A cruel act; a deliberate infliction of pain and suffering

Feelings of extreme heartlessness

The quality of being cruel and causing tension or annoyance

Children can be very cruel, can’t they? They taunt and they tease other children in the playground. They call them horrible names, they persistently pick on children who are weaker than them, and find more and more ways to exploit any weakness they find. Although children can be cruel to each other, they can also do the same to their parents; saying things that are so hurtful, they make their parents cry.
I remember (and am still reminded by mother) the time at junior school when I forgot my drink, and my mother had the audacity to bring it to me in front of all of my school friends. I can still see it now. Crossing the road with the class, and hearing my mother call out:
“Alan? Alan?”
“What are do you doing here mum?” I said. “Go away. I don’t want to see you, I hate you! Go away!” and all she did was bring me my drink!

Sticks and stones may break my bones
but words will never hurt me

I don’t know where that old playground saying comes from, but I think whoever wrote it missed something quite profound. With physical bruising you can see the suffering; and although mental suffering is invisible to the naked eye, words can, and do in fact hurt you. “Children are just children,” you say; and yes, most of the cruel children grow up to be “normal” individuals, who don’t display any sign of their cruel past. But what I want to investigate is whether this cruelty that children show to each other, or to their parents, is just a normal process of growing up, or a sign of something much deeper, something that lies within all of us just waiting for the opportunity to unleash itself.

The development of the child’s mind is a complex one, with new connections being made all the time, and indeed many children right through to late teenagers, exhibit this characteristic of the ability to be cruel, and say and do things that perhaps they are not even aware of. Perhaps it’s just because the young mind is not mature enough to understand the effects words have on us? What do you think?

Do you have children? Do they say cruel things to you? “I hate you mum;” “I wish you’d just go away;” “I wish I never been born, I hate you?” It must be awful to have brought a beautiful child into the world, nourished it, loved it, protected it, taught it; and finally when it was old enough to speak, it tells you it hates you. Nice! That is the thanks you get for all that effort. Do you think we should accept that this is normal; that this is just a small blip in the long process of growing up?

Is there a point to being cruel? If so, I would dearly love to know what it is! It seems to serve no other purpose than deliberately hurting another (oh yes, that’s the point!), and throughout life, we can see that adults all have this same potential to be cruel to each other, and also to children.

As with all our actions, it originates in the mind. It is our own brain which comes up with the idea to be cruel, which is sad. Why are we not born with a mind that is already loving and compassionate for all beings? Maybe love and compassion are not inherent; maybe they are just learned behaviours; but I do not believe that to be true. We hurt each other to deflect feelings that are intolerable to ourselves, when our own minds are in conflict and it is understandable to some extent why it happens. I am hurting and I do not want to feel hurt, so I transfer it to another to make myself feel better. But the mind is selfish. It doesn’t care if it hurts others, it is only interested in itself.

So maybe we should be a bit more understanding of people who are cruel, and instead of judging them try to help them solve the problems in their minds. It is a hard thing to do when you are on the receiving end of someone’s cruel comments, but by showing our love and compassion for them, and asking them a simple question: “What’s wrong, do you want to talk about it?” perhaps we can help them resolve whatever conflict is going on; and in return save ourselves from further cruelty.

Our compassion could be said to be selfish, but we must protect ourselves as well.

Adults, who grow into cruel husbands or wives, have similarly unresolved emotional conflict in their minds, and may not even be aware they are in conflict, that is why it is so important that we become aware of ourselves, of the movement of our minds, of ourselves in relationship with others. It is vital.

If a child learns to become aware of himself early on in life, there is less chance he will be cruel. Do you understand what I am trying to say here? To ask a child to become aware of his feelings will teach him that he cannot just transfer the pain to someone else, parent, peer, or indeed anyone he meets. The reason the parent seems to bear the brunt of most cruel comments is more to do with the amount of time they spend together, than the child actually hating the parent.

We must help the child to deal with whatever he or she is going through rather than just getting annoyed with them, sending them to their room without dinner, or just sitting in a corner crying to ourselves, wondering how the child we brought into the world with love, cared for, fed, and clothed could say these terrible things to us.

I know it is only “natural” for us to feel hurt, but we must use our minds with intelligence; and see that the only reason for them to be cruel is because (a) they are hurting inside, and cannot deal with it, and (b) do not yet have the awareness of themselves to understand that their words and actions are hurting others.

Why do you hurt me?

