All of us have experienced hurt feelings at some point in our lives. Generally it’s something someone says or does that just leaves us feeling hurt, misunderstood, unappreciated or unloved.
Getting through those difficult feelings and getting back to feeling happy again can be very challenging. Sometimes they stay with us for days, or weeks or months, even though we really want to be free of them.
What Causes Hurt Feelings?
When someone says or does something that hurts us, our first impulse is generally to look at what’s wrong with the person who hurt us. We often think, “How could he have said the things he said? What kind of person is he (or she) to behave like that?”
Generally it doesn’t occur to us that it could be our own response to the situation that is actually the real issues. What we often don’t think to ask is “What is it in me that made me respond the way I did?”
Hurt feelings are actually ’emotional triggers’ that set off alarms in our psyche, because they remind us of something else that was hurtful or painful in our lives.
When we are willing to explore a little deeper, usually we’ll find that there was something about the feelings in the present that remind us of something painful in our childhood that never got resolved.
“You Hurt My Feelings”
Let me give you an example. Sherry came to counseling because a co-worker on her job kept making her feel hurt, inadequate and unappreciated. Sherry said that Liz, her co-worker, would regularly correct the work she was doing and then take credit with her boss for what Sherry had spent hours accomplishing.
When Sherry tried to confront Liz about what was happening, Liz brushed it off and gave Sherry the impression that Sherry was making a ‘mountain out a molehill.’ Sherry’s boss didn’t know who to believe and he was so busy that he really didn’t have time to get involved. He suggested that Sherry and Liz talk with each other and try to get it worked out.
In counseling, Sherry shared that she felt very hurt by Liz’s behavior. She had hoped to be friends with Liz, but now believed that it would be impossible. She believed that saying “You hurt my feelings,” to Liz, would only cause more bad feelings between them.
When we explored Sherry’s life more deeply, it turned out that the situation with Liz at work was actually an ’emotional trigger’ for what she had felt as a child. Sherry had always felt inadequate, or ‘not good enough,’ with her father. Sherry had an older brother, Adam, who always stole the limelight in her family. Adam was the ‘Golden Child’ in the family and he was her father’s pride and joy.
In Sherry’s childhood, when Sherry and Adam did work projects together that her father assigned to them, Adam had a way of always getting the credit. Sherry felt like Adam could do no wrong and that no matter how hard she tried, she could never get the love, attention and appreciation she desperately needed from her Dad.
Unresolved Emotional Pain
Hurt feelings always connect us back to unresolved emotional pain. Even when it seems that the situation in the present is completely unrelated to your past, it always in some way relates back to something that was left unresolved in your childhood.
In Sherry’s case, she never had the chance to tell her Father how she really felt or what she really needed. She also could never tell him how his preferential treatment towards Adam had affected her life.
When Sherry was able to resolve her feelings with her Father in therapy, Sherry began to see that the way her Dad had treated her was never actually because of her own inadequacy. Sherry’s Father had his own emotional issues that caused him to focus his love and attention more on his son than on his daughter.
Working through the situation with her co-worker actually helped Sherry free herself from the life-long belief that she was ‘less than’ other people. As a result of her therapy, she decided to go back to school and get the Masters in Business Administration (MBA) that she had been putting off for years. With her new feelings of confidence and self worth, she realized that she could do much more in the world with an MBA under her belt.
Clearing Old Emotional Baggage
The good news is that having hurt feelings can actually lead to clearing old emotional baggage in your life. When you remember that anything that makes you feel hurt is simply an ’emotional trigger’ for something deeper that needs your loving care and attention, the experience itself can lead to wonderful new openings in your life.
So the next time someone hurts your feelings, stop and ask yourself, “What could this be triggering from my past that I may want to heal?”
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