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A Simple Way to Avoid Hurting Other People

“Don’t let the behavior of others destroy your inner peace.” ~Dalai Lama

The most straightforward advice I can suggest to make real concrete changes in your life is to practice causing no harm to anyone—yourself or others.

Try it for a day. Or two. How about a week? You will probably find that it’s harder than you think. Before you know it, someone has triggered you, and either directly or indirectly, you’ve caused harm.

I am a successful psychotherapist and conscious woman, and I’m also committed to transparency. No more hiding behind the therapist’s veil for me. The one that projects enlightenment and hides the truths of being human.

With that said, I happen to be a bit controlling. Take a moment and imagine yourself at a Twelve Step meeting. “Hello. My name is Carrie Dinow, and I am addicted to control.”

It’s really helpful to get to know the ways you cause harm, much like you would a lover in the early stages of a romance when every part of you wants to know the other. You definitely want to get to know your own inner ‘others,’ the pained shadow parts of yourself that can live buried below the surface.

The ways we cause harm can show up like fifty shades of grey, so the more intimate you can be with your own particular expression, the greater chance you have to let go. Like being overly invested in how many men join my husband’s camping weekend.

The most obvious expressions, of course, appear as control, blame, withdrawal, and lashing out. With a little gossip and lying on the side.

What is your harm of no choice?

You’ve heard the fairy tale about the toads. It involves a princess who, when angered, would start to say mean words, and toads would actually come out of her mouth.

How many times I have said to myself, “Do not say a word. Keep your mouth shut. It will only cause harm.” Despite our good and sincere intentions, most of us wrestle with our own toads. I know I have.

I find that I am just like the Buddha—as long as I’m alone. It’s a lot easier to keep my mouth shut when it’s just me, myself, and I. Add a husband (even one of the best ones on the planet) and highly persistent daughter (the love of my loves), and all bets are off.

The other night my daughter was extremely persistent, keen on getting her way. My husband, who is a revered psychotherapist—adolescents being his specialty—wrestles with his own blaming toads. In the past, his toads would trigger my toads. And faster than you can say Jackie Robinson, we are consumed by a plague of harm.

So what are the ways for holding our seat, and for making sure the toads of control and blame don’t fly out of our mouths? The one I have found most impactful of all is to just shut up. No matter what, don’t scratch the itch. That’s all! Mmmm….

That’s one reason I meditate. To court my inner toads and free me from my learned drug of no choice—control. It’s profoundly humbling to sit with my own thoughts, and to sit with an itch and not scratch it, without an escape clause.

The practice of returning over and over to my breath allows me the choice of whether or not I stay attached to this addiction. When conflict arises or tones don’t meet my approval rating, I have more of a choice of how I want to react.

Letting go of this lifelong relationship to control allows me to tolerate others’ behavior. No longer a feather in the wind at the mercy of someone else’s emotional breath, my need to escape the scene when things don’t go my way seems to be calming, mostly.

After many years, meditation has become my new drug of choice. It offers me a chance to pause so I can actively engage in letting go of my control which, in my household, reduces the harm. The benefits are a lot like cooking with Teflon; things don’t seem to stick as much.

What does it take to change the habitual response and to keep your mouth from spewing poisonous toads? To begin a different practice with yourself? One that honors letting the moment pass without responding to it?

Most of us could use some basic tips on on how to loosen the grip on our well-ingrained habits of striking out and blaming.
 Each time we lash out with aggressive words and actions, we are strengthening the toad pool. And, the internal scoreboard can start to look like Anger 10, Patience 2.

In the game of life, we can become easily irritated by the reactions of others. However, each time someone provokes us, we have a chance to do something different, to tend to our own reactions. Either we can strengthen old habits or we can take a moment to pause.
 That’s what it takes, a big fat pause.

Did you know that patience is the antidote to anger? Learning to pause can help us develop our patience. When we begin to pause instead of retaliating, even if it’s only briefly, we are starting to loosen the pattern of causing harm.

Have you ever noticed that much of the suffering comes from the escalation from that one moment when someone comes at you with a tone or says something that hurts your feelings, or has an opinion you absolutely don’t agree with? It’s what we do with that one moment to the next that can imprison or free us.

Each time the toads escape us, we escalate our aggression and solidify our harm habit, which makes it a bit more difficult to calm the waters. If we learn to sit still with the restlessness and the sensations of anger, we can begin to tame and strengthen our mind.

If only we could pause. Give it a try. No harm done.

