Hurt People Hurt People

Rick Warren? Will Bowen? Yehuda Berg? Charles Eads? Oprah Winfrey? Helen Boyd? Doug Manning? Emotions Anonymous? Barbara Johnson? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: People who have been hurt or damaged in life sometimes respond by striking out and hurting the people who are around them. A concise adage expresses this viewpoint:

Hurt people hurt people.

This statement been ascribed to pastor Rick Warren, minister Will Bowen, and rabbi Yehuda Berg who are all bestselling authors. Would you please explore this topic?

Quote Investigator: These three influential religious figures have all employed the saying, but only after it was circulating.

The earliest match located by QI appeared in an Amarillo, Texas newspaper in 1959. A columnist described a meeting of the Parent Teacher Association held at a local Junior High. One of the speakers was named Charles Eads. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

Charles claimed the teacher’s job is to take 25 or 30 live wires and make sure they are well grounded. And he said the human anatomy is a most peculiar mechanism. If you pat it on the back it often makes the head swell.

Then he made a statement that might give pause to a student of psychology. It’s worded peculiarly. The statement is, “Hurt people hurt people.” So, maybe before I wound someone next time, I’ll stop and think if it’s because I’ve been hurt, myself.

It is possible that Charles Eads coined the saying; alternatively, he was simply repeating a phrase he had heard previously.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

In 1980 “The Daily Oklahoman” of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma printed a piece about a support group designed to improve the thoughtfulness and capabilities of parents. Psychologist Helen Boyd was the director of the group called Parents Assistance: 2

“Hurt people hurt people,” said Boyd, noting many of the parents themselves were abused children. Others just did not understand the duties of child care.

In 1985 Doug Manning published “Comforting Those Who Grieve: A Guide for Helping Others”. Manning spoke at the funeral of a young person who had died in prison: 3

Who knows what fires burned within him? Who knows the hurts that were there? Who knows the causes? I have always felt that hurt people hurt people. God alone knows the whole story. He alone can pass judgment.

In 1987 a collection of daily meditations and directives titled “Today” was published by the group Emotions Anonymous, and the adage was included: 4

MEDITATION FOR TODAY
Help me accept that I am hurting. Help me to be gentle with myself and to reach out.

TODAY I WILL REMEMBER
Part of growth is realizing that hurt people, hurt people. I will apply this to myself.

In 1990 popular megachurch pastor Rick Warren published “The Power To Change Your Life” which included the following: 5

It’s easier to understand someone else when we walk a mile in their moccasins, as the old saying goes. Here is a fact of life: Hurt people hurt people. If someone is hurting you, he’s acting this way because he is hurting. Hurt people hurt others. What we need to do is look beyond people’s faults and see their needs. Then we can learn to love.

In 1992 “Splashes of Joy in the Cesspools of Life” by Barbara Johnson used the adage while discussing the unhappiness of a mother with the behavior of her son: 6

I believe that in cases like this there is a phrase that applies:
HURT PEOPLE HURT PEOPLE.
This mother’s son was hurting inside, and he was striking out, wanting to hurt someone else, which is typical.

In 2009 minister Will Bowen published “Complaint Free Relationships: How To Positively Transform Your Personal, Work, and Love Relationships”. He advised separation from destructive people: 7

People who hurt others are hurting people. Hurt people hurt people. We are not being judgmental by separating ourselves from such people. But we should do so with compassion.

In November 2009 a tweet from @priM0E attributed the saying to talk show host and entrepreneur Oprah Winfrey: 8

“Hurt People…..hurt people”– Oprah

On February 27, 2011 a collection of tweets appeared that QI hypothesizes are traceable to a single text from rabbi Yehuda Berg, the former co-director of the Kabbalah Centre International. For example, the following tweet from @LinellaB credited “Y. Berg”. Abbreviations were used to compress the message: 9

Meet anger with sympathy, contempt w/ compassion, cruelty w/ kindness.Greet grimaces w/ smiles.Forgive & forget about finding fault~Y. Berg

An overlapping tweet from @Jolitabrilliant contained the phrase “Break the chain today”: 10

Break the chain today. Meet anger with sympathy, contempt with compassion, cruelty with kindness. Forgive and forget about finding fault.

