Why Do You Hurt the Ones You Love?

Why Do You Hurt the Ones You Love?

Last update: 16 October, 2021

Even though your brain is programmed to empathize with loved ones, you often end up hurting them. However, researchers from the University of Virginia have shown that, in a dangerous situation, your mind doesn’t distinguish between its own safety and that of the people you care about.

Your ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes usually depends on whether the person is a stranger or someone you know. According to the researchers, your brain separates known people from others. This means that people in your social environment are intertwined with your sense of self on a neurological level.

In this sense, James Coan, professor at the University of Virginia, affirms that “ with familiarity, other people become part of ourselves ”. In fact, it seems that human beings have evolved to have their own identity in which loved ones form a part of their own neural network. That’s why you need friends and allies.

The response to a threat

The researchers found that the regions of your brain that are responsible for responding to threats become active when a friend is in danger in basically the same way as when the threat is against you. However, when the threat concerns a stranger these areas of the brain show little activity.

Worried man to represent the brain region of guilt

According to Coan, these findings demonstrate the tremendous capacity of the brain to integrate others, in such a way that people who are close to you, effectively, become a part of you. Therefore, when a friend or loved one’s in danger, you also feel threatened.

In Coan’s own words, ” If a friend is under threat, it becomes the same as if we ourselves are under threat. We can understand the pain and difficulty they’re going through in the same way we understand our own pain”.

Why do you hurt the ones you love?

The above findings prompt the following question. Why do you sometimes hurt the people you love? Why do you get angry with them? What happens when you behave cruelly towards them?

As a matter of fact, these attitudes, which are usually short and occur episodically, demonstrate the most vulnerable part of being human. In fact, they’re a response to separate the other person from your neural network. This is a natural response of self-protection.

One solution for breaking this pattern of behavior is to reinforce your self-esteem. Furthermore, you need to recognize that your negative behaviors towards your loved ones are actually a manifestation of the hatred you feel toward yourself.

These behavior patterns are often learned within the family and are passed down from generation to generation.

This study offers some interesting tips for breaking the cycle. For example, if you don’t try and defend yourself you’ll be able to maintain the others as part of your own neurological network. This will strengthen your sense of being worthy of love. In this way, both you and the other person will also feel more secure.

Woman looking in the mirror

You need others more than anything else

One of the most interesting aspects of this study is that it suggests that not being empathetic with loved ones reflects a lack of self-love. This hatred you feel towards yourself is neurobiological. Furthermore, it’s the reason you harm your loved ones. However, understanding it should mean you don’t continue with this cycle of anger toward them.

When you feel threatened, your instinctive reaction is to defend yourself. If you hate yourself, it makes sense that your empathic response to those you love will fail. This is why building your self-esteem and self-love is so important.


This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.