Why Do We Help Those Who Hurt Us?
We have all felt the desire to help someone. Whether it is a friend, an acquaintance, a stranger, a family member or a significant other, we have wanted to help them in both small and grand ways. The reasons for this are many.
But why is it that in a situation where we get hurt countless times by the other person, we still suffer and struggle to help?
I asked anyone I knew who had personal experience with this… Why do we continue to help those who’ve hurt us? Their answers varied…
The majority of the answers were along the lines of:
- “to distract myself from my own problems”
- “because I wanted to be the reason they changed”
- “because I loved him”
- “because I believed that she could change”
I believe that the first and second responses have the same foundation: deep-rooted insecurity. When someone wants to distract herself from her own problems, she will latch on to someone else. By putting all of her energy into another person, she can avoid what is bothering her about herself. This is usually on a subconscious level, where the person doesn’t even realize that they are avoiding or feeding their own insecurities.
Sticking around because you want to “be the reason he or she changes” or the reason that he or she wants to change also validates insecurity. Everyone wants to feel loved, needed, and important. Those who are deeply insecure will seek this validation in unhealthy relationships instead of waiting for something more stable and healthy to come along.
The third and fourth responses also go hand in hand. They usually are the responses when the problems arise later on in a romantic relationship, or if it is a family member or dear friend. A relationship has the potential to gradually deteriorate, but early on, a sense of mutual love and caring has developed. The first few fights or damaging situations are always followed by promises of change and seemingly sincere apologies.
An example of this is when you find your significant other or closest friend abusing a drug that they said they wouldn’t use anymore. They react defensively and lash out at you. The next day, or even hours later, they cry and apologize profusely. This cycle continues until the damaging experiences become worse and worse.
This type of relationship falls into a downward spiral and is toxic. However, the one being hurt loves the person hurting them. They remain in the relationship because they want to believe the other will change; that their partner wants to and will get better; and most of all, because they feel guilty for even thinking about leaving the relationship. The partner might also “guilt-trip” the other, asking if the other person really loves them, reminding them that they said they would never leave, and so on. This is also unhealthy and manipulative.
This raises another question: why do people hurt others? In most cases, it isn’t intentional. Someone who repeatedly behaves in a way that is toxic to the relationship is struggling with internal battles. In times of clarity, they truly desire change from how they are behaving.
Insecurity and fear of abandonment are other reasons some people hurt others. In spite of knowing that they are repeatedly hurting their romantic partners, they cling because they cannot stand the idea of being without someone. These patterns are maladaptive and harmful to both partners involved.
The first step in fixing a toxic relationship is becoming aware of it. It is best for both partners in an emotionally or physically harmful relationship to seek professional help to return the relationship to a healthy state, or go separate ways. Maintaining an unhealthy relationship that suffers from frequent fights, manipulation, and harm will cause both partners’ well-being to diminish and cease from growing along a positive avenue.
The ones who are hurting others need to realize they must heal on their own and work towards a more positive lifestyle and relationship pattern. The partners being hurt have to find self-compassion and understand that they deserve better love, care, and understanding.
Hemfelt, R. (2003). Love Is a Choice: The Definitive Book on Letting Go of Unhealthy Relationships. Thomas Nelson Inc.
DeName, K. (2013). Why Do We Help Those Who Hurt Us?. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 24, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2013/09/07/why-do-we-help-those-who-hurt-us/