“Actions speak louder than words.”
Have you ever noticed incongruity between a person’s actions and words? They say one thing and do the other or vice versa? That’s pain. That’s what pain can look like in a lot of people. Maybe you know somebody who talks about everything they are going to do, but they actually do none of it. That’s pain. Maybe you know somebody who does things either without saying anything or they tell you about it after? That’s pain. Maybe you know somebody whose actions and words never match. That’s pain. In relationships, have you ever heard “I love you” one day and then the next day they break up with you? That’s pain too.
When a person’s actions and words don’t line up for any reason it’s because they are having an internal struggle with themselves. This may be obvious to you or it may just look weird. But because actions are so much more obvious to us, we have quotes like the one above which tell people to focus on what the person actually does over what they say. This saying doesn’t acknowledge that people are in pain and that there is a reason why, and that we simply can’t see. It doesn’t acknowledge that the incongruity is an indication of a problem.
We’ve been taught to react to this mis-match when we see it. We’ve been taught to actually get upset by it, get mad at it, and get in the other person’s face about it. We’ve been taught to take offense to it. What if instead, we recognized when we have done the same thing? What if instead we found compassion and recognized pain?
My marriage was a lie. When I got married I left behind somebody I loved very much. My actions and words didn’t match at the time, in fact, they were so far apart from each other that anybody that actually knew the truth would have been very confused about what I was doing and why.
I was making my external actions match what the people around me wanted to see. That meant that my actions were the opposite of what I was feeling and what I would have said to the person I actually did and still do love. This was all a reflection of pain and powerlessness. It was my own pain that I had picked up from other people over the majority of my life. It affected everything I did in all aspects of my life.
It wasn’t just in my relationships, it was in everything. Pretty much everything I did was the opposite of or at least different than what I wanted. Everything was different. My actions and words never matched and when they did, it was probably a lie. The quote above doesn’t acknowledge what I experienced. It makes my actions paramount and discounts every emotion and thought I had at the time. It discounts where the majority of the experience actually was for me, which was inside myself. Sure, I did things externally but they were nothing compared to the level of pain and pressure I felt within myself.
I compare the experience now to tip-toeing through a china shop with a wrecking ball in my hand because that’s how I felt. I knew I was going to cause pain, that was unavoidable. The only thing I attempted to do was limit that pain and not do anymore damage than I had to.
Part of the reason my actions and words were incongruent was because I was trying to limit pain. Avoiding words that may cause more pain was part of my strategy. Was it a good strategy? Not really, but that’s what I did. How many people do you know that have avoided conversations you thought were necessary? It happens all the time. What we say is that their actions said everything. Nope, actually they didn’t. Their actions reflected their pain and that pain was ignored by everybody who interpreted it this way.
If we truly paid attention to other people we would see pain all the time. We don’t pay attention to each other in the way we like to think we do. We’re so screwed up that what we actually do is look for problems in each other. We create a problem out of actions and words that are incongruent, but instead of seeing that as a reflection of pain, we see it as an insult to us. We see it as a slap in the face. We choose not to see the pain behind what happened because if we actually saw that pain, we couldn’t react so badly. We’d actually have to adjust our own behavior, but we don’t because it’s easier to blame other people for our reactions.
These are learned patterns of behavior that we have. We are taught to do this. We do it unconsciously. We do it out of habit. We do it because we avoid ourselves and focus on other people. We do it because we’re in pain ourselves and we’re not aware of our own pain. It makes sense that if we can’t see our own pain, it makes it very difficult to recognize anybody else’s. That’s where we’ve gotten to. We’ve created a whole bunch of people that are not only unable but are unwilling to see their own pain and do anything about it. They would rather find a reason to be mad at everybody else for their pain instead of dealing with their own.
This was written with a lot of intensity behind it because of my own lived experience, because I have done the work to see how my actions and words didn’t line up and why that happened. I did the work to recognize my own pain and understand how it affected everything that I did in my life. Quotes like the one I started with don’t have that perspective. It’s one-sided and doesn’t take into account anything else. It doesn’t take into account any other possibility other than that people are simply jerks. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
Pain is a blanket that covers up everything. Imagine walking into a home where everything was covered with a blanket including the floors, the walls, the cabinets, the furniture, and the fixtures. Imagine draping a blanket over an entire house, inside and out. That is what the pain has done in our world. It has covered up everything. We really have to be looking carefully to find anything that isn’t coming from a place of pain these days. The reality is, that even the good in the world is often done by people who are in pain and simply choose to display it differently.
When you look at the things that you perceive to be good, have you ever considered how those people truly feel within themselves? Is there pain there? Are they doing that action from a place of pain? Are they okay within themselves? Is what they are doing genuine? Is it possible that their actions and words are also incongruent?
We just see good and we think that everybody should be like that. The thing is that what we end up encouraging is for people to hide their pain and cover it up even further. While what we should be doing is encouraging people to express pain in healthy ways so that they can learn to heal it. What we need to be teaching people to do is release the pain, understand themselves and their own behavior, and then change that behavior so they are no longer living from pain. Simply doing good in the world will not heal the pain. That’s a cover up and a lie. That’s planting flowers at the garbage dump. It looks great, but it’s deceiving.
None of this means that we intervene anywhere. It’s not up to us to fix other people. The goal is not to try to change anybody else’s behavior. We don’t have to start questioning the intent behind every action or every word. We’re not looking to become skeptical in any way. What we’re learning to understand is that pain can show up everywhere and that if we simply applied compassion all the time, in every situation, we’d be better off.
What our perception does is that when somebody is out doing good in the world and they suddenly indicate that they are in pain for one reason or another, we’re immediately compassionate with them. We don’t even think about not offering compassion. Why? Because their actions were what we perceived to be good so we weren’t triggered by what they were doing. Compassion was an easier place to get to because the trigger wasn’t present. But when people offer up their pain in ways we don’t like, now we get all triggered and wounded and we offer up more pain instead of being able to find that same compassion. That’s where the problem is. We need to react compassionately in both scenarios, not just when it suits us.
The perception of pain is skewed because it is filtered through our own triggers and pain. When we are triggered by what somebody does, we don’t take the second it takes to recognize the other person is projecting their pain. We move straight to being wounded ourselves. But when we’re not triggered we move to compassion much more quickly because the filter is no longer there. Healing our individual pain is what removes the trigger. It’s what allows you to move to compassion immediately, regardless of what’s happening.
The idea that somehow we shouldn’t do that comes from the ego and from the filter of pain that we have. This idea is the ego protecting itself from more pain. But this is a story that’s we’ve made up about what other people are doing and why they do it. It’s a story we’ve made up to try to protect ourselves from other people. The only thing it does is cause more pain. It doesn’t heal anything and it doesn’t solve anything. When we react to pain from a place of pain we just create more pain.
The bottom line is that being able to recognize pain and find compassion all the time requires us to heal our own pain. Ultimately what we have to heal is our own triggers and wounds because those are the things that keep us from finding compassion. It’s a protection mechanism for the ego that typically just makes things worse. Learning to recognize pain requires individual healing. It really is as simple as that.