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Are Those Hurt Feelings Justified?

If someone says to you, “You hurt my feelings,” how much evidence do you require before apologizing?

What if you don’t agree that what you did was hurtful?

What if you never meant to hurt the person? Should you still apologize even though you meant no harm?

What if they’re hurt or angry about something that’s either ridiculously minor or entirely imaginary, and they won’t let it go?

Now they’ve got YOU feeling hurt, angry, or both. Why are they being so unreasonable?

To find out, let’s put ourselves on the other side of this situation.

Have you ever had your feelings hurt? Of course you have.

Picture the Shoe On the Other Foot

Let’s say that someone said or did (or didn’t do) something that hurt your feelings. It may have been a small thing on the face of it, but it really stung you.

Imagine that you muster the courage to approach them about it.

You tell them you’re hurt or annoyed, and they start asking for evidence.

But maybe you find it’s hard to put into words; all you know for certain is how you feel.

Try to imagine what it’s like on the receiving end of responses like these:

“That’s not such a big deal.”

“You shouldn’t have taken it that way; that’s not how I meant it.”

“I did my best; I’m not perfect.”

How satisfying are those responses? How close do you feel to the person who’s saying these things?

Do you see why it’s hard to let go of how you feel?

What to Do When You Hurt Someone’s Feelings

Now let’s hop back over to the other side, where you accidentally hurt someone else’s feelings.

You can do your very best, and someone can still get upset with you. Good people sometimes step on each other’s toes in relationships; it’s part of the territory.

The fact that someone has a problem with you doesn’t make you bad, or mean that you’re a failure at relationships.

So try not to take it personally when you hurt someone’s feelings. Instead:

Be open. Your defensiveness will make a bad situation worse. This is not about you. Just be there for them right now.

Be curious. Listen. Gather information about this person, your behavior, and how things went wrong.

Be empathetic. The person is obviously upset. If you care at all about them, offer them a bit of validation.

Be warm. After you’ve listened and found something you can feel good about apologizing for (even if it was just that you were a little clueless in that moment), thank them for telling you, and let them know how important they are to you.

Let me know how it goes.

Photo courtesy of www.FreeDigitalPhotos.net

About Tina Gilbertson

Tina Gilbertson is a psychotherapist, speaker and author based in Denver, Colorado. She specializes in supporting parents of estranged adult children through therapy, consulting and other resources, and offers assertiveness training and executive coaching for organizations. The author of "Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings by Letting Yourself Have Them" and the "Guide for Parents of Estranged Adult Children," Tina is often featured in the media as an expert on communication and relationships. Her blog on PsychologyToday.com is called "Constructive Wallowing."
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0 Responses to "Are Those Hurt Feelings Justified?"

  • Ammah
    September 28, 2013 - 3:18 pm Reply

    Thank you. I love the way you question.
    My daughter Jehan has accused me repeatedly of doing things I never did or did unintentional. I have apologized repeatedly over the years. One of the thing I am accused of is hanging on her when she called from her mobile phone 18 years back. I promise the called failed or dropped but I called her back within seconds. No, this does not count. The other time I was in the ER in cardiac care. She tried to reach me but my phone was turned off. I called her but she cussed me ever since for turning the phone off and being insensitive ( I was the who had a heart attack ) Yes, there times I have been wrong being stuck in traffic or being late, or cooking something she absolutely hated. She went ballistic with me when her grandmother died of cancer & was called later. There are other times when she told me of her friend after she has broken of with her 25 years after the fight & brought it up ( I had forgotten the friends name until that day) but said ” she was not your friend for having done this.” Unfortunately I forget things & or don’t hold grudges. She gathers all her grievances and string to noose not only me but the entire family including her 93 year old grandfather. I don’t want to offend her or hurt her or any one. I love to her to much & dearly. I have apologized to her in person, apologized to her in hand written notes and email. This has been on going since she was in her teens. I love my daughter dearly and would do anything to mend fences & end our estrangement. I have tried to hear her grievances & even cried with her & I have tried been empathic with her and apologized. I must be doing something wrong & would appreciate any, any advise by you or your readers please.

    • Tina Gilbertson
      September 28, 2013 - 5:58 pm Reply

      Ammah, thank you for taking the time to leave a comment; I’m sorry to hear about the difficult and painful situation you find yourself in.

      It sounds like you and your daughter might benefit from seeing a counselor together, since something seems to be getting lost in translation when the two of you communicate. A good family counselor can help you both hear and understand each other better, so that apologies, if they’re necessary, can find their mark.

      Have a look through the directory at http://www.GoodTherapy.org to find a family counselor in your area. All the best to you, and thanks again for writing.

      • P. Gupta
        October 17, 2013 - 9:51 pm Reply

        GoodTherapy.org was not found in my zip code ( USA) Am I wrong to think sometimes it takes longer than a blog to get the right answers & its easier to pass the hot potatoes. My daughter needs help but what is she has been told she is fine every one around her is depressed & toxic. She has estranged the whole family now because she was told we are the root cause of her illness. I have tried seeking help for our daughter repeatedly. She is in late 20’s and we can not help her because the law has holes. The truth is mental illness, personilaty disorder or what ever label one puts on will always remain a long dark road alone with no true recovery, just bandages.

  • Anya
    September 30, 2013 - 9:46 am Reply

    Great posting. I think these steps open the door to communication rather than conflict. My question would be: now that you’ve validated the other person’s hurt feelings, what do you do with your own hurt feelings? Especially if you still feel on some level that you were unfairly attacked, singled out, or judged? Is this a point where you just have to let it go? Just curious! Thanks.

    • Tina Gilbertson
      September 30, 2013 - 12:52 pm Reply

      Holy Toledo, Anya, what a fabulous question. In fact, I love your question so much I think I’ll answer it in next week’s post, because it will take more room than I have here. I’ll take a stab at a short answer, though, since we’re here right now: Self-compassion is always how you deal with your own feelings.

      Those hurt feelings you describe aren’t something that need to be worked through with the other person, since you’re not officially “the injured party” in this particular interaction. Doesn’t mean your feelings don’t need to be honored, though. I’ll discuss how to do that on Saturday.

      Thanks for your useful comment; I’m positive you’re not the only one wondering about this.

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