Feelings VI: It’s All About Hurt

We have talked about the phenomenon of hurt in previous “Feelings” blogs, primarily in Feelings: 2 (Expressing Feelings), but it behooves us to return to hurt and unpack it a bit. I will cover the following things about “hurt”:

  • Hurt is another of the important undefinable words that we can have an understanding about without an exact definition.
  • Hurt comes from an “assault.” What is “assaulted” is something that you love. These assaults are usually unintentional. Sometimes they even come from yourself.
  • Hurt is the substantive cause of all arguments, most divorces, and most wars.
  • Hurt is very difficult to adequately express, much less communicate, much less understand when someone says they hurt you.
  • Unfortunately, when someone tells you that you have hurt that person, this often comes as a kind of assault on you, usually causing you to defend yourself.

Hurt is a love problem

I want to bring the expression, “I am hurt” out of the negative appearance that it normally has. Hurt is actually a very positive feeling, positive because we feel hurt when we have lost something that is important to us. We get hurt when we have lost something that we love. When something we love has been lost, we feel sad. Recall that sadness is a love-based feeling. I feel sad when I have lost something that I love, or value. First, I love something; then I get attacked in some way; then I l lose something; then I feel hurt; and then I get sad because I have lost something that I love. Hurt naturally makes us sad. We discuss this at length in The Power of Positive Sadness, which we would suggest you peruse for a more cogent explanation of this love-attack-loss-hurt-sad phenomenon.

Hurt is about me

“You hurt me” is a very important statement to make and a very important statement to be heard and understood, but it is extremely difficult to do on both counts. When I say, “You hurt me” to someone, this statement is about me, not about the other person. This is not a concept that is easy to grasp, mostly because when people say, “You hurt me,” they tend then to indulge themselves in saying what is wrong about the other person. Thus, “You hurt me” usually leads into a criticism of the other person in the form of, “You shouldn’t have said this or that…” or “You should have said this or that….” When most people say, “You hurt me,” the focus is on the you, not the me.

So, how is the statement, “You hurt me,” about me? It seems I am talking about the other person when I say that s/he hurt me. But think about it: when I tell someone that they have hurt me, I am really talking about the emotional effect the other person had on me. Yes, the other person said or did something (or failed to say or do something), but their words, action, or lack thereof hurt you. Why? Because something important in you was assaulted in some way. I have heard people say that instead of saying, “You hurt me,” that you should say, “I feel hurt.” I hotly disagree. “I feel hurt” lies flat and says nothing about me, nothing about the relationship, much less what really happened. I know I am asking a lot of people to say, and to hear, “You hurt me” because it sounds like an attack on the other person. Once people get used to saying and hearing, “You hurt me,” they will begin to understand this very central ingredient of human relationships. We hurt each other all the time, and we need to have a meaningful and honest mechanism to deal with it. If we can’t feel hurt through and think it through, hurt migrates into anger, resentment, fear, or punishment.

When hurt turns to resentment

Hurt turns to resentment when it is not felt for what it is. Hurt is essentially sadness, or perhaps sadness results immediately after you have been hurt. If you can stay with hurt and sadness, you will stay with love, namely something that you have loved that you have lost. If you fail to acknowledge that you have been hurt, this hurt/sadness will almost immediately turn to anger, resentment, and fear. And possibly to punishment. Anger, fear, and the like come about because people have not adequately expressed hurt (and sadness), and/or have not heard hurt (and sadness). It is not natural to become immediately angry when I have been hurt. The natural process of hurt and its resolution is the following:

  • I love something
  • I am assaulted
  • I lose that something that I have loved
  • I feel hurt. I naturally feel sad
  • I recognize that I have loved something and focus on this love
  • I may choose to say I am hurt or allow the hurt to finish on its own

Hurt turns to resentment, anger and fear because normal (not natural) way people process hurt is:

  • I love something
  • I am assaulted and lose that something
  • I feel hurt but quickly move beyond hurt. I don’t want to be hurt again so I defend myself by being afraid and angry.
  • I may say, “I am hurt,” but I will say it as an attack.
  • I remain hurt, but now I have added resentment, which might never go away.
  • Hurts and resentment tend to pile up. I have new hurts over old hurts. (We all have unfinished and unresolved old hurts that are unfortunately brought into any new hurt, but this is a more extensive discussion that we will delay)

