When someone acts out in pain, treats you poorly, is rude and inconsiderate, acts belligerent, or otherwise is mean and misbehaving, “it is because he suffers deeply within himself and his suffering is spilling over.” (Nightstar Stough)
This person does not need punishment or to be treated harshly in return. He needs help and understanding, compassion and empathy.
The mistake one typically makes when encountering this person is that you take his lashing out in pain as a personal affront. In reality, it has absolutely nothing to do with you. He is in pain and will vent at whomever crosses his path, and you just happened to do that.
It wouldn’t have mattered what you said or did, he still would have lashed out at you — for his pain is not a result of your behavior, but rather comes from deep within him. And when you live with that much suffering bottled up inside of you, it’s inevitably going to spill out.
So the first thing to realize is that you just happened upon this man who is spewing anger and pain onto anyone who comes near him — it isn’t about you.
So if it isn’t about you, there is nothing to get upset over. Certainly, it’s no fun to listen to someone who is so angry and mean, but when you realize it’s not directed at you, you can hear it and not take it to heart. You can let it go; see it for what it is (him crying out in pain); and know that your world can remain calm and peaceful inside.
I’m not suggesting that you stick around and take it for a long time, for that wouldn’t be very enjoyable. But I am hoping that you’ll understand how you can hear it without taking it in.
And in my experience, sometimes we can help the person to defuse a bit, simply by not responding in anger or self-righteousness. They expect others to lash back, and then they can feel justified in lashing out at us even more.
But when we don’t fight back and don’t respond in kind, but instead simply stay calm and understanding, sometimes it breaks down their facade and they soften, talk to you more calmly, and on the rare occasion, may even open up about something specific that they are struggling with. And if that happens, you are able to gift them with your presence, your listening ear, your willingness to talk.
The mere fact that you didn’t fight back or run away from his initial lashing out speaks volumes to this person. He is not accustomed to your calm presence. And if he, in turn, calms down and is able to have a more normal conversation, then he has (on some unspoken level) acknowledged your compassionate response, accepted your calming impact, and allowed himself to let go of his immediate need to spread the pain around.
And while this interaction most likely will not change the person long-term, you never know what impact moments of acceptance and kindness can have on another. Sometimes all it takes is that one instance of genuine empathy and compassion to help another break through their unconscious way of being and begin to see themselves and their actions more clearly.
It can never hurt for you to shine your light brightly, and who knows — perhaps you’ll help him in ways that you never imagined were possible? Because what he really wants to know, as he’s spewing negativity onto everyone he meets, is: “Can you hear my suffering?” And when your response tells him, “Yes, I hear you. I care.”, that may be just the answer he needed to hear.