“Hurt people hurt people – but…”

The phrase ‘hurt people, hurt people’ is one we are familiar with – but, asks EGG’s newest member Iain Corbett, is this too simplistic a way of looking at a complex issue? 

I recently posted a poem on Twitter called “hurt people, hurt people, but…” and I received a few messages about it, each of those people interpreting it a little differently and explaining what it meant to them. I thought it might be useful to jot down how it came to be.

I didn’t sit down to write a poem. Sometimes I just put littles notes in my phone of things that pop into my head; observations, ideas, plans, warnings. Most of the time they sit there for years until I delete them and never think about them again. I noticed, however, that twice – almost two years apart – I had written the same little phrase; “hurt people, hurt people”. It stuck out as it was unusual for me to write it down again if it popped back into my head; rather, I would usually just add some more little notes below to capture my thoughts in that moment. What struck me when looking at those notes was that, given the relatively short timescale, the context and framing around that same little phrase was so entirely different.

I clearly remember the first time I heard the phrase. It instantly made sense to me. It resonated deep within and it felt like it removed the onus from me for all the things I had done to hurt people, physically or emotionally, over the years. All accountability was removed in an instant, and all those things people thought about me were untrue, because I didn’t do it, the pain did it. Years of guilt lifted. OF COURSE that’s how I was going to behave, I’ve had multiple bereavements and traumatic events in quick succession, hurting people was inevitable – what else was I going to do? Science shows that because I experienced these things, I am expected to do these things, right? Right?

I’m not sure exactly when it happened but in the space between noting it down the first time and the second time, I had two stark realisations:

1) the world doesn’t revolve around me.

2) everyone is hurting.

Both of those realisations kind of go hand-in-hand for me. I had spent a lot of years being blown full of hot air as the boy from the young team that “made good”, but the more I worked in communities – with charities and carers and nurses and cops – it hit me that I’m not that unique. Loads of people are hurting. Maybe even the majority of people are hurting, and for so many it’s the motivation to do the work they do. Every school I went in to, every charity I worked with, every arts org or healthcare setting – it was the same story: “I do this because I don’t want people to go through what I went through”.

It simultaneously opened my eyes and pulled my head out my own backside. Where I thought I was something special for stopping the violence and madness and turning it around to help others, there were people out there who avoided the chaos altogether and went straight out and started making a difference.

Then it hit me again…

Those same people who, inside, are hurting themselves; those who are out there changing lives, are the same ones commending me for changing my ways. They were still at it. Absolute heroes. In a conversation once with Kirsty Giles at SVRU she referred to them as “wounded healers”, and it’s so true, it stuck with me. Despite everything they had experienced themselves they were still going out their way to help me and giving me the credit for changing my ways. They were putting the work in – being what I needed at that time. They could see that massaging my ego would probably help me to stay on the straight and narrow, even when I was too blinkered to see it myself. They changed me and let me think I had achieved it myself, and for that I am grateful.

But again, I’m not unique. For every one of me trying to get on the straight and narrow there’s a thousand wounded healers there to support, listen, hold and care.

These people show compassion and empathy that only someone who has been hurt can truly offer. They hold out their arms, extend their table and offer an ear whenever it is needed. No matter what.

Of course, we need to continue to celebrate when people turn their lives around; when someone “makes good” or challenges stereotypes, but we need to remember too to lift up those unsung heroes that are all around us. Those that are hurting just as bad but put others before themselves and become everything we need them to be. It’s unfair of that little phrase to imply everyone that is hurt will go on to hurt someone else – it’s simply not true.

“hurt people, hurt people…but, they also help them too.”

About our blogger

Iain is a community development practitioner who is passionate about amplifying the voice of young people into processes, policy and decision making in which they are regularly overlooked. He is also a member of CYCJ’s Executive Governance Group. Read more.

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