How do you show empathy to someone who has wronged you?

How do you go from viewing someone as malicious to seeing them as a person in pain?

How do you move past anger?

This is more for me than them.

I want to be able to walk away from people and situations in my life and feel peace. I don’t want to hate anyone for the damage they’ve caused because they are in just as much pain as I am.

How someone treats others directly reflects how they feel about themselves – the whole “hurt people hurt people” thing. But that’s hard to keep in mind when you’re on the receiving end of mistreatment.

How do you protect yourself and keep moving forward when you are also a hurt person?

An even better question – As a hurt person, how do you prevent hurting others in the way you were hurt?

Giving myself distance has done wonders for my growth and recovery, but is it really to right answer? On the other hand, how much is a person expected to tolerate? I hate the phrase “keep the peace” because usually, that’s not peaceful for anyone.

It’s a tough realization to see that you have so much in common with the person who wronged you.

I don’t want to be like them. It’s really motivation to take care of myself, be present, appreciate the supportive people in my life, and respect the world around me. I’m trying my best and I wish the same for them.

Through therapy, I am learning to become a more empathetic and introspective person, and this blog has been a part of my growth. I always appreciate your support and feedback. I learn so much from you and I feel a sense of validation knowing others can relate. I often feel powerless, but here I have a voice.

Coming from a red state in the Midwest, Freethought Blogs is the only place where I am surrounded by like-minded people – even if it is just online.

Thank you for reading. I would love to hear your stories. Can you relate? Have you been in a similar situation?


Also, I am dealing with some mental health issues and medication changes right now, so if I take a little break or post something weird, that’s what’s going on.


  1. Katydid says

    You ask a really good question. I wish I had a good answer.

    I suspect your people who wronged you are primarily your extended family. This is absolutely a topic to explore with your therapist, who knows you very well and has no doubt heard about your difficulties with the people who have wronged you.

    My quick answer is that you shouldn’t have to be a punching bag EVER. If you have spoken up about being hurt to the person who has hurt you, and they do it again purposely, my solution to that would be to leave. YOUR MILEAGE MAY VARY and that’s something to explore with your therapist. IMO, you wouldn’t put up with someone purposely hurting your child, no matter what their excuse. So why would you put up with them hurting you?

    Again, IMO, people who urge others to stay a punching bag in order to “keep the peace” are every bit as complicit as the one doing the hurting. They’ve clearly sided with the abuser and don’t mind seeing you hurt.

  2. sonofrojblake says

    How someone treats others directly reflects how they feel about themselves

    I’m 100% certain that this is simply false. Yes, abused people can end up abusers, hurt people end up hurting people. But you know who else ends up hurting people? People who’ve been brought up from the cradle to consider themselves special and better than everyone else. They’ve not been hurt, they’ve been cossetted and indulged and allowed to get away with basically anything. The UK had a Prime Minister and the US had a President who’d neither of them ever been told “No”. Trump and Johnson don’t treat every single other human they meet including their own family as inferior because they themselves feel inferior. They do it because they know, deep inside, that they’re better and more important than anyone else. And I’ve met people like that. They’re best avoided.

    As a hurt person, how do you prevent hurting others in the way you were hurt?

    I can only speak for myself, but my approach had two steps:
    1. ensure at least one who hurt me was hurt worse, badly enough to not be in a position to repeat what they did to me.
    2. decide to never, ever again do anything like that to anyone and to ensure that nothing like that happened to anyone else I knew.

    I couldn’t have done (2) without doing (1) first. But I’ve stuck with (2) successfully for over 40 years. Partly by sticking with “the best revenge is to live well”, and being absolutely ruthless about cutting off contacts with non-desirables. I believe the young people call it “ghosting”.

  3. Bruce says

    Some questions don’t have easy answers.
    But the fact that someone hurt you does not obligate you to focus on them, or to analyze or understand them.
    Since your proper concern is yourself, you need to remember that what happened to you in the past is not your destiny. You already have a strong desire to be a good person, so you are not really very similar to the abuser. Their story should not be able to influence your life.
    Good luck.

