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Mature Hurt


There’s a world of difference between the emotional hurt of a child and that of an adult. Because the human brain doesn’t fully develop until the late 20s, children and adolescents have only partially formed brains whose final part is our frontal lobes which are responsible for cognitive functions such as problem solving, memory and judgment. Prior to that, we rely mostly on emotions to assess and react to situations.

Think about the nearly unbearable hurt and pain you felt as a child. No matter how wonderful and functional your childhood was, you suffered. Maybe you got lost in a department store at age 5, frantic to find your parents. Or at age 9 you listened to them screaming at each other night after night and were terrified they’d hurt each other and you’d end up alone. Or at 16 Dad left you and mom and you were sure it was your fault because you’d had a fight with him the night before. 

It's painful to recall the emotional suffering of youth because so many hurts were firsts. The first time your mother spanked you or your grandfather yelled at you until you were in tears. The first time a friend dropped you or your boyfriend or girlfriend dumped you for someone else. And all the other hurtful firsts: being left out of games or not invited to parties, having friends move away and feeling bereft, or having a creepy stranger touch you where they weren’t supposed to.

The worst pain we ever have is as children due in part to undeveloped brains and lack of understanding of and context for our suffering. We’re sure no one else hurts like we do and that we’ll never recover. Worse, if you weren’t effectively comforted when you suffered, pain deepened and lingered, making it even more excruciating and indelible.

Fast forward to adulthood when emotional pain is recurrent because, well, such is life, even for the most fortunate. We’ve survived being left alone and left out, insulted and rejected, feeling lost and being lost. But now, with our fully formed brains we can make better choices and avoid some pain. We don’t have to cry alone, but can text friends and let them ease our hurt. We can soothe our own hurt with adult abilities like compassionate self-talk. Moreover, we can understand that our suffering is often not our fault and that awful things happen to everyone because that’s the way of the world. 

When you hurt now, acknowledge but don’t dwell on it. Put it into perspective and recognize that you’re not alone and will get over it. Build your internal and external resources and reassure yourself that you’ve suffered worse and your resilience will pull you through. Remind yourself that you can handle adult hurt and you’ll be able to do so.