling at them as you realize they are not matching reality. In time, they may completely fade away.

This has been described as decentering. In essence, to decenter is to take a figurative step back from our beliefs and thoughts. Instead of a reality of “I can’t do anything right,” one learns that they had a thought “I can’t do anything right.” We come to learn that we do not need to believe all our thoughts that were learned over many years from people who treated you in less than respectful ways.

An important component of mindfulness practice is to not resist our thoughts. Otherwise, marked frustration may ensue. We notice them, accept that they have come, observe them, and peacefully observe the physical sensations that come with them.

Now, I understand that most people can’t access the kinds of mental health services I am describing because they are too expensive or they are not available in their community. It is for this reason that I have been writing this blog. It provides a free, accessible way to learn the skills at your own pace. By going to the first post of this blog and then systematically going through each of the other posts over an extended period of time, a more supportive style of dealing with these types of problems are described, along with simple exercises that are required to really learn the skills well enough so you can actually carry them out in real life situations.


Assignment: Write one or two paragraphs that relates what you have just read to something that personally happened to you. Include not just what happened, but also how you were feeling while it was happening.

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Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on. This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional and social intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.

 

 

About the Author

Jeffrey Rubin grew up in Brooklyn, received his PhD from the University of Minnesota and has taught conflict resolution there as well as at a psychiatric clinic, a correctional facility and a number of public schools. He has published articles on anger and conflict resolution and has authored three novels.

4 Comments

  1. Perceptive as always.
    Just starting the Grant book.
    Thanks for all your posts.

    • Much thanks, Mary, for your kind words of support. So far I’m only 300 pages into the Grant book (it’s over 900 hundred pages), but I can recommend it for its thoughtful narrative.

      Since I wrote this blog post I learned that Grant would get “depressed” (that’s the word Ron Chernow uses) at times when he felt that he was being lied about, but it was more a sad grieving process rather than what some people think of depression which many view as attacking or hurting yourself. At one point, according to Chernow, Grant was moved to tears when he was unjustly removed from his command because a higher officer became mad that Grant was not getting out his reports, though Grant knew he was dutifully sending out those reports. It was later revealed that a Confederate sympathizer had intercepted the reports before they reached the higher officer, so Grant rightly believed he was demoted unfairly. Anyway, I just thought it would be useful here to distinguish between beating up on oneself and someone who grieves about something without saying hurtful things to oneself.

      I hope you keep reading my blog and your comments are alway very much appreciated.

  2. I loved the Kipling poem and was not familiar with it -thanks!

    • Thanks, Pat Hall, for your comment–very much appreciated! I was introduced to the Kipling poem by one of my junior high teachers manny many years ago, and never forgot it. There is, to me, something very wise communicated by its simple phrasing.
      My Best,
      Jeff

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