- When people feel hurt, they often respond in understandable but counterproductive ways, such as becoming angry or withdrawn.
- Before initiating a discussion, it can be helpful to envision and expect a positive outcome from the conversation.
- Expressing one's feelings, not immediately blaming the other person, and offering a potential solution are valuable communication skills.
When someone feels hurt, they usually do one of two things—withdraw or lash out. Both of these strategies are self-protective, but neither of them is an effective way to communicate or get your needs met. One of the hardest things to do is communicate your feelings to the person who hurt you, partly because you’re mad, and partly because you’re afraid they might not listen or care, which would hurt even more.
Communicating about what has hurt you, however, has the potential to improve your relationship if you do it in a way that isn’t accusatory and provides a path for the other person to make amends. Below are three steps that can help you express your feelings and ask for what you want.
1. Expect a good outcome
People often avoid expressing how they feel because they don’t want to cause a conflict or have a confrontation. The assumption that expressing your emotions will cause a conflict is a mistake.
To be fair, most people jump to this conclusion, because in the past they've experienced trying to express how they feel, and it didn’t turn out well. But when you imagine something going badly, you prepare for it to go badly. When people expect a fight, they often avoid expressing negative emotions, which can create a sense of awkward distance between two people, or they wait until they are so upset that they can’t hold them in any longer. Feelings that may have been brewing for weeks come out in an explosion that feels like an attack to the other person.
Instead of doing this, imagine what it would be like to talk to your partner in a way that would feel calm. When you don't expect a conversation to go badly and can anticipate a positive outcome, your approach and energy will be entirely different.
2. Express your feelings without justifying them or blaming the other person
When most people do get up the courage to have a discussion, they lead with telling the other person what they did wrong. I am upset, because you are not spending enough time with me. I am angry, because you forgot my birthday.
While expressing your emotions is critical to good communication, following it up with what the other person did wrong will immediately put the other person on the defensive and result in them being less able to hear what you are saying.
Start the communication by simply stating how you are feeling without justifying the feelings. I feel sad. I feel hurt. I feel disappointed. While this sounds simple, for most people, the idea of telling someone how they feel without justifying the feeling can be very anxiety provoking, because you feel vulnerable to your partner’s criticism or judgment. What if my partner thinks my feelings aren’t valid, or worse, what if they don’t care? But if the person you are speaking to cares about you, their natural response will be "why?" That person is now engaged and has invited you into a conversation.
3. Tell the person what you would like and offer a solution
Hurt feelings are generated because of something you don’t like or don’t want. On the other side of what you don’t want, though, is something you do want: I feel angry, because I don’t like being dismissed — I want to be heard. Or, I feel hurt, because I don’t like that you are always busy — I want you to spend more time with me.
Instead of justifying your emotions, skip over the part about what you don’t want, and go directly to what you do want. Asking someone to stop doing something you don’t like, such as criticizing you, is distinctly different from asking them to give you more of what you want, such as support. I feel lonely — I’d really like it if we could spend more time together. Not only does this avoid putting the other person on the defensive, but it also empowers the other person to identify what they can do to make the situation better. This has the two-fold benefit of increasing the likelihood that your wants will be heard and met.
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