Steps to Preventing Suffering Displacement
“When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That’s the message he is sending.
~ Thich Nhat Hahn
A few months ago, I witnessed a women being scolded by her husband in public, and I whispered, asking if she was OK, to which she timidly answered “yes” and that he lost his job recently. While she was clearly not OK and there was no valid reason for the scolding, she was just trying to minimize the embarrassment to herself and her husband.
Have you ever been the recipient of your boss’ or your partner’s wrath for no apparent reason? When others are nasty, you might think that you did something wrong to deserve it. Usually, the perpetrator of the nastiness is in pain and just transferring their own suffering onto others. Causing pain on others is the perpetrator’s delusional way of making him/herself feel better and justifying their own bad behavior. I call this suffering displacement: when you are unhappy, you have to bring others down to share in your misery.
No matter how angelic we may be, we all have been guilty of suffering displacement at some point, even on a small level. I am certainly guilty of this myself, as I have talked unkindly to my husband under stressful moments. When we put others down, we make ourselves feel better. After we provide ourselves with the delusional sense of feeling better for just that 2 seconds, then the misery sets in again and we repeat our bad behavior. It is like taking drugs or alcohol, where you get the high rush temporarily and, eventually, when you return to the low, you have to take more drugs or alcohol. This vicious cycle occurs because it’s always easier to alleviate your suffering temporarily or blame others for your problems than to look deep inside yourself and take responsibility for your own thoughts and actions.
As Thich Nhat Hahn believes, we need to provide compassion, not punishment, for others who do us harm. In my definition of “compassion,” it does not mean being the continual recipient of the wrath or trying to fix the person with bad behavior because you can not help anyone who is not ready for change. I define compassion as refraining yourself from responding in the same nasty way and that you can let it go calmly or can deal with the problem in a constructive manner. If the perpetrator is not ready to change, there is not much you can do to help him/her. First step to true positive change is when you acknowledge to yourself that you have a real problem and you are ready to do so.
The real revelation in suffering displacement is that the perpetrator is only shooting himself in the foot and that real harm is only onto him/herself, not onto others. Negative thoughts only breeds negative actions, a domino effect where negativity starts to seep into every aspect of your life: health, career, business, relationships, etc. The only way to stop this run away train is by halting it yourself, which is the biggest challenge for everyone. My practice has been to surrender to the situation, meaning accept the situation for what it is, and then figure out a constructive solution that does not also put me in a negative place. So for example, if I was in a car accident where the other person was to blame, I would first accept the situation for what it is, and then find a constructive way to deal with it, which is not by yelling and screaming at the other party, as the milk has already spilled, but by taking steps to resolve the issue: calling the police for a report, exchanging insurance information, etc. As you can not change people or situations, don’t make it about others by displacing blame, just find a positive solution for yourself (the key point here is “for yourself.”).
So next time someone is nasty to you for no good reason, have compassion for their pain by not returning the nastiness. Keep yourself detached from it by letting it go or figuring out a constructive way to handle it. Or if you are in a really bad mood and feel like taking it out on others, especially to your loved ones, stop and think about what you are doing. While you might not have meant the criticism, words can cut deep into some one who might not be as strong and self aware. Ultimately, know that you are only hurting yourself. So if this is not a good enough reason to stop suffering displacement, then I don’t know what is! As we all know, life is much too short to live in negativity!
By Moon Cho, Creator of Ying & Yang Living