When we get hurt, we respond. We can’t help it. But, the nature of our response can make all the difference. Our response can influence the future course of the relationship, and our sense of well-being.
Our natural tendency is to become defensive or self-protective when we get hurt. We try to protect ourselves to avoid further pain. It makes sense. Unfortunately, a defensive response often worsens the situation.
We can divide our defensive responses into two categories; anger and withdrawal. For some, hurt is quickly, and subconsciously, turned into anger. They voice their complaint to the one who hurt them. Their words, tone of voice, facial expression, and posture convey that anger. They may even use the word “hurt” to express their feelings, but the non-verbal message is clear, “I’m angry.” The anger is often the only emotion the offending party hears.
Other people tend to respond to hurt with withdrawal. These people distance themselves. They may stop talking or physically leave. They distance themselves emotionally. They may avoid eye contact, busy themselves with some activity or focus their attention on others. They may harbor resentment for the hurt, but they don’t discuss it. With enough hurts, they may leave the relationship altogether.
So, what is a more effective response to hurt from a loved one? How can we respond to hurt in a manner that promotes healing and avoids further damage to the relationship? The answer is to simply and honestly, express the hurt. For this to be effective, our tone of voice, facial expression and body language must convey hurt, not anger. This is difficult, and we have to be conscious and deliberate about it. It is difficult because it makes us feel vulnerable. It takes a lot of courage to make yourself vulnerable to the person who has just hurt you.
Expressing hurt in a vulnerable manner can promote a more productive conversation, deeper understanding, and eventually, an improved relationship. Expressing hurt as anger or withdrawal usually creates conflict, distance, and a wounded relationship. There are exceptions, but this is usually true.
Now, please remember that we are talking about hurt from a loved one. We’re assuming that the other person is not emotionally dangerous and unstable, and is not intentionally trying to hurt you because they enjoy doing so. We can usually tell the difference.
So, next time you are hurt by a loved one, try to express that hurt only as hurt. Let them know that their words or behaviors hurt you, and do so without anger. Make yourself express the hurt, rather than withdrawal, detachment and silence. Try to express your feelings in a more vulnerable way. Chances are, you’ll begin a healthier conversation, and eventually, an improved relationship.
Comments: What do you think? Have you seen the benefits of expressing hurt rather than anger or withdrawal?