About Carrie Dinow

Carrie Dinow is a twenty year licensed psychotherapist and mindfulness devotee. Call her wife, grateful mother, sister, daughter, and soul mate to her soul-sister friends. Because of these relationships, she is blessed to live her life’s purpose – to grow her heart and consciousness infinitely bigger one breath at a time. Visit her at Carriedinowcounseling.com.

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  • Danielle

    It sounds so simply but letting go of control seems to be one of the hardest things for me, this was a great post and it touched on a lot of things I need to remind myself of day by day

  • Hanna

    Yeah, if just everybody would think this way the world would be a calm place to live in…

  • Hanna

    This is the most hardest things to do, you really have to work with yourself doing this, so that you don”t stay in bad feelings and anger with the person who caused you anger..

  • Hugh

    I’m mad. My husband of 6 years didn’t do squat for my birthday this past weekend so I’m hurt. I tried to meditate. It didn’t work. So is there a time when toads are appropriate? Because I prefer the toads sometimes. Then maybe I can get back to non-reaction. The thing is everytime I use the toads I want to use them again until I see a result. No result- more toads. Do I have the problem because of societal conditioning based on annual events or are the toads helping me address a problem in communication?

  • requin

    Hi..I wonder if it would help to wait until you are no longer quite so angry/hurt and then mention it. Then you’re less likely to toss toads and just regular words asking what happened. I know..easier said than done. 🙂

  • requin

    Thanks Carrie, this is sorely needed by me. Lack of patience has always been one of my worst characteristics. (I can remember my sister saying, when we were kids, “Have a little patience!” in a sing song voice). Also I am overly emotional and tend to blurt things out. It has cost me the love of my life, who broke us up 3 weeks ago claiming I can’t seem to get a grip on my anger at some of his family members (and how they intrude upon his life). It’s not my business to say anything, yet I’d get angry and do so anyway. Unknown to me, he was keeping score, and then the hammer fell. I need to learn to shut the h*** up, it’s so much better that way.

  • ccrgirl

    Same here.

  • ccrgirl

    I find that I am just like the Buddha—as long as I’m alone. It’s a lot
    easier to keep my mouth shut when it’s just me, myself, and I. Add a
    husband (even one of the best ones on the planet) and highly persistent
    daughter (the love of my loves), and all bets are off.
    That about sums me up 🙂

  • Sheryl

    Yes! Beautiful. As Viktor Frankel writes, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

  • Hugh

    Too late. He said he said happy birthday to me but I don’t recall that happening. Might be my fault that I’m still so pissed. There’s more to it and he’s grown increasingly distant but at this point I feel like I might be done. He also declined to come home on Xmas morning. He’s so closed off that he’s cheating on me with himself.

  • Dana Smith

    I am sorry, Hugh. A partner pulling back emotionally is extremely taxing under normal circumstances. It’s just amplified on birthdays and holidays. I don’t know your full situation but I wish you the best! Good luck!

  • Dana Smith

    I have problems reacting in anger to some of the people in my BF’s life also. Thankfully it hasn’t caused any problems, except that I’m angry over something I have absolutely zero control over. It’s a constant effort to remain engaged and supportive while maintaining enough emotional distance to keep me from crusading against the offenders.

  • requin

    Thanks Dana for your comments. I wouldn’t tend to crusade against the offenders (I like that phrase!), I’d complain to my bf about the offenders. He didn’t see their behavior as an offense, and couldn’t understand why I was angry. He could never see my viewpoint as the outsider, the gf, and how his mother and his daughter had access to him in a way that irritated me and it felt disrespectful to our r’ship, me, and mostly, to him. He didn’t see it that way. I could never understand that. Only now that I have lost him do I get it that no matter what i thought or felt about it, my job was to stay out of it at all costs. I have asked for another chance w/ him, that i am learning, but so far, he will not even consider it.

  • Espe

    Im curious, does anyone else see this article as a humble brag? I couldnt finish reading, because I couldnt wade through all the ‘my husband is one of the best in the world’ and ‘my husband is revered’ (seriously, what does that have to do with us, the readers, how is that even relevant?) and ‘my daughter is the love of my life’. etc. I mean, I am happy for the author, but her boundless blessings in life dont seem relevant to helping her readers better assert control over their own lives, in order to avoid hurting others.

