The Selfish Fear of Hurting Others

by Jarrod

Many would hold their tongue to avoid having another feel hurt.

Many would avoid having a difficult conversation with another in order to preserve their happiness.

Many would not stand for what they care for so as to protect someones fragile view of the world.

I want to tell you two things. The first is:

Not wanting to hurt others is a form of not wanting to feel hurt.

You may take a moment for your mind to laugh at how crazy and mistaken I am for saying that. For a long time I believed my desire to not bring about situations where another might feel hurt was pure and altruistic. But recently I discovered the real motivator.

I can recall a number of times when I have wanted to talk to people I cared about and have felt incredibly distressed about having the conversation because I felt it would hurt them or make them upset.

Now I know really what was going on was that I was elaborately trying to protect myself from hurt.

Discovering the Minds Unconscious Process

My conscious brain had the sequence of events mapped out like this.

This was the level that I was conscious of. It is a grand tale that makes me seem like such a caring person trying to do the best for everyone. This way of living worked perfectly well until I had situations where I had to take action that could make another feel hurt in the short term but improve their life dramatically in the long term. In circumstances like that I felt incredibly torn because on the one hand I felt that by acting I would be doing a terrible thing of hurting someone while on the other hand by not acting I would be hurting them even more in the long run.

The action seems simple, action must be taken to reduce the pain (that I offcourse was assuming would occur). But why was I feeling so bad about doing it if it seemed logically like the just and right thing to do?

I discovered that underneath my conscious mind my unconscious had a slightly more intricate map. As pictured here.

Putting aside the gross generalisations and assumptions, my unconscious mind had a map that said that doing this would hurt me. No wonder I really didn’t want to do this! I was protecting myself.

My concern for another in this instance was just masking my own avoidance of pain.

Thankfully when I realise I am being selfish I can quickly rip myself away from it. Do what you feel is the correct thing to do in life and carry on with your decisions.

It is noble not to want others to feel pain but beware of your own selfish desires getting in the way of what you feel you should really do.

Which now brings me onto the second point.

We are 100% Responsible for our Own Emotions

If we put aside the notion of us all being connected for a moment, we should be able to realise that our emotions are solely our own. We create them in reaction to the world around us.

The key that you have just read is that our emotions appear as a reaction to the world.

If another person yells at you and you feel angry at them, your anger is a reaction to their yelling. To say that your anger is caused directly by their yelling is a gross simplification of the process just as I was making when trying not to hurt others.

The important point is that we define how we act to events of the world. We can choose to turn a re-action into a real action of our own volition.

If you choose to feel hurt from another persons words that is your choice. You could also choose to feel joy or elation and believe that they have done you a great service to change your life. There is always choice in action, you just have to take the step to grasp it.

Truly you are responsible for people understanding your communication. You are not responsible for peoples reactions.

Everyone is their own individual and must learn and choose how they live out their life.

All you must do is free yourself, learn and do your best to be understood.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Martin Wildam July 5, 2010 at 10:21 am

I do not fully agree with your theory – at least my experience is a little different but YMMV…

You may take action that is even good for others, but to act is to show some truth and truth or help is not always welcome. Think, that if you want to improve, it implies that it was worse before and if other people are involved this might make them feel you think they are stupid – and out of this they may decide to fight you. And then your fear might become quite realistic.


Jarrod July 5, 2010 at 5:24 pm

@Martin: I agree and you have touched onto an entirely different subject. Is their such thing as improvement in life? If interaction has no meaning, why and how should we engage with each other.

Some very fun topics indeed. The mind makes an incredible amount of generalisations and assumptions.

Thanks Martin.

Martin Wildam July 5, 2010 at 5:46 pm

People might not think to learn something from action movies, but I from time to time I am watching one and sometimes I can learn. In one somebody says (freely translated from German to English):
“In the beginning of a disaster there is always a shitty assumption”

How true, how true!


Jarrod July 5, 2010 at 8:50 pm

@Martin: Haha, very nice. To trade quotes:

The invalid assumption that correlation implies cause is probably among the two or three most serious and common errors of human reasoning ~ Stephen Jay Gould

Steven L. Carr July 31, 2010 at 3:48 am

Jarrod – Good posts, those I’ve read thus far anyway. Thanks for this one in particular. It’s a good reminder. I’m struggling with fear of acting, due to hurting others. I’m trying to overcome that and this post helps. Regards ~ Steve


Jarrod August 1, 2010 at 1:18 pm

@Steve: Great! To be honest, we often put a much worse spin on things in our mind than what reality is likely to produce. Enjoy your journey.

Liora December 11, 2010 at 8:42 pm

Thank you!!!!! I’ve been looking everywhere for ages for something that could help me understand my terror of “hurting others”.

Oddly I’ve already realized ages ago my fear of “being a monster” and that thinking I can actually hurt others is assuming power I don’t actually have and that this fear didn’t actually have anything to do with hurting others… but somehow it only all came together when you illustrated it in the subconscious map chart…

I still don’t get how to get rid of it but at least this is a huge step forward so thank you again!

Looking forward to future articles from you on this subject if that’d be possible…


Jarrod December 12, 2010 at 3:28 pm

@Liora: Nice to meet you and it is great to hear this coming together for you.

Often we try to protect ourselves from being rejected or losing love/connection with others when we are trying not to harm others.

The question to ask yourself may be ‘If you already knew that you always have an unlimited connection and source of love towards other people that can never be taken away, how would this make giving your compassionate gift to others simple?’

Get in contact with me as I’d love to hear how else I can assist you on this subject.

Lindsay May 11, 2015 at 2:45 am

Spot on except I’d add that the second diagram is more direct in some cases–that is, it’s not just that I fear being a bad person, but I might (over-)identify with the person I’d hurt, or have weak self-other boundaries, so that I almost directly experience their pain as my own. (This may be particularly a problem for women.) So the diagram would be something like Action –> They feel hurt –> I feel hurt because I identify/empathize –> I don’t want to do it because it would hurt me.

I’d also add that we often (though not always) overestimate when we imagine or predict the amount of pain our actions will cause people, which is somewhat narcissistic (seeing ourselves as having that much power in other people’s lives).


RenM November 18, 2016 at 10:50 am

First I think you are spot on, and I love the diagram flow breakdown of your train of emotive-thought.
Though I also agree with Martin (et al) that this is multivariate. I personally have always tried to be loving and accept the flaws of others and instead of being angry (and hurtful) accepted actions or behaviors as ignorant. But when there is an instance of knowledge with (negative action), we’ll then I can go for the jugular. (Not passive aggressive, but loving and then aggressive…).
My point is, I do know I have a fear of hurting other people’s feelings but more recently I realized while much of the time it is due to self-protection (from feeling guilty for inflicting pain) I think in general it may also be due to a fear of retaliation and that we (and I) may be doing a bit of ego-protecting in saying it’s solely a matter of protecting our self-esteem from not wanting to be a bad person as said above. (Though I think that is also a valid explanation it is not exclusive necessarily.). Also, I think where on the spectrum of origin of fear lies is dependent on the individual situation or individual at which your anger is directed.
Regardless, think you have uncovered some important truth here, and also a great larger discussion.


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