We all end up feeling hurt at some point and for a lot of us we may still feel hurt years later and may have done some things we regret because of how we feel. So we know it is painful, hard to deal with, and can have immediate or long lasting consequences, but very few (if any) have had any education on what this actually means and what to do about these hurt feelings. Knowing these things can help you feel better, improve your relationships, and ultimately help you take steps to developing emotional maturity.
Feeling hurt is the result of someone treating you as less than you believe you deserve or a belief that someone values their relationship with you less than you desire. It can lead to negative thoughts and feelings about yourself, lead you to do things that can damage relationships, and has links to physical pain. Overcoming feeling hurt requires emotional honesty to own up to how you feel, courage to talk about how you feel, and a commitment to ensuring you respect yourself and others respect you.
What does it mean to feel hurt?
In one academic study reported in this book more than 160 people were asked to describe a situation where their feelings were hurt and what happened afterward. Most people said something very similar: not being chosen as a group or team member, being dumped by a romantic partner, and being fired from their job.
Researchers have concluded that there are 2 forms of being hurt: Being treated as less than you believe you deserve and believing someone values their relationship with you less than you desire. Let’s look at these 2 different forms.
Being treated badly
We all have a view of ourselves and how we believe we should be treated. For most people, they believe that they should be treated with respect. But what that actually means can be different depending on the person and the context.
However, if someone treats you in a way that is less than what you expect, you will feel badly treated, demeaned, or disrespected. For many of these situations the result will be feeling hurt.
This could result from being criticised, mocked, taken for granted, shamed, or humiliated.
A discrepancy in value of relationships
As we enter a relationship, romantic ones or otherwise, we hold and develop certain ideas about the value of that relationship. We want the other person to value the relationship as much, or even more (if we are being unreasonable!), than we do.
If someone gives you evidence to suggest that they do not value the relationship as much as you want them to, then we will likely feel hurt.
This could be explicit rejection, such as being told ‘I don’t want to live with you anymore’, ‘you’re not invited to my party’, you’re fired’, ‘I don’t want to be your friend’, ‘get out of my class’, or ‘I never want to see you again’.
Or it could be implicit rejection, which relates to feeling rejected or ignored, such as when a person does not return your call, or when a group of friends do not look happy when you arrive.
What are the consequences of feeling hurt?
Feeling hurt is just a feeling. You don’t have to do anything as a result of feeling hurt but if you do not have awareness of how you feel and know how to deal with these feelings then feeling hurt can become a problem.
It can lead you to 2 specific problematic situations: blaming and shaming the self or blaming and shaming others.
Blaming and shaming the self
By believing that you have not been treated as you should or that your relationships are not as valued by others as you would like can lead to looking for reasons why. Internalising the why is one set of reasons.
Internalising is the process by which a person places the responsibility for a situation on themselves.
So if you feel demeaned or disrespected, you can internalise those situations to say that you deserved it. This can lead to feelings of shame for not being good enough or unlikeable, or worse, unloveable.
We don’t like to talk about shame and don’t always label our experience as shame but the feelings of inadequacy and inferiority come easily for many and it doesn’t take much for someone else to treat you badly to end up in that place. For an in depth look at these check this article here.
Blaming and shaming others
Externalising is the other way we look for why we feel hurt - following being treated in what you perceive as a disrespectful manner.
Externalising is the process by which a person places the responsibility for a situation on others.
So externalising after feeling demeaned and disrespected leads to placing the blame on others. This doesn’t necessarily mean you are shaming anyone but it certainly means you believe the problem is someone else, the way they see things, or what they have done.
Shaming is a purposeful attempt to make someone feel bad about themselves. It is a way of directing attention away from yourself and punishing someone else.
You will certainly have seen it but you may have done it yourself too. You may have said mean and hurtful things when you have felt betrayed, mocked, or taken for granted. This might take the pain away from feeling hurt through anger but it never results in feeling better. As they say: ‘hurt people hurt people’.
Being able to deal with anger is a key skill when feeling hurt so you can still improve your relationships and learn from the experience - see this post here for more details.
What can you do about your hurt feelings?
There is the quick fix and then there is the more challenging, but more meaningful and ultimately more enlightening, path to dealing with your hurt feelings.
Let’s look at the quick fix first.
Awareness of the hurt
We are not always aware that we feel hurt. We may feel angry, or annoyed, or frustrated, for example. These feelings are surface level emotions in that they are what you can feel there and then and can easily name. They are a piece of the puzzle but they are not the whole story.
We hold pain and suffering below the surface precisely because it is hard to deal with and we live in a culture that does not allow for conversations about pain and suffering easily. We have been taught it is more acceptable to be annoyed and angry, and perhaps even to act out our anger, than to be open about our pain. We have been taught to bury our hurt.