  • pam

    What about jealousy/insecurity in a relationship? I’ve been dating this guy for over 6 months. When we met, he said he’ll never break my heart, lie, cheat and wants us to be together. During the times up to the six month timeline, we have little disagreement about things. He have never told me about his female friends texting him on his phone. He locked his phone and one day I looked and there was messages from/to women. There’s also someone whom he have photos of her on his phone and the message was that He missed her sweet voice. I confronted him with it and he got mad at me for looking in his messages. He said they’re his friends, the one girl was from a dating site he had met online and it was a year ago. I said why didn’t he erased it. He said why should he have to erased it. He said why did I looked into his phone instead of asking him. He said I’m insecured and that I’m being jealous. He said I don’t trust him. I told him that its because I have guys before that lied, cheated on me. Of course, every men is different but I wish in the beginning he would have told me about all his female friends. He told me he could change everything but he won’t stop talking to his friends. One of his gal friend texted everyday to him. She even said some of the things that he’d said to me and in her texts, Its like he’s been talking to her the same ways he’s been talking to me. A month later I looked again into his phone and again, I see the same female friends texting him. One was sending him a bday present to his house and I asked him what is and he said what’s the big deal? He said he have asked her years ago to make it for him. On his birthday? She’s a florist. I found this odd. You asked someone to make something for you years ago and they happened to send it to you on your birthday?
    Am I wrong for looking in his phone then have insecure/jealous issues. I just don’t like that he’s not open with me but he said he doesn’t lie, cheat and he’s open about things to me. Now he’s up in Alaska on government things and when I talked to him, sometime he’s not always in his hotel and I asked if he’s was out with people or have a hot date and he’s just got annoyed with me for not trusting him. Mind you, I was calling for two hrs because I have told him I was going to called earlier. I asked if he was ending us and he said he didn’t said anything about ending, just that he don’t like it that I don’t trust him.
    He’s 50 and never been married. I’ve been to his house and met his father. His male friends. He’s a quiet and he doesn’t like to argue. I hate that I can’t asks him anything without he raising the issue of me not trusting him. Help! Sorry for the long rambles

  • Parisa

    Anyone’s children are usually the love of their lives. She is just stating it. and I agree, and she is saying the positive part about her husband to decrease the negatively about him getting on her nerves. (i.e. even though he’s the best husband, he still gets on my nerves).

  • mariah

    I really needed to read this after I had a bad day and shouted at my colleague. This is timely advice indeed.

  • Let Go

    Sweetie, let him go. He obviously doesn’t bring out the best in your behavior, if you feel so driven to check up on him. Anyone that’s 50 and a still a bachelor has pushed people away his whole life. You both deserve to be treated with trust AND respect. You don’t trust him, and from what I’ve read, he doesn’t respect you. Walk away, calmly, with love and send him on his way with sincere hopes for his happiness and your own.

  • Kathleen

    Shutting up isn’t always healthy though. My partner does that and then he magnifies situations in his own mind – then the hurt is worse later on – specifically withdrawing. The challenge then seems to be changing old “thinking” habits too.

  • Carrie Dinow

    Thanks for your comment. What we’re really talking about is noticing when you’re hooked, and learning how to pause and refrain from speaking until you can unhook. Just this simple (yet not simple) step can offer so much more freedom.

  • Carrie Dinow

    We all could use a little reminder from day to day. Thanks for your comment.

  • Carrie Dinow

    Withdrawing is another kind of toad. Some people yell, others withdraw. The important thing is to become intimate with your own toads so you can make different choices.

  • Carrie Dinow

    Yes, yes, yes…

  • Carrie Dinow

    These people who trigger us most are our greatest teachers. Here’s to connecting to our Buddha nature amongst others.

  • Carrie Dinow

    From your mouth to God’s ears.

  • Carrie Dinow

    Just writing my truth. My blessings are as relevant as my challenges.
    Blessings your way.

  • Carrie Dinow

    After all these years of working with others, I do trust that if I’m experiencing something, then others are as well. Thank you.

  • Carrie Dinow

    The work is for you to begin trusting yourself. When this occurs, everything shifts.

  • Carrie Dinow

    And by me : ).

  • Carrie Dinow

    But so worth it if you can get there.

  • Meadowsong

    A great thought provoking piece, thank you. Years ago I worked in my fathers business and was aware that our team had a reputation for working well together in an industry that is usually very competitive at an individual level. All his staff had it schooled into them at meetings that we must only ever ‘attack the problem, not the person’ and to consider whether we were going to ‘respond or react’ to a situation. When I really want to let rip these 2 things come to mind and I usually end up questioning whether it’s really just my ego getting in the way. Peace begins with how we choose to treat others.

  • Kathleen

    Thank you. Of course that makes sense. I appreciate your response.