  4. Jazzlet says

    Long long story short-ish (honestly!), some thirty something years ago I decided I wouldn’t try to contact or see Big Bro no 3, because every time I did I ended up crying for an hour or more because of the extraordinarily insensitive things he said and did. This was partly on the advice of a therapist, but mostly because it hurt Mr J so much to see me in such pain – you will note I wasn’t mostly doing it for me. I sent him a letter explaining my position, and got one back which didn’t acknowledge anything I had said, but simply justified his position and argued I should accomodate it. He told the wider family and there was some effort on the part of my Dad, Big Bro no 2 and Little Bro (my mother was dead by this time) to persuade me to change my position, which incidentally wasn’t that I would never see or talk to BB no 3 again, but that I would never initiate contact. He didn’t contact me or make any effort to see me (this had been the root of my hurt) so we didn’t talk or see each other except at family events, and at those I learnt to avoid him, as even when I went beyond trying to change the subject and specifically asked him to stop talking about something – the kicker was IVF which I was going through at the time and did not want to talk about – he would continue/ return to the subject. BB no1 and I have never had a good relationship so he didn’t comment, BB no 4 had had his own problems with BB no 3, understood what my problem was and was supportive of my decision. I wan’t happy about those in the family trying to persuade me to change my decision, but to be fair they did eventually back off when I had explained it was up to BB no 3 to contact me, but it would have been far more difficult without the support of BB no 4 and of course Mr J. Nothing in the intervening years has given me reason to change that decision, and seeing him again recently at the funeral of BB no 2 confirmed the rightness of the choice for me. It isn’t a decision to be taken lightly, which you are clearly not doing, but I do think that there are people who we have to protect ourselves from and that in doing so we are also protecting the rest of our immediate family, which in your case obvioulsy includes your daughter.

    TL;DR – Minimising contact worked for me and i think it can be a healthy decision to take.

  5. sonofrojblake says

    I feel the need to give a more direct answer to the headline question:

    “How do you show empathy to someone who has wronged you?”

    I don’t. Fuck ’em.

    There are, as of relatively recently, a little over eight billion people on the planet. In my experience, the vast, overwhelming majority of them are basically OK. Crucially, mostly even the ones who’ve been hurt or abused are basically decent to others. Therefore, if you come across one of the outliers who isn’t – ghost them. Just ignore them, completely. Don’t think about it, don’t fret about it, just… cut off. There are plenty of other people who deserve your empathy, and will repay it with care. Bollocks to anyone who doesn’t, they’re simply not worth your time and emotional effort, and it’s their loss.

  6. Katydid says

    Circling back after I’ve had time to think about your situation. First of all, take care of your mental health in the best way for you. If you need to go silent for a bit, that’s fine. If you post something goofy, well, we all do that from time to time. About that: the people who matter don’t care, the people who care don’t matter.

    After thinking about what you wrote, I suppose you could also be struggling with someone at work. In the past, when you notified your boss, you were supported. YOU ARE WORTH THE SUPPORT.

    Also, what Bruce @3 and Jazzlet @4 said.

  7. says

    I want to be able to walk away from people and situations in my life and feel peace. I don’t want to hate anyone for the damage they’ve caused because they are in just as much pain as I am.
    It’s roundabout, but I remind myself of the Zen story about the monk who was still carrying the woman long after the river crossing – remember that when you are angry and resentful you are giving that person a free lease on space in your head. Basically, the angrier you are, or the more upset you are, the more important you are making that person.

  8. John Morales says

    “How do you go from viewing someone as malicious to seeing them as a person in pain?”

    There is no dichotomy.

    Just because they are in pain doesn’t mean they aren’t also malicious, nor does just because they are malicious mean they aren’t also in pain.

    (This seems to me to be a version of the hoary “to know all is to forgive all”, but nobody can know all, can they?)

  9. Katydid says

    @Marcus Ranum, while you raise a great point*, I suspect the person in Ashes’ post is either a family member or a coworker. Women are heavily conditioned to “be nice!” and “don’t make waves!” and to accept whatever abuse is being shoveled upon them if the alternative makes anyone around them (even the abuser) uncomfortable. It’s even worse in conservative areas like the south and the midwest. Because Ashes is in a niche-type of job, if it’s a coworker, then advice to find another job is very hard to accomplish. If it’s a family member, Jazzlet’s solution is the best, and even that’s not perfect.
    * I used that exact story not long ago against a right-winger who told the story of when he was a child, and a woman in his neighborhood who was on welfare once gave her children strawberries–the gist of the story was how dare the poors ever have a moment of pleasure, see how they squander the taxpayers’ money on something too nice for them. (Another take on the old lie of “I saw someone on food stamps buy steak and lobster at the grocery store.) Several people suggested that strawberries in season aren’t particularly expensive, strawberries are nutritious, and finally, the speaker had no idea whether someone gave the woman the strawberries or even that she herself may have skipped a meal in order to buy her children a one-time treat. He poo-poo’d all those options because he was so furious at the thought of a “stupid lazy woman” wasting HIS money (even though he was a child at the time and not paying taxes). I lost my temper and told him that woman gave her children strawberries once, years, ago, and he’s been carrying her on his back ever since.

    • John Morales says

      Katydid, threaded comments here.
      Instead of a new comment, you can just reply to an existing comment.

      (I’m doing it now)

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