Of course, not everyone buries their hurt. If you are reading this then you are probably one of those that has a level of awareness about what you feel hurt about - or you wouldn’t be here!
Having awareness is the first step in processing and resolving feelings of hurt. It opens up possibilities to understand your anger, frustration, annoyance or whatever emotions surfaced first.
Honesty about the hurt
Being honest about how you feel is a key part to deep awareness. It is one thing to be aware of how hurt you feel but quite another to be aware of the real source of the pain.
I worked with a woman a number of years back now that came to see me because she was angry with her child’s school. She felt they were not taking adequate care of her son. She was aware of how she felt in school and that she didn’t want her son to feel the same thing. This was her surface level awareness.
We spent a number of sessions talking about what she was trying to protect her son from when she got that aha moment - that is the moment when things drop into place and you see the situation anew.
She had experienced physical and emotional neglect as a child and she was subconsciously seeking to address her hurt feelings through her son. If she could protect him then somehow she would feel less hurt - except she didn’t. And he didn’t need protecting like she did so her actions came over as overbearing and inappropriate to others.
It was only by being honest about her experience that she was able to deepen her awareness and give her son what he needed in the present and talk to others free from the filter of her past. Thankfully, she was able to continue to work on herself and improve her relationships with her son, partner, and those she interacted with.
Being courageous to face your hurt opens doors to new possibilities.
Talking about the hurt
You cannot resolve hidden hurt by talking to yourself. Your mind cannot unmesh itself! Talking is the method through which you come to understand your own mind and emotions. If you are being honest with yourself, once you start talking you can spot patterns, problems, contradictions, and other issues that are causing blockages to emotional intimacy in your relationships and taking the steps to doing what you want in your life.
But you cannot just talk to just anyone. I like Brene Brown’s idea that people have to earn the right to hear your story. For those that you trust - that is those who create a sense of emotional safety (that you won’t be blamed and shamed for saying what you have done or how you feel) - talking is a form of cure if you are prepared to be honest with yourself.
Repairing the hurt
Repairing the hurt has two components: holding people to account and owning your own part in the situation.
You are not ready to talk to the person who has hurt you unless you have got some awareness of your own hurt and started to be honest about why it really hurts. Once you have started this process you are ready to hold the person to account.
This means being able to communicate to the other person how you feel, why you feel like that, and how their actions (or inactions) contributed to this.
If you don’t have self-awareness of what you are bringing to the situation and aren’t being honest with yourself about the depth of your feelings then it will likely be experienced as blaming and possibly shaming to them.
Secondly, being able to own your part in the process, to be open about what you bring and why you feel the way you do - or even how you have contributed to the situation playing out as it did - allows the other person to better understand how their actions led to you feeling hurt.
In the example I gave above, the woman was able to be open with the school teachers, whom she had had a lot of conflict with since her son started school, and it transformed their relationship. The head teacher began to see there was an issue that they needed to do something about but the conflict with his mother had just been eclipsing it. The mother then felt heard. The school staff felt respected and they both knew where each other was coming from in a much deeper way.
But being open and honest about how you feel will more likely give the other person space to own their part.
And let’s look at the harder process of dealing with hurt
We feel hurt because our ego is bruised. We are not treated as we feel she should. Someone else does not act in a way that respects our relationship. In both instances it is our ego that is damaged - we want to keep our idea of who we are and how we relate to others in a particular way.
If we are acting from a position of self-protection - or rather maintenance - then we are not opening the possibilities for growth. Emotional growth, that which leads to emotional maturity, starts with getting behind our defenses.
We defend ourselves from hurt, pain, and suffering because these are hard to deal with. But it is through our hurt, pain, and suffering that we come to truly know ourselves and learn that the source of our self-worth is not in our relationships or how others see us. It is in the inherent worthiness of being a human being and a commitment to a purpose higher than yourself.
From that position, your hurt feelings have a different context that are easier to deal with, developing awareness and being honest with yourself about your feelings have less weight, and so the conversation with the person who has hurt you takes on less importance, i.e. it becomes easier to have!
But to get to this position, you have to do some work on yourself and face your fears and shame. The other side is a sense of confidence in who you really are and choices over what to do about how you feel. This might sound simple but it can be life changing, as one person who did one of our courses said:
I can honestly say they were transformational. Jean epitomizes the definition of love in supporting people's well-being. There is something about a group of people getting together supported by somebody so competent that I have yet to experience another course that even gets close to the depth these courses reach in supporting my personal growth and development to be more me than the conditioned person I was before. I am forever in her debt.
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