Don’t tell me what I can and can’t be upset about.

I have to admit, I’m not an avid follower of Louis CK’s comedy. Is that even the right way to phrase it? I don’t know. See? That’s how little I care about Louis CK. Sometimes I find his content a little bit too… out there for my liking. That being said, I came across this quotation from him recently that really stuck with me:

“When a person tells you that you hurt them, you don’t get to decide that you didn’t.”

Okay, I realise that he was referring to physical pain when he said this, but I really wanted to discuss how this quotation affected me, if you’ll bear with me.

When someone opens up and reveals that they have been hurt by you, they are putting themselves in a vulnerable position. We as humans have evolved such that we do not readily expose our insecurities. If our ancestors did that, humanity wouldn’t have gotten this far. So, in the context of opening up and telling you that you’ve hurt them, it isn’t always easy to do, and the least you can do is to respect and acknowledge their pain. Yes, you might not agree with their reactions, but you are not capable in any sense to feel what they are feeling subjectively, so you are not qualified to tell them that you could not have possibly hurt them.

To briefly summarise a painfully boring (lol, geddit? *painfully*? Kidding, it wasn’t that bad. I just wanted to throw a ‘painfully’ in there) lecture I had recently, pain is a subjective sensation. When people talk about pain, they often mean to say ‘nociception’, which is the stimulus that causes the sensation we perceive as pain. But these two words are not synonymous. The same nociceptive stimulus will cause an identical degree of stimulation at the receptor level of two different people. But the processing of this stimulus – the painful response – this is entirely subjective. No other person can tell you to what degree of pain you are allowed to feel in response to a given stimulus. These ‘suggestions’ are usually a projection of what they themselves perceive to be painful, and if that given stimulus did not elicit a pain response in them, it is understandable how it can be mind-boggling when someone tells you that, to them, it caused pain. I know I’ve gone off on a bit of a tangent, but I just wanted to reinforce that notion that pain perception is subjective.

Of course, this is largely applied when talking about physical pain. There are certain disorders whereby one feels pain in response to a stimulation that normally does not cause pain (i.e. a brush of a feather or something), but let’s not delve into the ins and outs of allodynia, shall we? Mainly because I haven’t revised this lecture yet (lol – what is revision when you’ve got 15 billion assignments to hand in between now and exams?), and secondly – this is not the point of this post today.

I wanted to extrapolate what Louis CK was saying and apply it to emotional pain. Just amuse me, and suppose that the same mechanism underlies both emotional pain and physical pain, shall we? So since we’ve established that a nociceptive stimulus causes an identical degree of stimulation at the level of the receptor, but the painful response is subjective, you can see how something can be perceived as emotionally hurtful to one person but not the other, even though the stimulus is the same, yes?

Let’s say the stimulus in this scenario is something you said and it really hurt someone. Unless you’re a sadistic jackass, you clearly don’t perceive what you said (the stimulus) causes pain (presumably because if it was said to you, you wouldn’t be hurt by it), otherwise you wouldn’t have said it to this person in the first place. However, this person comes to you and say that it actually did cause them pain and hurt. You cannot now then say that they can’t have possibly been hurt by you, that they’re somehow wrong for feeling emotional pain from what you’ve said, and that they are – in Donald Trump’s word – WRONG. That is the dumbest fucking thing you can say. You can’t possibly know what this person is feeling. Feelings are subjective; you have no place in telling someone that they can’t feel this way. Again, yes, of course you can disagree, but understand that disagreeing with their perception of pain is not the same as flat out rejecting the existence of their pain. They are already putting themselves in a vulnerable position by telling you of their pain – the worst thing you can do now is make them feel bad for opening up to you in the first place!

This post is starting to sound like I’m defending sensitive people out there saying that everyone can just run around telling people they’re upset about everything and they should expect an apology from everyone. I’m not. I know that everyone has to do his or her part in not being an easily butt-hurt person because, let’s face it, it would just be inconvenient for both that easily butt-hurt person and society if everything caused upset or offense. But then again, who knows what might have happened before that has made them particularly sensitive about a specific thing. All I’m saying is that even if you don’t agree with why they are sensitive about it, you’ve got to respect that they are. If you didn’t know that they’re sensitive about something, then just accept that you unintentionally caused hurt and (within reason) apologise. If you do know that they’re sensitive about something, then maybe exercise that empathy muscle of yours; stretch that little compassion muscle there. If you yourself wouldn’t be phased by something, but you know that someone else does get upset if you say that to them, then just be a bit cautious. Why deliberately cause pain if you know that that person gets upset every time you say it? Sure, you can say “well you just gotta grow a pair” or “you shouldn’t be upset about that” or “freedom of speech! I’ll say whatever I want to say regardless of who I upset!”, but honestly that just makes you an asshole.

I apologise that this post has been a bit all over the place. My brain is honestly a little bit fried from doing this bloody dissertation. But I mainly just wanted to express my annoyance when people tell me I ‘shouldn’t be upset by that’. Fuck right off – don’t tell me what should and shouldn’t upset me. Yes, I may sit towards the upper end of the ‘sensitivity levels in the general population’ normal distribution curve, but that doesn’t mean you have the right to tell me that my feelings are wrong. Instead of telling me I have to change my feelings in response to certain things, why don’t you get off your motherfucking high horse and change your attitude huh? It’s a two way street. Just because you don’t understand WHY I get upset by something doesn’t automatically mean I shouldn’t be. There’s no should or shouldn’t when it comes to feelings; feelings are just internal reflexes in response to whatever stimuli that stimulates emotions.

Breathe. Ok. Just to round off this rambley little spat of word vomit, I just want to say I’m not advocating being sensitive to a lot of things. I hate how I am so affected by what other people say to me – I honestly wish that sometimes I could just flick a switch and I would be able to bumble along not having a care in the world. In the meantime, whilst I work on not letting what people think of me affect me as much as it does now, to those people who tend to tell others that their pain is not justified – f*ck ya’ll. I implore you to practice a bit of your empathy and compassion and kindness. Just try to think about how some people may perceive your words as painful, eh? A little bit of consideration really does go a long way.

Until the next time I feel sufficiently angry enough to rant about something on the internet,

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