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I had a great email conversation with a therapist friend about hurt feelings and I want to share some of our thoughts. Of course, we both suffer the same slings and arrows that our clients do—feeling left out, undervalued, invalidated, blamed, blind-sided, rejected, abandoned and more. We talked about things like having a doozy of a blow-out with a decades’ old friend and what it’s like to manage feelings in a dysfunctional family.
We agreed that, when it comes to emotions, it’s best to experience what’s going on inside you and let nature take its course. Naturally, this isn’t the best path when your perceived hurt is based on being in recall and perceiving insult when none was intended. That is an entirely different animal. What we were discussing is when someone does something intentionally or unintentionally that hurts you.
Another shared viewpoint—though some might disagree—it’s not helpful in the long run to set goals for our feelings. To say, for example, you want to or (worse, should) forgive someone. Forgiveness comes, or doesn’t come, from sitting with feelings and exploring your hurt and pain and the wounding another person might be experiencing. Nor is forgiveness a permanent state. Sometimes you feel compassion for a person who hurt you and fall into a momentary state of forgiveness, then along comes the grudge you’ve been holding to snatch it away. Remember, we often cover hurt or fear with anger.
In thinking about feeling hurt, I go back to the purpose of emotions: to get you to do something to move toward safety or pleasure and survival. They’re bulletins, signals, nudges, reminders. Questions I (try to remember to) ask myself when I feel hurt include: Did someone intentionally try to cause me pain or simply lose their bearings for a moment? Is this characteristic of them or not? Were they feeling threatened so that lashing out at me was a defensive tactic? Do they regret their behavior, and did they offer a heartfelt apology and clear understanding of how hurtful they were?
Here’s the most important question: Is this behavior a pattern? Does someone hurt me frequently? If so, I distance myself or end the relationship. If someone is hurting me frequently, why would I want to have them in my life? Alternately, if unkind behavior is atypical, it’s useful to ask myself how valuable this person is to me and if their behavior is forgivable. Often it is and it becomes part of our shared history.
We cannot avoid feeling hurt if we want to connect with and love people. We can only view our hurt honestly and reflectively and, hopefully, it will teach us something we need to know about ourselves or other people.
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