How to Shake Off a Hurtful Comment

Practical strategies to bounce back when you get your feelings hurt.

Posted Mar 24, 2021 | Reviewed by Gary Drevitch

Key Points:

  • Hurtful comments from family, friends, or coworkers, even if they were not spoken with malice, can lead to rumination or a triggering of one's anxieties.
  • Research suggests ways to move past such comments without experiencing anger or jettisoning a relationship, such as adopting practices of self-compassion and avoiding self-blame.
  • One can also sit with the comment for a period of time, and evaluate later whether it remains troubling or whether the pain or anger lingers.

Offhand comments from friends, family, and colleagues, or even strangers, can be hurtful for a myriad of reasons. Here are some common examples.

  • You get advice when you were looking for support.
  • You get toxic positivity, e.g., you're told "keep the faith and it will happen" when you have no guarantee of success.
  • Someone expresses how easily they do something you find difficult.
  • Someone "one-ups" you, e.g., tells you they just bought a vacation house when you tell them you're looking at buying your first home.
  • Someone treats flippantly something you put a lot of effort into, e.g., a craft project.
  • Folks pry about a personal and sensitive topic.
  • You try to be supportive and the person takes it the wrong way.

When you have these experiences, the hurt can sting and cause rumination, which is when you repeatedly replay a conversation or event. Hurtful comments from the past can also get easily re-triggered. This can reach a point that you feel angry when you have any interaction with that person and/or want to avoid them.

Here are some practical tips for bouncing back when you've got hurt feelings.

Luis Galvez/Unsplash
Source: Luis Galvez/Unsplash

1. Are you personalizing it?

Take this scenario: Someone encourages you to stay positive and implies it will affect your outcomes when logically it won't. You think, "They should know me better and that I'm a worrier."

It's easy to think that the person doesn't care about you because they're not adapting their love/support language to who you are. Most likely, they only have one style and don't have another one in their repertoire. They never learned a different way. Society does a terrible job of teaching people how to give effective emotional support.

If you don't add personalizing, a comment may still hurt, but less.

2. Acknowledge your anger and hurt together.

Many comments that trigger hurt also trigger anger. To cope in a healthy way, acknowledge both these emotions together. Literally say to yourself, "I feel hurt and angry...."

Acknowledging your specific, precise emotions is the first step of self-compassion. 

Acknowledging your anger can help you not personalize the comment. Anger makes us want to fight and hurt makes us want to cower in a corner. Acknowledging both feelings can balance these reactions. 

3. Acknowledge what a common experience hurt feelings are.

It's easy to chastise yourself for having hurt feelings. You might say to yourself, "I shouldn't be so sensitive" or "I shouldn't be so needy." 

The types of hurts humans experience are universal. I can virtually guarantee that everyone reading this article will have experienced all the examples laid out at the beginning. You probably have vivid memories of each one.

Humans have evolved to be exquisitely sensitive to subtle cues to social acceptance and rejection because of how essential being in a tribe has historically been to our survival. Getting your feelings hurt easily isn't because you're too sensitive or needy. In fact, it's because having a sensitive trigger for this is adaptive, even though that feels unpleasant.

When you acknowledge these are common experiences, it can help you feel less lonely. Again, it won't take the hurt away, but if you don't add loneliness to your feelings of hurt and anger, it'll take the edge off.

Acknowledging common human experiences is another essential component of self-compassion.

4. Remove any other self-inflicted victim-blaming.

Thinking "I'm too sensitive" is self-inflicted victim-blaming. There are other forms of this, too. You might think, "I'm a weirdo for not finding positivity helpful" or "I'm a weirdo for taking this so seriously" (e.g., if you put a lot of effort into something that isn't appreciated.) 

"Good vibes only" is a culturally prescribed coping style, especially in the United States. But there are many people who find it draining and not helpful. Likewise, putting in effort is to be commended, not ridiculed. 

5. Acknowledge the potential impact of the comment on your behavior and make a game plan.

Let's say you've been exercising your way to weight loss. You get a snippy comment that makes you feel like binge eating. Admit that out loud to yourself — literally say it aloud — and make a plan.

A good plan is often to stick with your existing game plan and see if the hurt from the comment, and any urges the comment has driven, dissipate after a day or two. You can say, "I'm going to choose not to binge today and go for my run. I'll reassess in two days." You might find that the hurt remains but the urge to binge in response has gone down.

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Hurt feelings are common but we often don't think explicitly about strategies for coping. Try these suggestions out and find what works for you.