Sometimes I wonder what actual percentage of people are deeply wounded. My data is very skewed. Working in a criminal setting, assisting refugees, having friends and family who grew up in war zones, I see mostly the wounded. My heart goes out to those who have suffered. And yet I have had to learn a very difficult lesson in all of this. Not everyone conquers their traumas to become wonderful people. Not everyone ends up with redeeming qualities. So how do we love them? This is a terrible and powerful question.
In the so-called Western World, we like to have dichotomies – pairs of opposites. Good and bad is our favorite pairing. We look at everything, from the tree in our backyard to our garbage can, in the light of what is good about it, and what is bad. As more Eastern philosophy has infiltrated, we are taught to see “what is” and accept things for what they are without superimposing our judgment of how we wish things were. So we struggle to see people “as they are” and love them “as they are” and forgive them “as they are”.
When the Christian God tells us to love our enemies, that God talks about the hardest kind of loving. Because it is easy to love those who love us and are kind to us. Yet we are challenged to go beyond this. We are challenged to love those who do not love us. To love those who do us harm. To love those who are evil, bad, hurtful, and cause lasting damage to ourselves and our loved ones.
How can we do this? I have come to believe that with our Western-trained mind we can only do this by deeply believing that “underneath it all” our enemies have good qualities. They are good people in their own way, with what they know. They are doing the best they can. So we find and love the good in them. This is easier than accepting the bad. This is much easier than loving the whole person.
We “find something to love” in them. We tell ourselves that even enemy warriors go home to their children, and hug their spouses, and try to be “good” according to their lights. They kill people, and blow up buildings, but most of them believe they are sacrificing for a good cause. So we love the good in them. This works on the personal level, too. Someone just told me her Dad used to beat the living crap out of her, but she says she loves him, because he made her tough! He was a good man, she told me. Whatever the example, we try to find good in the people we have reason to hate, and we love that good in them, because we cannot love them whole.
In my close experience with extreme predatory and cruel behavior, I have found that every predator has a deeply wounded psyche with a multitude of intellectual, spiritual, psychological, and social ailments. A review of their childhood would be the basis for a very sad movie, or a Child Protective Services report. There is no doubt in my mind about this. And of course not all of them are to the extreme that they are imprisoned or marked a predator for life. Some are just highly unpleasant, often charming, and toxic people.
It is not unusual for these people to go from fits of rage to begging for love and acceptance. To hold a knife to a loved one’s throat, then sob like a baby and say how sorry they are, how much they love their victim. And not all of the wounded are in the criminal justice system, of course. Only a tiny percentage. There are plenty of people “around” who have fits and tantrums. People who are angry at the world. Fragile beings who snap at the smallest thing. Who throw things and scream at the people they swear they love, then want forgiveness, then repeat. They have terrible coping skills, we say. And some really are good people, deep down. As Westerners we can look deep, and find the good, see their good acts, and love them for the good buried deep underneath their unpleasant and hurtful qualities.
But this has been one of my hardest lessons: Having a wounded psyche does not make a person good deep down. In the very predatory, the psychopathic, the extremely narcissistic, they may not have a “core of goodness” that the Western mind can find and grab on to in order to love them. Their suffering makes them pathetic, in the sense of deserving of compassion, but it does not make them good.
I have met a lot of people who had an early loss of innocence, whether through family trauma, civil war, early addictions, or generalized violence in their culture of origin. Most are incredible survivors who overcome their past to embrace the wholeness of healing, and serve as a model to others.
But some don’t develop. They are resentful and envious of whole people, or healed people. They hate to see the innocence that they themselves have lost still alive and well in others. Some fiercely attack those who can look themselves in the mirror and like what they see. Some have a dark desire to wipe the smile off the faces of those who are happy. For these few, our Western dichotomy does not serve us to find their core of goodness that allows us to love them.
I was in an John’s class, where men who solicited a prostitute get information about the sex trafficking trade and the human fallout. The teachers start by working on the men to help them see how harmful some of the good/bad dichotomy is for both men and women. At one point, an extremely unhealthy and deeply unhappy man started to share about how bad he felt, and how he could never live up to the “good man” myth, ow he was never allowed to cry as a child. He was suffused in sadness. And my heart felt pity for him.
At the same time, I felt a flood of sadness for the unanswerable question: Sitting here as the only woman in the room, my heart torn by the plight of the sex workers, and the suffering engendered by people like this speaker, I still feel sympathy for his suffering. Why cannot he feel sympathy for the suffering of the sex workers? Why cannot he feel compassion for others? Doesn’t he know that his suffering and theirs is from the same well of suffering? How can he be so cut off from humanity. as he must be, to do the things he does, with such a sense of entitlement? Where is the good in him? What if there isn’t any?
And so the hardest lesson in loving your enemies, if you choose to do so, is to give up on finding the good in order to love them. To turn off the good-bad searchlight. To see someone’s suffering and see how pitiful they are and without finding any redeeming quality within them, to love them as the enemy. Not because they are deeply good, but because they are deeply wounded. Love them at a safe distance, and protect yourself, and stop making up stories about how they are probably good, and let them be your enemy, and love them.