Can Your Feelings Get Hurt?
A friend offers feedback about your forgetting to call her for her birthday; a lover breaks up with you; a colleague tells you the email you sent has too many typos; a family member expresses their anger at you. All these interactions can lead to you saying “Ouch, that hurts my feelings!” I’ve heard that expression so many times and became very curious about whether our feelings can actually have the experience of being hurt.
I’m passionate about using language consciously and accurately to describe our experiences because the more aware and precise we are with our language, the more authentic we can be. And the more authentic we are, the more we let another person in; which in turns, create connection. And yes, you’ve heard me say before that we, human beings, are wired for connection.
The more I hear “XYZ hurts my feelings,” especially when I’m working with clients whom I know at a very deep level, the clearer it is that our feelings cannot be hurt.
Your Feelings Cannot Be Hurt…What Can?
Of course you can experience hurt. Something in you can feel hurt, but not your feelings. Your sadness, anger, fear or frustration cannot get hurt, though.
What actually gets hurt is not our feelings but our ego.
I’m using the word ego here to describe the idea we have about ourselves.
When we have a particular idea about ourselves we create an identification, as in “I’m someone who…” In time, we really believe this idea of ourselves. In fact, we deem this idea such a true and accurate representation of who we are that we want others to believe it, too.
We indeed want others to see us in that same way we’ve taken ourselves to be. This is why we feel hurt when we consider the possibility that we’re not seen in our preferred way, or that our view of ourselves is unseen, denied, or attacked.
Let me illustrate this here using the examples from the interactions I wrote above.
When a friend tells you how upset they are with you for forgetting to call her on her birthday, it is your idea that you are a good friend and that you want to be seen as a good friend is what feels vulnerable.
When a lover breaks up with you, it might be your self-concept about being a good catch, a fantastic lover, a loving and beautiful person that feels threatened.
When a colleague mentions the typos in your email, it may be your idea of being professional, an educated person, or a busy person who should be acknowledged for being so engaged in work and forgiven for such peccadillos that actually feels at risk.
Can you see this? In my own exploration, I see over and over that it is not my feelings that are hurt, but my self-concept; that idea about who I take myself to be in the relationship or in that context.
And once I am able to see that; once my clients are able to see that, there usually follows both a sense of relief and inner strength.
Once we see that only our self-concept is being hurt, we have the space to explore what we are actually feeling. And from there, we have greater capacity to choose connection and responsibility rather than reaction.
When we feel, we are in touch with the impermanence of our human experience because feelings come and go and get transformed into something else; unlike our self-identifications and stories that are rigid and unchanging.
The more connected we are to our feelings, the more able we are to be open to the feelings of others. This is how we enter into the realm of empathy which frequently inspires us to greater understanding and deepening connection.
Why Do We Say XYZ Hurts My Feelings?
From my perspective, we’re just using language in a way that offers us a way to hold on to and defend the stories we have about ourselves, which is the ego’s primary goal.
In our current world, social trends have become very self-referential and thus so has our language. We have i-phones, my space, my social media profile, my personal brand, and so many tools that solidify the idea that we need to be a very specific kind of someone.
Now, if we could see these self-concepts or self-referential stories are such, we would actually allow ourselves to have three valuable experiences:
freedom to feel whatever feelings are actually there and access our hearts, not just our minds,
openness to connect with the other rather than having to defend our narrowly defined sense of “me;”
the authenticity of a mature adult who has the capacity to respond with presence and spontaneity.
What to Do Instead of Saying …. Hurts My Feelings
Next time you hear someone say or do something that seems to “hurt your feelings,” take responsibility for your authentic self by asking yourself these five questions:
How do I see myself in this relationship or context? You may complete the sentence “I’m someone who…”
How do I want to be seen in this relationship or context?
Is that self-concept all I am? Am I still myself even if I am temporarily not seen in the way I’d like to be seen?
What feelings am I actually experiencing now?
What could I say or do that would lead to connection with this person rather than defending my story of who I am?
I hope these 5 questions help you connect to your true essence, which is much greater than an idea you have of yourself. The more connected you can be, the more capacity you have to act authentically in the moment. And if you find these stories about who you are or how you need to be seen by others are too loud and need to be dissolved, let's chat; I will be happy to support you. I experience so much joy when I help another human being connect to their true authentic self.
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