Hurt in work, play, and personal contacts

Hurt doesn’t always come from parents or from intimate partners. Hurt can come from work and other relationships. As adults, work is where we spend most of our time with people, and it is the place where most hurt actually occurs. But because we are at work, and work is not the place to express feelings, we have more hurt stored up there than anywhere else. And it is a primary reason we are hardest on our intimate partners because they take this hurt home and expect their partners to somehow fix it. Hurt easily occurs in extended family settings where you see family members once a year and do not have intimate relationships with these folks. Again, this hurt is often taken home because it can’t be resolved at the family reunion. Hurt can even occur in recreational activities. Much of this is due to the competition that is often part of recreation. Too many pickup basketball games end with some kind of verbal clash, if not even physical. Even a friendly card game can bring some kind of hurt, much less an intense game of chess. A baby shower, however benign in its appearance, can lead to hurt depending on what is given, received, and appreciated. Hurt comes in many forms, in many places, and at many times.

Daily hurts

It is a rare day that I am not hurt in some way. Recently, a patient expressed dissatisfaction with a report I had completed for him. He had every right to be disappointed with what I had to say. It doesn’t matter how much I worked on the report, what I thought of the report, or even the ultimate value of the report to him. In his mind he expected something other than what he got, and he has every right to be disappointed. And I have every right to be hurt. In this circumstance, namely in the therapy room, it did not behoove me to express my hurt, but I knew that I was hurt and did not let it migrate into fear or anger. In fact, I actually understood why he has some trouble with relationships in the way he challenged my report and what his expectations are. But importantly, my cognition of his demeanor and the reasons for his challenge did not diminish my hurt. I did my best in my report; it was not good for him; he was hurt; he expressed his disapproval; and I was hurt. This kind of daily hurt, unavoidable hurt, needs to be recognized, felt, and finished. Sometimes, you will say you are hurt and sometimes you won’t depending on the situation.

Sometimes you hurt yourself

Hurts don’t always come from someone else. They can just as easily come from a mistake you made, a misunderstood word spoken to you, or no word of appreciation spoken to you. If you recognize that you are hurt by these small things, you will be better able to deal with the larger hurts in your life. This is simply saying to yourself, “My bad” and allowing yourself to feel a moment of hurt and accompanying sadness. If you can allow yourself to be hurt by some mistake you made, you will become more aware of other people’s hurt, and accept it as normal

Knowing others’ hurt

We had an experience recently with friends who wanted to take us out to dinner. The request came when we were actually quite exhausted and needed a simple night home reading a book or playing a game. These friends are good people and some of the people we most enjoy being with, but on this particular night we didn’t want to be with anybody. This sometimes happens after a hard day’s work listing and working with people struggle with their lives. When we told Sam that we appreciated his offer, but that we were truly tired, he accepted our regrets with a kind demeanor. We came to know that our declining his invitation had hurt him. It wasn’t his initial kindness and demeanor that stuck us, but rather his words and actions afterwards. He said that he wanted to stop by and pick up a tool that he had left in my garage but that he was in a hurry and just buzz in and buzz out. It seemed quite clear to me that he was hurt, and that he was avoiding us because of his hurt. Now, this is no big deal, and we will likely never talk about it, but it was important for us to know that we had hurt him. I wonder how a conversation might have gone if he had simply said, “Ron, I was really hurt when you declined our offer for dinner.” I don’t think Sam is ready for that kind of conversation, so I will simply need to know that I hurt him and do my best in the future to be kind to him. It can be a bit of a burden to know your own hurt, know someone else’s hurt, and wisely choose to keep it all to yourself.

Resolution of hurt

So, what do we do with all this hurt: hurt at home, hurt with my intimate, hurt with my relatives, hurt with friends, hurt at work, hurt at the grocery store, and hurt in play situations? You do the following in order: (1) recognize hurt when it happens, (2) prevent hurt from migrating into anger or fear, (3) remember that hurt always comes from love, (4) determine whether you have the place, the time, and the person with whom you can share hurt, and if not, (5) note this hurt in your memory as something you might want to come back to at another time; (6) note that the feeling of hurt may have evaporated on its own. The key is # 1: recognizing hurt.

Further Reading

Feeling blogs 1-5

Forthcoming blog Feeling 7: It’s Not all about Hurt

Forthcoming book: Let Me Tell You How I Feel.

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