• Reflective Resources

H is for hurt feelings

“Nobody can hurt me without my permission.” is a quote from Mahatma Gandhi that is often bandied around and which does contains a lot of power if taken in a certain way, but being impervious to hurt is easier said than done.


The quote offers us the opportunity to shift our perspective; to see things from another angle, to rationalise our feelings enabling us to work around conflicts, difficulties and problems without taking things personally but we are all humans however and it requires practice to reach a state of mind which others cannot disturb and the reality is that we are all likely to feel hurt at times and feel our energy depleted as we ruminate over things.


Xīn rú zhǐ shuǐ (心如止水) pronounced shin-roo-jrr-shway is a Chinese phrase meaning ‘a mind like still water; tranquillity; to be at peace with oneself’ and is an ideal state in which to aim to be.


But what does to be at peace with yourself mean?


“Imagine you are a lake

the surface of the lake changes according to weather; wind, rain etc

but the depth of the lake

remains always undisturbed

The depth of the lake is your inner state

not dependent on external things”

Eckhart Tolle


People at peace with themselves can still have bad days and can be affected negatively by something, over think and feel afraid, worried or overwhelmed at times but they know that they are experiencing a temporary feeling and have learned to create healthy habits based on personal values and use techniques to defuse conditioned responses (knee-jerk reactions) knowing that we are not our emotions or the things that happen to us.


Being at peace is about accepting life as it unfolds without clinging, fear, judgement or resistance. It’s about not allowing yourself to become ruffled but instead being able to draw from a well of inner calm in the midst of chaos.


"Peace is the result of retraining your mind to process life as it is, rather than as you think it should be.” Wayne Dyer


What does it mean to have hurt feelings?


Hurt feelings can arise because of an unhappiness or sadness caused by someone's words or actions or lack of them.


Hurt involving friends and families has sometimes been described as social pain.


“Social pain is a general term describing the immediate, unpleasant emotional state elicited by social disconnection” (MacDonald & Leary, 2005).


Social pain arises in response to events that cause the person feeling hurt to interpret others' actions as devaluing their relationship (Leary & Springer, 2001).


Why do we feel hurt?


“It hurts because it matters.” John Green


If we feel hurt it is a signal that things matter to us. If we met a stranger we liked and then never saw them again we wouldn’t really be affected or feel hurt because we haven’t invested emotionally in the relationship. If, however, we meet someone we like and spend time getting to know them and then they do (or don’t do), say (or don’t say) something that hurts us or suddenly ‘ghost us’ our initial reaction is likely to be one of pain and confusion.


We have all experienced hurt. “To hurt is as human as to breathe.” J K Rowling


We are all perfectly imperfect humans and as such we all have our faults and flaws. When we connect with others, it is not surprising therefore that we can sometimes experience feelings of hurt and trigger similar reactions in others. This is normal – no one is perfect. It is how we deal with these feelings however that will decide how we and others will continue to feel and will help define our character, resilience and determine the quality of the relationships that we continue to have.


Relationships go through many stages and changes. Sometimes things go pear shaped through assumptions, misunderstandings and lack of communication. Feelings of hurt are usually caused because of expectations. Expectations of people responding in a certain way, of things developing positively or a hope that things will continue or turn out in a certain way in the future and when things don’t go as planned then disappointment, resentment and hurt can be the result.


Research suggests that people’s explanations for their hurt feelings can influence how they feel and how they respond to others. Relational satisfaction and self-esteem were linked to the reasons people felt hurt.


Individuals’ perceptions about the causes of their hurt feelings are also associated with the intensity of their feelings, their responses to being hurt, and their tendency to distance themselves from the person who hurt them.


Negative ways of dealing with hurt


When someone hurts us deliberately or inadvertently, technology aids and abets in dealing with the hurt in an unhealthy manner through a variety of ways.


Ghosting is an extreme way to end relationships with others by abruptly ending communication with someone without explanation. When someone ghosts you, they evaporate into thin air – usually justifying it because they want to end the relationship without any drama or actual confrontation. It manifests by ignoring calls or texts, ‘unfriending’ or ‘unfollowing’ someone and basically disappearing from their life. Although it is an easy option for the person who ‘ghosts’, it is associated with negative mental health effects on the person on the receiving end, and has been described by some mental health professionals as a passive-aggressive form of emotional abuse or cruelty.


Orbiting is a bit like poking a wasps nest rather than leaving it alone. After someone has broken of all obvious meaningful relationship with you they still engage with you, often through interactions via social media e.g. leaving a like or an emoji for example but without communicating directly beyond that.


