When People Hurt Your Feelings: The Importance of Emotional Expression

May 9, 2019
When people hurt your feelings, you have two options. The first is to look the other way and hide the pain, appearing to be strong with no hesitation. The other option is healthier: defend yourself and generate an adequate emotional response to protect your self-esteem.

If people hurt your feelings frequently or intensely and you don’t react, you will break, little by little. Because being strong isn’t about resisting more, being quiet or containing what you feel. Being strong is about giving yourself permission to express your emotions and needs, and setting limits.

Now, we know it’s not easy. But taking care of and protecting your feelings is a hygienic and healthy activity.

Often, you hear about how there is nothing more difficult than being an adult. Adulthood consists of reaching that stage in your life where suddenly, things such as work, finances, family and personal fulfillment are all aspects you have to learn how to juggle in your life.

However, oftentimes we forget that, in reality, the most relevant part of a person’s life happens during their childhood and adolescence. During these early stages, the most valuable learnings and developments take place. Undoubtedly, one of those important developments has to do with emotional competencies.

Think about it for a moment. During your childhood, did someone teach you how to differentiate between an emotion and a feeling? Did someone teach you to be more assertive? Or to recognize your emotional needs, as well as knowing how to communicate them effectively?

The truth is that these learnings don’t always necessarily take place. That’s why so many people reach adulthood and are somewhat lost. They’re vulnerable and highly sensitive to the dynamics of their environment, which aren’t always easy.

At this stage, even the most important person in your life can be among the people who hurt your feelings. What can you do in these situations?

“An emotion does not cause pain. Resistance or suppression of emotion causes pain.”

-Frederick Dodson-

a sad man looking down

When people hurt your feelings: keys to being assertive

When people hurt your feelings, you usually react in two ways. Either by staying silent or by responding instantly, out of anger or rage.

But, what happens when the people who cross that invisible line of respect are people who are close to you? For example, your partner, a relative, a friend or even your boss. Then everything gets a little more complicated.

In these situations, there may be more reluctances. Obviously, these people have hurt your feelings. But, how do you deal with it? How do you muster up the courage to say something? How can you tell the other person that they’ve hurt you? And how can you do so without losing your calm, being aggressive or being clear enough on the issue?

For this, emotional communication is undoubtedly the main issue and you must work on it. So, these are some of the keys that could help you out.

Decipher the emotions you feel in order to be able to defend yourself assertively

Antonio Damasio, the famous neurophysiologist, published a study in the journal Nature that reminds us of the importance of knowing how to differentiate an emotion from a feeling. To begin with, an emotion is a whole collection of chemical and neural responses that you experience thanks to a stimulus.

  • First, your body feels the impact of something altering your homeostasis, your internal balance.
  • Secondly, the mind translates that emotion into a feeling. When you’re able to translate what you feel into thoughts, a feeling appears.

So, what does this mean when someone offends you or criticizes you?

People have an obligation to decipher the emotions they feel. So, when you feel that knot in your stomach, or when your heartbeat accelerates, or your chest is burning, stop and translate. Don’t silence it. Don’t tell yourself it’s nothing. Take the time and effort to name what you feel, identify and clarify your feelings.

a sad woman

“I feel”: the courage to declare your feelings through assertive communication

Once you’ve given a name to those feelings inside yourself (humiliation, indignation, pain, disappointment, sadness, sense of deception, etc.), the next step is to communicate. For this, you must keep in the mind the personal pronoun ‘I’.

Maybe you may not be used to starting your sentences with this pronoun. However, this is highly necessary for assertive and emotional communication. So, when people hurt your feelings, don’t hesitate to say something like the following examples:

  • “I felt humiliated when you made that comment. You may have done it without thinking but I’m asking you to take it into account and not repeat it.”
  • “I feel you’ve disappointed me with the decision you’ve made. You haven’t taken me into account and you haven’t asked my opinion.”
a couple talking about when people hurt your feelings

When people hurt your feelings, ask for emotional responsibility

If people hurt your feelings you must keep this in mind. Defend yourself. Clarify and lay the foundations so that something like this never happens again. For this purpose, you’re going to invite the other person to exercise emotional responsibility with you. What does that mean? Basically the following:

  • First, you’re going to establish an emotional responsibility agreement with yourself. If people hurt your feelings, that responsibility belongs to the other person. But if they do it again and you’ve defended yourself, that responsibility becomes yours. However, that responsibility does not mean it’s your fault.
  • Secondly, you must make the other person aware of their attitude. You’ll make them understand that any type of relationship demands respect and responsibility. What’s happened cannot repeat itself. Both parties will learn from this event and will strive to create more empathetic, human and meaningful interactions.

In conclusion, we should point out only one aspect: these processes take time. Learning to be assertive and managing your emotions to communicate effectively is something you’ll achieve through practice. Therefore, don’t forget, if people hurt your feelings, apply these strategies. You’ll notice the changes in your relationships.

  • Damasio, A. (2001, 25 de octubre). Sentimientos fundamentales. Naturaleza . https://doi.org/10.1038/35101669
  • Schwarz, N. (2012). Feelings-as-information theory. In Handbook of Theories of Social Psychology: Volume 1 (pp. 289–308). SAGE Publications Inc. https://doi.org/10.4135/9781446249215.n15