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Hurt and Harm

Originally published on October 24, 2019


Happy Thursday!

Anyone who knows me knows that I listen to a lot of audiobooks.  I love how I can “read” a book and drive or fold laundry or run.  I borrow the books digitally from the library using my Overdrive App.  (On an aside, if you’ve never done this before, it’s life-changing and I’m glad to show you how to do it).

By any means, I was recently listening to a book by Dr. Henry Cloud called Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No.  In the book Cloud distinguishes the difference between the feelings of (a) hurt and (b) harm.  The way that he did it made me think about these feelings like I never had before.  I’m wondering how you would distinguish between these two feelings in your own words? 

Cloud says that harm is when we behave in ways that are damaging in the long-term even if in the short-term the behavior feels good.  On the other hand, hurt is the short-term feeling of discomfort in order to avoid long-term harm.  He uses the analogy of eating candy and getting a cavity:


“Did the dentist hurt you when he drilled your tooth to remove the cavity?”


“Yes.”


“Did he harm you?”


“No, he made me feel better.”


“Hurt and harm are different,” I pointed out. “When you ate the sugar that gave you the cavity, did that hurt?”


“No, it tasted good,” he said, with a smile that told me he was catching on.


“Did it harm you?”


“Yes.”


“That’s my point. Things can hurt and not harm us. In fact they can even be good for us. And things that feel good can be very harmful to us.”

This reminds me of things like physical exercise.  Muscle growth is actually a function of repairing the tissue that was damaged.  In fact, you cannot grow muscles without first hurting them.  As explained in an article by John Leyva, “How Do Muscles Grow? The Science Behind Muscle Growth


After you workout, your body repairs or replaces damaged muscle fibers through a cellular process where it fuses muscle fibers together to form new muscle protein strands or myofibrils. These repaired myofibrils increase in thickness and number to create muscle hypertrophy (growth). Muscle growth occurs whenever the rate of muscle protein synthesis is greater than the rate of muscle protein breakdown. This adaption, however, does not happen while you actually lift the weights. Instead, it occurs while you rest.

This explains why people feel sore after doing new or different physical activity.  The hurt that occurred is not harmful even if it is temporarily uncomfortable.  Yet, sitting on the couch rather than working out is harmful even if it doesn’t hurt—in fact, it can even feel good in the moment.

I could rattle off a slew of hurts that don’t cause harm…childbirth, your first break-up, etc.  I could also rattle off a list of harms that may not be initially painful...not paying off the full credit card balance, having a second helping of dinner, etc.  I’m not sharing this to suggest anything explicitly about specific behaviors personally or professionally.  I’m simply sharing to say that this concept of hurt versus harm was one that I had not previously thought of in this way and it really caused my wheels to turn and I thought it might do the same for you.  Please let me know what your thoughts are and if you think this might be something to share with your students.


~Heather

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