A slightly less dramatic way of opting out of a relationship but still strongly linked to ghosting and can be very hurtful is ‘breadcrumbing’ which is characterised, just like in the story of Hansel and Gretel, by a person stringing someone along with a sparse ‘trail’ of continued communication but through minimalist interactions and never fully committing to any further plans or face-to-face engagement. i.e. responding with the bare minimum to maintain a façade of politeness or to be able to justify their actions to themselves. People who ‘breadcrumb’ offer a surface-level communication but it lacks depth, vulnerability, details about their life and any commitment which can cause hurt and confusion through giving false hope of a fully engaged relationship and then dashing it.


Another way of creating an erratic relationship is something described as submarining – ie. disappearing and then resurfacing after a long period of time. Sometimes people have genuine reasons for disappearing, for long periods of time, but at other times, people resurface when they are bored or want to find out information, or have a problem that you might be able to help them with, or they want you to do something for them etc and don’t really desire any form of real long-term relationship


There also exists a tempered slightly more ‘friendly’ version of ghosting named Caspering after the cartoon ghost. Caspering is about clearly communicating your lack of desire to continue a relationship but doing it in a more direct way and by trying to be respectful, showing courtesy etc Although on the one hand it is being clear on the other it often means that one is polite but vague. . E.G. “It was nice meeting you. I enjoyed the time spent with you. I wish you well in the future” ie finishing with a phrase that implies that you will not be having any further contact despite starting the communication positively. Sometimes this is natural e.g. when you have bumped into someone or crossed paths briefly but at other times when you have developed a deeper level of friendship to suddenly ‘wish them well’ without any explanation can be cruel.


The trouble with all these methods is that they are not really honest or kind. We may say to ourselves that we don’t want to give offence or hurt someone by explaining why we don’t want to continue the connection but we will still hurt them anyway because we leave them confused as to why we have withdrawn contact.


A healthier approach for dealing with hurt


We have all felt hurt or have hurt someone else. With this in mind it is useful to tailor our approach to responding to feelings of hurt in a way that reflects how we would like to be treated.


When we spend time reflecting on our reactions then it is often possible to defuse our emotions and think more rationally allowing us to understand why we are feeling a sense of hurt. It helps to ask questions to discover the source of our feelings. i.e. Have we felt this way before? Are we responding to the present or to something from our past? Are we projecting psat experiences on others?


Being aware of other people’s intentions by considering what the other person is going through and trying to see it from their point of view can also be enlightening. i.e. Is the other person trying to hurt you or are they dealing with their own issues? It is useful to ask whether you could be making assumptions and misinterpreting someone's actions Is there another way I could read this situation?


Once we can identify what is going on and why we are experiencing feelings of hurt, we can then make the choice to either explain and communicate, in a clear and concise manner why we are feeling aggrieved, ask questions etc or simply accept and acknowledge the hurt, any overthinking on our part and identify where we need to work on our own issues (sharing this with the other person or not as one sees fit).


“One of the most courageous decision you’ll ever make is to finally let go of what is hurting your heart and soul.” Brigitte Nicole


Rather than bottling up feelings of hurt or cutting people out of our lives, it is a healthier response to clearly identify how we are feeling and where appropriate communicate this in order to give the other person an opportunity to redress the situation rather than have no idea why there has been a sudden shift of energy etc or being totally unaware that they are causing pain. By being able to face our emotions rather than hide from them, having difficult conversations where necessary, it empowers us to have better relationships in the future. The important thing to remember in all communications is to do so courteously and compassionately.


Sample phrases that might be useful when trying to resolve issues of hurt:


"You've been a great friend to me for many weeks/months/years and I value our relationship. I am concerned however that recently I feel that there has been a change between us.


I want to talk to you so I can better understand something that I’ve been struggling with recently and might be creating a story around in my head.


"I have been feeling hurt when you ..."


Am I misunderstanding you comments, actions, lack of contact etc ?


Have I done anything to hurt you or cause what feels to me like a change in our relationship ?


Is there anything I need to do to restore our relationship?


Is there anything I can do to help you?”


Can we avoid being hurt?


“Expect the unexpected.” Life will not always turn out how you expect it to be, there will always be twists and turns that we will not anticipate. If we embrace life’s quirks, rather than fight them, it will help us to be flexible and increase our resilience when we approach situations and people who will not always be as we want them to be either.


The only way to avoid ever being hurt by someone else is to have absolutely no interaction with anyone. Even if we cut out friends and family, we still have to interact with strangers in the street, in shops etc and each one has the potential to cause us hurt so the answer is probably no. It is likely we will feel hurt and it is likely that we will cause hurt to others, this is really out of our control if we are living in the real world. We do however have the ability to choose our responses and use our emotions as stepping stones to lighten our path forward.


We are all human and as such we all make mistakes, experience hurt feelings and trigger hurt in others. It is important to remember though that


“No matter how far life pushes you down, no matter how much you hurt, you can always bounce back.” Sheryl Swoopes


Final thought


We are on this earth to engage with others


“Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.” Dalai Lama






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