It happens pretty much all the time: a small jabbing comment, a joke at our expense amidst a group of old friends, a line of sarcasm, a sneering assessment, a provocative comment on the Internet.
These things hurt a lot, more than we're ever allowed to really admit.
In the privacy of our minds, we search for explanations, but anything satisfying and soothing is usually hard to come by, which is left a puzzle at the casual inhumanity that circulates all around us and suspect that perhaps it's we who are somewhere deep down o blame for falling victim to it.
Here is what we should actually think, a truth as basic as it is inviolable.
Other people have been nasty because they are in pain.
The only reason they have hurt us is because they are somewhere deep inside hurting themselves.
They've been catty and derogatory and foul because they are not well.
However outwardly confident they may look, however virile and robust they may appear, their actions are all the evidence we need that they cannot in truth be in a good place.
No one solid would ever need to do this.
The thought is empowering because nastiness so readily humiliates and reduces us.
It turns us into the small damaged party.
Without meaning to, we begin to imagine our bully as potent and even somehow impressive.
Their vindictiveness demeans us.
But the psychological explanation of evil at once reverses the power dynamic.
It's you who has no need to belittle, who is in fact a larger, steelier, more forceful party.
You, who feel so defenseless, who is all along actually in power.
The thought restores justice.
It promises that the guilty party has after all been punished along the way.
You might not have been able to write the scales personally.
They left the room already or kept the conversation flowing too fast for you to protest, and in any case, you're not a sort to make a fuss.
But, a kind of punishment has been delivered cosmically already.
Somewhere behind the scenes, their suffering of which their needs to inflict suffering on others is simply incontrovertible evidence, is all you need to know that they have been served their just desserts.
You move from being a victim of crime to being an audience to an abstract form of justice.
They may not be apologizing to you, but they haven't escaped freely either.
Their sulfur is proof they are paying a heavy price.
This isn't merely a pleasant story.
A person who feels at ease with themselves can have no need to distress others.
We don't have the energy to be cruel unless and until we are in inner torment.
Along the way, the theory gives hints at how we might when we're recovered from the blow deal with those who dealt it.
The temptation is to get stern and cruel back, but the only way to diminish the vicious cycle of hate is of course to address its origins, which lie in suffering.
There is no point punching back.
We must as the old prophets always told us: learn to look upon our enemies with sorrow, pity, and, when we can manage it a forgiving kind of love.