List The Ways You Hurt Me, And I’ll List The Ways I Hurt You Too

"People don’t want apologies. They want confessions. They want you to stand there and list all the shitty ways you’ve hurt them, so they know you understand."

-The Umbrella Academy S3E04

I was not particularly impressed with the third season of The Umbrella Academy, but I really liked this line.

I still don’t know if that line was supposed to be sympathetic or mean.

But I know it is true.

At least for me.

Unlike the character in the show, though, I do mean it in an absolutely sympathetic way.

It’s not about keeping score. It’s about taking aim.

To explain that, I have to explain the way that I tend to argue.

How I Argue

I do not argue to win.

At least, not the way that too many people argue to "win". Those arguments are often centered around being "right". There is a clear "winner" and a clear "loser". The goal is simply getting the other person to give in and do what you want.

That kind of fighting is, at best, destructive and toxic. It inherently involves making everyone else "other". It is possible – and in my experience, fairly common – for the "winner" to utterly deny the reality of the "loser’s" experience, and to demand that the "loser" also deny their feelings and experiences.

And that leads to resentment.

So I try to [1] argue with a different goal in mind.

I want to acknowledge that the way I tend to argue can be a lot more work, and involves a lot more vulnerability and trust. For people who are used to arguing "to win" – basically until someone just "taps out" – it can seem like I enjoy arguing. Those people will "tap out", they’ll "give in", and … I keep going. If you are used to being browbeaten (or worse) until you give in, it can give the impression that I want someone to completely submit.

But it only appears that way because I am not arguing to "win".

I tend to [1] argue to understand, to convince, and to solve.

I want to understand what happened, and where the disconnect occurred. I want to understand where the other person is coming from, and I want them to understand my point of view as well. It is vital to realize that understanding is different than agreeing.

I want to convince – or persuade, if you prefer – the other person to see my side of things. I want them, once they understand my point of view, to agree with my point of view… or the other way around.

It is vital that all parties presume that the other is acting in good faith, and try to work to see where points of agreement are, and build from there.

Which brings us to wanting to solve the problem that caused the argument in the first place. To be able to solve a problem, you have to clearly identify the problem first. For example, if your actions are being influenced by an unacknowledged groove in your mind, you’re going to spend a lot of time and energy trying to fix something that is not actually the problem.

But once you’ve identified that problem, then you and the other person can work together to (hopefully) find a solution. Together.

Tell Me How You Hurt Me

That framework – the idea that the argument is meant to understand and to work together to solve a problem – also requires separating out connotations between what caused something and the unspoken connotations of "fault" and "blame". If you’re just focused on "blaming" someone – that is, making them feel bad or shame or guilt – then you are not focused on solving the problem.

At the same time, you have to be able to acknowledge the chain of events that led to the situation you’re in.

This is where we come back to wanting "you to stand there and list all the shitty ways you’ve hurt them, so they know you understand."

If everyone involved has not actually identified the real problem, then the problem will keep happening, leaving everyone involved hurt and confused.

And you probably do NOT understand. You probably think you do, but no matter how high your emotional IQ is, you’ve almost certainly missed something.

Why do I say that?

Because it happened to me. Last week.

I Need To Tell You How I Hurt You, Too.

It was, in fact, while I was writing this post.

I realized that in a past relationship [2], a difference in communication styles led to argument after argument and hurt feelings.

When I was asked for — or offered unwanted, to be fair — advice, I would give my advice and be told "Okay, that makes sense," or "Okay, thank you."

Remember earlier, where I was talking about the difference between arguing to "win" and arguing to "convince"?

Yeah, I didn’t realize that at the time. I thought — though I could not have articulated it at the time — that person was agreeing with my advice. I thought what they said indicated they intended to follow my advice.

The person I was communicating with did not realize I was thinking that either; they had no reason to. They were acknowledging my advice, absolutely. They were not – and did not intend to – give the impression that they agreed with me in any way. Their response was merely "I got your message, thanks."

Oh, there were plenty of discussions — and arguments — about this situation. Over and over and over again, with one person feeling betrayed and ignored, the other feeling like I was trying to dictate how to run their life.

I totally understand – now, anyway – why the other person felt that way. Because I had the unspoken assumption that they were agreeing with me, when they were just acknowledging that I said a thing, I set myself up to get hurt and then, because I was hurt, I reacted badly.

I apologized a lot at the time – but I was not apologizing for the right thing. As a result, my apologies seemed insincere or short of the mark. If I had actually stopped and examined my own feelings, if I had stopped to consider why I felt the way I did, there would have been a lot less pain between me and that other person, and the pain that was there might have actually been resolved at the time.

But instead of my advice helping to resolve one problem, I ended up creating another, seemingly insolvable problem on top of the situation I was giving advice about.

You Have To Aim For The Real Problem

It’s not hard to imagine other, similar situations. If you have somehow managed to avoid this kind of situation yourself, you’ve seen it on a screen somewhere.

Often it’s the (horribly toxic, sexist) "jokes" used in advertising or poorly written sitcoms. The significant other who "hates my hobby/interest"… but really just craves a greater share of attention, or reassurance that they’re important. The (usually male) character who does not tell their spouse that they were fired or laid off … because they do not believe their spouse loves them enough to stay without the bribe of a paycheck.

The misunderstandings in those situations are needed for there to be a plot. It doesn’t make for good TV if the characters honestly discuss their issues and resolve them in the first five minutes of an episode.

But in real life, that’s exactly what you want.

And that’s why it is important that everyone involved really understand not only how they were hurt by others, but how they hurt others as well.

Again, it’s not about keeping score. It’s about taking aim at the problem.

Without identifying what the actual problem is, it does not matter how much time or energy you pour at the situation. You may manage to put a proverbial bandage on the wound, but you will have left the brain weasel attached, gnawing away.

And nobody wants that.

[1] Yes, this is an ideal. I fall short of this ideal. Frequently.
[2] As always, see my artistic license. I have cleared this post with the person(s) I refer to.

Featured Photo by Afif Ramdhasuma on Unsplash

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