Defending ourselves from hurt feelings

Our responses to others’ comments are actually under our control, so try to default to restraint and understanding instead of hypersensitivity

Special to The TribuneAugust 24, 2012 

Hurt feelings are those times when we feel bad about ourselves and attribute the cause of our feelings to someone else. For instance, a woman may accuse her sister-in-law of hurting her feelings when she says, “My parents never wanted my brother to marry you.”

While it’s easy to point the finger of blame when a person says something thoughtless, our pained response is actually a choice. There are innumerable ways we can react to any given statement. Anger, humor, nonchalance and self-pity are but a few options available at any given time in our psychic repertoire.

The truth is that each of us has a favored mode that we default to when anyone says something we don’t like. People whose feelings are fragile click into their oh-you’ve-hurt-my-feelings set ting without even realizing they’ve done it.

The contents of the feelings may vary, but they tend to follow predictable themes. In fact, those areas that are habitually wounded are the areas where we’re already raw. If a man is hypersensitive about meeting his father’s high expectations, he’s more likely to respond with hostility and pain anytime the subject is broached.

The topic need not even be mentioned directly. Folks who are chronically offended are actually searching for incidences that cause them pain. Sensitivity sensors are set to the highest setting. They’re ready and willing to be hurt.

Unfortunately, they fail to realize their role in the matter. They disperse blame on everyone except themselves. They believe loved ones and co-workers are insensitive and intentionally hurtful. If people were nicer, they wouldn’t have to be so distraught.

Hypersensitivity arises from various sources. It can be present in certain psychological disorders, such as anxiety, depres sion and bipolarity. It can also be learned. When children grow up seeing family members blame others for how they feel, they are more likely to perpetuate the pattern.

Of course, some people do make horribly insensitive statements. And sometimes their words are harmful to innocent listeners who are defenseless against a tyranny of words. Even so, it’s imperative that we reclaim power of our own emotions and master strategies that promote well-being and inner strength.

Try these steps for minimizing hurt feelings

Recognize that you have control of your feelings. You’re not a victim. You can be happy if you want. Stop blaming others for what you can change. They’re not the problem — you are.

Avoid dwelling. Stop ruminating about past hurts. You can’t undo what’s already happened. Instead, catch yourself when you’re wallowing in pain and replace unhappy thoughts with more positive ones.

Identify your raw spots. If you’re continually hurt about a particular topic, you have an underlying issue that needs to be dealt with. Explore the root causes and ways to minimize the impact. You’ll never get beyond it if you don’t meet it head on.

Turn down your sensitivity. Not everyone is out to get you. And not everything they say is meant to be hurtful. Stop overreacting to what’s said and done around you. You’ll immediately feel calmer and more in control.

Don’t personalize everything. It’s not always about you. In fact, it’s seldom about you at all. Stop making yourself the center of the action. Assume your rightful role among the rest of the cast.

Step back from the drama. Your first reaction may be hurt feelings. When you’re relaxed, your perspective might change. Take a deep breath. Respond more slowly. You’re less likely to misread psychological cues.

Learn to deal with difficult people. We all have challenging folks in our lives. The key is not to let them bully or emotionally bruise us. Minimize time in their presence. Think of safe topics to discuss when you’re together. Take the upper hand in the relationship to prevent feeling hurt by what they say.

Devise other ways of responding. Find a quiet time to contemplate novel behaviors. You might say, “Ow! That doesn’t feel good!” or “Can’t do anything about that now!” You can even ignore them altogether or walk out of the room. Brainstorming options away from the fray better prepares you for handling the heat of the moment.

Be persistent. Your feelings have been injured for a long time. Things won’t turn around overnight. Instead, commit yourself to a new, confident and joyful style of relating. Then do the work to make it a reality.

Linda Lewis Griffith is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit

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