That Seems Harsh

That Seems Harsh

I looked up the word harsh in my dictionary. The first definition was more about experiencing something that was tough on the senses like walking out of a dark room into the “harsh” sunlight. The second was more of a relational meaning. That one said that harsh is saying or doing something “cruel or severe”. I want to deal with that second one in this month’s blog.

Last month I attended the annual virtual conference for my professional organization. I do this to get continuing education hours to renew my license. Luckily, most of the sessions are interesting enough and almost always there is at least one that is extraordinary. That was true again this year in a session led by therapist Terry Real. Terry Real is the sort of practitioner that other therapists get quiet and listen to when he starts to talk. His whole presentation was great and I am still working through much of what he discussed and how I might begin to apply it in my work. But there was also a nugget that he threw out in the middle of the discussion that has stuck in my head. It was such a simple and even obvious thing that it should not have hit so hard, but it did. What he said was this. “There is no redeeming value in harshness.”

The larger topic was in part about relational responses that were learned or developed when the person was young and adapting to life circumstances. But as the child got older instead of continuing to adapt into new and more functional “wise adult” ways of responding, the old ways jump to the surface when those emotional buttons are pushed. Kind of makes sense, doesn’t it? Hence, that is when we hear someone responding to another person with whom they are in relationship in a sometimes harsh manner.

We all do it from time to time. Right trigger in the wrong moment and that cruel and severe response flies out of our mouths even on people we love dearly. We might even make the case that if what they said hurt us, our response was justified. I believe, however, that Mr. Real is on target with his comment. There is NO redeeming value in harshness if redeeming means something that helps, heals, nurtures, improves, or advances your relationship with that person. If you want to hurt or damage them, then have at it and deliver your most harsh reply. But if you want to grow with them and promote connection with them, then let the harsh stuff go. Don’t use it and if you do, recognize it and apologize for it right away.