Untangled: Don’t Pass that Hot Potato
By Maram Behairy
For so many conflicts, I see the inability of individuals to cool the hot potato thrown at them. By hot potato, I mean painful behaviors of others.
The instinctive thing to do is to throw the hot potato. Displace the pain by passing it to someone else. Sometimes we give it right back to the person who harmed us. Think of a time someone said something that hurt you. Did you shoot back the pain?
However, these injuries continue to produce pain, a lifetime of it. This stored pain impacts every other relationship. It continues on, even after a trauma has long passed. We lose trust in others. We become more defensive in an attempt to protect ourselves. Our hearts harden a bit.
Why is it that victims of trauma often become the perpetrators of the same trauma upon others?
Think of abused children who become abusive parents. Think of oppressed women who become oppressive mother-in-laws. Think of mistreated employees who become tyrant managers.
The way I see it, if we can learn to cool the hot potatoes thrown our way and teach our kids these skills, maybe we can see a future of less trauma. The goal is to be able to process our own pain and interact in ways that are honoring of ourselves and others.
So, how can a person transform hot potatoes instead of passing them along?
- Be Curious
First, pause. Allow yourself a moment.
Second, feel the pain. Trust that you won’t break. You won’t die from an emotion. Breathe into it. Cry. Move. Allow.
Third, be curious about what you are experiencing. Try to name it. Are you sad? Are you angry? Why? Ask yourself why you are in pain.
Fourth, begin to understand. Is this a repeat occurrence? Maybe you have a sensitivity around something, which would make benign actions seem egregious. Be honest with yourself. Maybe there really is a major injustice occurring against you, which requires action.
Finally, decide on a course of action that is honoring of yourself. It could be that you do some personal work on a sensitivity from prior hurts. Or maybe some introspection on how you hurt others is needed. It may be that you communicate a need to a loved one. Or protect yourself from a specific person.
The point is, take an action to resolve the problem at its source. Do not succumb to revenge or try and deny pain. This will only escalate conflict and pass the hot potato to countless others throughout your lifetime.
وعنه قال: قال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم : “من أحب أن يزحزح عن النار، ويدخل الجنة، فلتأته منيته وهو يؤمن بالله واليوم الآخر، وليأتِ إلى الناس الذي يحب أن يؤتى إليه” ((رواه مسلم)). وهو بعض حديث طويل سبق في باب طاعة ولاة الأمور.
‘Abdullah bin ‘Amr bin Al-‘As (May Allah be pleased with them) said:
The Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said, “He who desires to be rescued from the fire of Hell and to enter Jannah, should die in a state of complete belief in Allah and the Last Day, and should do unto others what he wishes to be done unto him.” [Muslim].
Riyad as-Salihin 1566
Chapter 268: Prohibition of Maligning, Book 17: The Book of the Prohibited actions: https://sunnah.com/riyadussalihin:1566
About the Author:
Maram Behairy is a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction and heads the writers’ group of South Florida Muslim Federation
‘I like to understand the bigger picture, deeper reasons, and nuanced connections. I have always been more interested in the roots under the ground than the fruit above. I complicate and explore in order to find the simple, deep truths. I live those with conviction. My dream is to use my gift for words to inspire and guide others to live with purpose and greater ease. So as I experiment on myself, I will share what I learn along the way. My roles in life (by default my areas of exploration) include being a Muslim, woman, wife, mother, writer, and youth mentor.’
Have a question for the author or want to reach her? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.