A tweet from @lluvzz contained the adage and also the phrase “Break the chain today”, but it did not credit anyone: 11

Hurt people hurt people.. That’s how pain patterns gets passed on.. generation after generation after generation.. Break the chain today.. ღ

A blog post at the website “under the blue door” dated November 30, 2012 credited the following longer passage to Yehuda Berg: 12

Hurt people hurt people. That’s how pain patterns gets passed on, generation after generation after generation. Break the chain today. Meet anger with sympathy, contempt with compassion, cruelty with kindness. Greet grimaces with smiles. Forgive and forget about finding fault. Love is the weapon of the future.” — Yehuda Berg

On August 22, 2013 @yehudaberg directly tweeted the expression under examination: 13

If someone hurt you, it is probably because they were once hurt. Hurt people hurt people.

In conclusion, the earliest citation in 1959 indicates that Charles Eads spoke the saying during a lecture. QI does not know whether he coined it. During subsequent decades the expression was used by many other people including Rick Warren, Will Bowen, and Yehuda Berg.

Image Notes: Illustration of an adhesive bandage from Clker-Free-Vector-Images at Pixabay. Image has been resized and retouched.

(Great thanks to Rick D. S. Marshall, Marcus Engel, Matthew Phelan, and Forrest Wickman whose inquiries led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration. Marshall pointed to the Yehuda Berg attributions and others. Phelan pointed to the 1992 citation and others.)

Notes:

  1. 1959 February 26, Amarillo Globe-Times, Polk Street Professor, Quote Page 30, Column 1, Amarillo, Texas. (Newspapers_com)
  2. 1980 August 8, The Daily Oklahoman, Potential Child Abusers Meet: Become Better Parents Goal of Members by Nancy Mathis (Staff Writer), Quote Page S22, Column 7, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. (Newspapers_com)
  3. 1985 Copyright, Comforting Those Who Grieve: A Guide for Helping Others by Doug Manning, Chapter 7: The Funeral As an Affirmation of Life, Quote Page 39, Harper & Row, San Francisco, California. (Verified with scans)
  4. 1987 Copyright (Fourth Printing 1994), Today by Emotions Anonymous®, Date: April 22, Unnumbered Page, Published by Emotions Anonymous®, St. Paul, Minnesota. (Verified with scans)
  5. 1990, The Power To Change Your Life by Rick Warren, Chapter 3: Becoming a More Loving Person, Quote Page 35, Chariot Victor Publishing: A Division of Cook Communications, Colorado Springs, Colorado. (Verified with scans)
  6. 1992, Splashes of Joy in the Cesspools of Life by Barbara Johnson, Chapter 4: Wherever I Go, There I Am, Quote Page 73, Word Publishing, Dallas, Texas. (Verified with scans)
  7. 2009, Complaint Free Relationships: How To Positively Transform Your Personal, Work, and Love Relationships by Will Bowen, Chapter 1: Relating in Relationships, Quote Page 29, Doubleday, New York. (Verified with scans)
  8. Tweet, From: moe✨ @priM0E, Time: 11:14 AM, Date: November 18, 2009, Text: “Hurt People…..hurt people”- Oprah. (Accessed on twitter.com on September 15, 2019) link
  9. Tweet, From: Linella Breckenridge @LinellaB, Time: 2:06 PM, Date: February 27, 2011, Text: Meet anger with sympathy, contempt w/ compassion, cruelty w/ kindness.Greet grimaces w/ smiles.Forgive & forget about finding fault~Y. Berg. (Accessed on twitter.com on September 15, 2019) link
  10. Tweet, From: Jolita Brilliant @Jolitabrilliant, Time: 6:03 AM, Date: February 27, 2011, Text: Break the chain today. Meet anger with sympathy, contempt with compassion, cruelty with kindness. Forgive and forget. about finding fault. (Accessed on twitter.com on September 15, 2019) link
  11. Tweet, From: lori o @lluvzz, Time: 6:15 PM, Date: February 27, 2011, Text: Hurt people hurt people.. That’s how pain patterns gets passed on.. generation after generation after generation.. Break the chain today.. ღ (Accessed on twitter.com on September 15, 2019) link
  12. Website: under the blue door: Seek the truth and open your heart. It will set you free, Article title: Untitled, Category: General Quotes, Date on website: November 30, 2012 , Wayback Machine snapshot date: December 18, 2013,Website description: A blog of quotations, pictures, and short expository items. (Accessed underthebluedoor.org on February 4, 2014) link
  13. Tweet, From: Yehuda Berg @yehudaberg (Verified twitter user), Time: 1:15 AM, Date: August 22, 2013, Text: If someone hurt you, it is probably because they were once hurt. Hurt people hurt people. (Accessed on twitter.com on September 15, 2019) link