Hurting Someone’s Feelings

The Question I received:

Some people subscribe to the idea that we must take ownership of our emotions; that when we feel hurt, it is by choice. I would like to read your thoughts on what this idea implies.

  • Alice and Bob are having a conversation.
  • Alice says something that was not intentionally hurtful.
  • Bob says that he feels hurt by what Alice said.

I am wondering:

  • Is an apology (“sorry”) from Alice warranted?
  • If Bob feels hurt, then is Alice apologizing for Bob choosing to feel hurt?
  • If Alice feels no regret or remorse for her statements, is that normal?
  • How should Alice acknowledge Bob’s feelings without apologizing?

It is an interesting topic and your insights would be most appreciated.

hurt feelings
My Answer:

Let’s pretend there are no “shoulds” and any response is normal or warranted. “I’m sorry” or “You’re doing this to yourself” are both good replies. If there were no rules (and there aren’t) how would you want to respond? What is it you would love to say back? Your answer will be telling.

In your scenario I’m making some assumptions.

  1. That you are Alice.
  2. That you love this person and want to maintain the relationship.

Even if you did intend to say something hurtful, they would still be responsible for how they responded. But what do you do if you’re in a loving relationship where you know they are responsible for their emotional reactions but they do not?

Here is how I handle things. I am involved in the most loving relationship of my life. I love this man to no end. Surprise, surprise, occasionally one or both of us doesn’t take ownership of our feelings. In the heat of the moment, when I’m in the fog of hurt, confusion, anger or resentment, I am blinded by my feelings and assume he is the cause of them. It’s only upon later reflection that I’m willing to see what button I still have and how it got pushed. No buttons, nothing to push. I always learn something about myself after a tiff.

resolving conflictWe do apologize to each other sometimes. The apology isn’t so much for causing the other to feel bad as it is for someone you love going through pain and wishing they weren’t. I sometimes apologize for things that have nothing to do with me, like him having a rough day at work. (He regularly jokes with me by responding “It’s okay. It’s not entirely your fault”.)

Here is what I try to do with my husband when we’ve had a misunderstanding, he’s upset and blaming me.

Responding To Hurt Feelings

  1. Self-Awareness Poll: I check inside to see what I’m thinking and feeling. Am I at peace or am I afraid because I’m viewing his anger as a threat to our relationship? Am I thinking about something unrelated or obsessing on the conversation we just had? Am I feeling unnerved because there’s a disturbance in the force? Am I building up a case, like a lawyer, to prove what I did or said is justified or right? Do I feel panicky or loving? I figure out where I am and make no judgment of the feeling.
  2. Intention Review: Why did I say or do whatever it is he is upset about? This one can be difficult when in the throes of emotions. My first reaction is normally defensiveness but if I can have an hour or two, I’m generally able to get to the truth of my motivation. Whether my intention was honorable or depraved, knowing the truth ALWAYS puts me at ease.
  3. Rev Up The Love: I start thinking about all the great things I love about him. His intelligence, generosity and tenacity. I imagine what he was like as a little boy; innocent, struggling and just wanting to be loved. I remind myself that he, like me, is doing the best he can. I think about our shared sense of humor. Thinking about all these things puts me in that warm space of acceptance and appreciation.
  4. We talk: I don’t apologize but I do tell him the intention behind what I said or did. I generally ask a LOT of questions so I can understand the situation from his perspective. I repeat back to him, in my own words, what he’s told me to make sure I understand him and the situation correctly. Then we discuss solutions.

It’s not necessary for him to own his emotions for all four of these steps to take place. Granted, he’s a fairly emotionally mature person so it does make the process easier. By talking, asking questions and repeating answers back, I am acknowledging his feelings and demonstrating I care (which I do). In the end, isn’t that what we all really want in a relationship? To know the other person cares? That’s what I want when I’m feeling hurt; to know he loves me and that I matter to him.