  • wilemutt

    How very insightful! My toads are often poisonous and the swamp is getting too much for me. The stench is stultifying. It’s the “after” that causes me so much grief–I shoulda’…About three weeks ago I had a run-in with a “PIC” of a group (keeping it generic here). I play an important role in this group. He was doing something wrong and the training in my discipline, plus an MA in it (he has naught), caused me to advise him in front of the group he was leading. He would not relinquish or admit to his incorrect interpretation. After the third try, I arose, blew my stack, said a few cuss words, and went home crying, frustrated, and very angry. Within two days I received an email asking me to come back. I am back. I never apologized because he was wrong! However, I am sorry as all get-out for the way I reacted. Style, as they say, is everything, and so far I don’t seem to have any! I am going to delve into your article and suggestions for help in this area. Thank you so much!

  • Teresa

    It’s not about just shutting up. It’s about shutting up for the moment so that you don’t escalate the situation. It’s about shutting up until you can get to the inside of yourself to figure out how you’ve been wounded and how you want to deal with it – effectively. It’s hard to effectively communicate our hurt feelings when we are triggered, so my plan is to shut up and calm down until I can get to the heart of the matter and explain it in a way that heals the situation and so that I can ask for what I actually need, without blaming or aggression.

  • MEK

    You might find my recent work experience helpful. I had a new co-worker with a ‘you’re all doing it wrong’ attitude overall and when she (appeared) to have done something that I specifically asked her not to do … and … wouldn’t clearly answer my questions about it, I told her that I had to leave before “this conversation goes any farther.” She followed me to my desk and tried to continue the conversation at which point, I blew up at her – swearing loudly, etc. (I found out the next day that she only walked away from my desk because she saw our supervisor come out of his office and waving her over. He told her to just go to her office.) I left for the day and first thing the next morning, I met with him, explaining the whole situation. I took his advice and apologize for the blow-up and the swearing … and nothing more!

    When new co-worker and I met a day or two later, I started by saying that I did not want to re-hash the situation, I only wanted to be able to work together in the future. I had also figured out what I needed from her, asked for it and she restated it back to me.

  • Kathleen

    Right. I meant the problem is when you shut up completely and long-term and “stew” until you become muddled and stay in the same unhappy rut.

  • lv2terp

    Wonderful post!!!! Thank you for this reminder, I am noticing the benefits of practicing that myself. I think you are right on, thank you again for sharing this!!!! 🙂

  • Grün

    I feel like I can’t be his friend if he doesn’t talk to me with real words. If he doesn’t e-mail how do I know what he’s really thinking?

  • RT

    I don’t want trouble so I have learnt to shut up and not respond to family members, friends or people’s rude and inconsiderate comments. Not to say it does not hurt me,because it really does. It hurts me when I ring or email offering compassion,support or empathy but when I happen to mention my issues I get knocked down.Over and over again.
    I have expressed my feelings but ‘these’ people continue to treat me the same way. So I finally decided to only contact them when really necessary,keep it short and to not keep giving them what they refuse to give to me.
    At least now I no longer put up and shut up.

  • Dr Colonel Nagar M Verma

    A smile is powerful way when some one is making a serious effort to hurt you. Empower yourself to smile in these situations. Make the person realise that he is failing to honor you, yet, you are providing him/her opportunity to recognise the evil.

  • Aaron

    Yes she talks about how great and talented she and her husband are the whole article. I can’t even focus on what she was trying to say because the narcissism was so off the charts.

  • Guest

    I can’t believe even in this environment, there are people eager to put other people down, like “Espe” and “Aaron”….
    Wow! what a shame…

  • Miranda Linkous

    This was me during my last major relationship. There would be something that triggered me and I had 15 seconds to choose to take the high road, or slide down the slippery slope to 3 hours of fighting about nothing. So glad I’m learning to make that 15 seconds more like a day!

  • Khizra Suriya

    i just wanna ask that can anyone help me 2 find out that “whenever i talk, it directly or indirectly results in hurting someone” plzz some help me tackle this problem..

  • Knifu

    Hi there, I don’t know why I hit my friend with my drumstick when he gets me triggered. After I beat him up, I realize what I have done. Its like i don’t know what I’m doing when I hit him. I have been doing this from last year, and I don’t want to keep hurting him anymore. But when I’m triggered, I smile as I beat him up. What should I do?

  • Ray Ward Wardy

    Don’t work for me. I grew up in a gang life style was trained into hurting people for a living i wanna stop my old ways but it’s hard. I can make alot of money my old ways. But my sons 14 and wants to be a legit working person which am happy with. Am just fighting my old life style. I do enjoy hurting people which I shouldn’t do . Am working on tht but Thts guna be a life time battle not to do my first thort which is attack. Any tricks of the trade tht will help me. I need help until my sons 21.

  • Ray Ward Wardy

    Slap the shit outta him show him your not putting up Wid he’s shit no mor