I don’t know about you, but my mother never asked me this question; she either shouted at me or just burst into tears. Personally, I could never see what all the fuss was about. I needed to get something off my chest, and I did. I didn’t care what I said as long as she stopped going on at me. In my twisted thinking it seemed the right thing to do.

I have said some pretty cruel things to my girlfriends in the past too, and when you are angry, or upset, and want to feel better, you find the weakest point in the armour to attack. “Yeah, but at least I’m not as fat as you!” knowing full well that this is something with which the other partner already has low self-esteem.

When we are on the attack, we always go for the weak spot. It makes sense if you want victory in a battle, but not when you are dealing with someone who loves you. We find weapons to attack with that we know are guaranteed to pierce the armour. We get our fatal blow in before our enemy has a chance to retaliate.

But remember, this is someone you supposedly love you are talking to, not an enemy in battle – but the outcome is the same. You defeat your enemy, but at great cost. You may have won and you may feel good about it, but your opponent is hurt so much emotionally, they may find it hard to forgive you.

I know from personal experience, that using cruel words to my girlfriends was detrimental to my relationship with them, but never once did they ask me “Why do you hurt me?” If they had actually asked me that question, I would probably have had no answer, as I was acting, not out of love and compassion, but out of the need to win, at all costs.

It was only through the development of self-awareness and self-knowledge, that I transcended this ability to be cruel. I began to see it as something inhuman, something that does not exist in the animal kingdom either, and I started to watch myself as I spoke with others.

Any time I could feel the urge to score a cheap point in an argument using something I knew would hurt them, I paid close attention to my mind, and asked myself the question: Would I hurt someone I love? And believe me, we are always more cruel to the ones we supposedly love.

When it gets physical

We have all heard stories in the press about parents being cruel to their children. There are horror stories of parents locking their children in cupboards, starving them, burning them with cigarettes or other objects, and fortunately it doesn’t seem to be reported all that often, but once is too much, so we need to investigate why an adult would deliberately cause harm to his or her child. What thought processes are going on in the mind. Maybe we should ask them?

Me: Why did you burn your child? From the reports it seems that, before the child died, it had over 50 burn marks on its body.

Parent: I ‘loved’ my child, but she just wouldn’t stop crying. I tried everything to calm her down, but she was always a crier. The noise was in my head, I just had to make it stop. I didn’t mean to hurt her; I just wanted her to shut up.

Me: But you knew you were hurting a defenceless infant, who could not fight back?

Parent: You don’t know what it’s like. Living there alone with a child crying all day long, I had to get her to stop, do you understand? She was driving me up the wall.

And from that last statement we can see what is really going on. Although the cruelty was deliberate, it was probably not through a direct thought such as: “I will hurt that child,” or “I will burn them with a cigarette.”

Most of our actions are transferred from the pain in our own mind onto someone weaker, that way, the mind knows it is guaranteed some kind of relief from the pain it is going through. Clearly, the woman could not cope with the noise of the infant. She had many other problems in her life and this just tipped her over the edge.

I believe that all humans are compassionate and loving in their nature, although they have the potential to be violent and cruel when their own biological needs are not being met, or they are suffering themselves. We must have compassion for others who are suffering, lest they hurt others through it, and we must try to help them deal with their emotional turmoil – but first we have to deal with our own.

The next time you have an argument, or feel like being physically cruel to someone, you must realise that you are the one who is in pain. You must become aware that you are only being cruel to transfer the uncomfortable feelings to someone else. Do you follow? Before you hurt another with your words or your actions, become instantly aware of the feelings surging through your body. At this point you must withdraw, do you understand? You are about to alter your life or someone else’s life by the words you are about to speak, or the actions you are about take. I am talking to you, the children, and you, the adults, together, for children’s cruelty becomes adult cruelty.
You must go somewhere quiet, if only for a moment, and try to understand what feeling you were about to transfer to someone else.

There are no excuses here; no explanations – just awareness. You are the one who is in pain, you are the one who is about to spread misery with your words. You must resolve the conflict in you.

Be aware. Be aware. Be aware. That is all you can do. Talk to someone about your feelings; a friend or a counsellor you trust. If you have the urge to be cruel, then your brain is knocking on your door, telling you “Hey! I have some unresolved stuff here, and if you don’t help me resolve it, I’ll do it on my own.”

Don’t wait for your brain to act. Be aware that one day your brain will use cruelty to solve its own problems. It doesn’t care if it hurts someone else, after all, it’s you who will take the blame!


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