“I can’t believe she said that! Doesn’t she have any idea how much that hurt me?”
“They hurt my feelings before. How can I ever trust them again?”
“I don’t want anything to do with that person! They hurt me so bad and I just can’t deal with it!”
Have you ever been there? In that place of hurt and frustration and pain? Wondering why it doesn’t make sense? Trying to wrap your mind around how someone could do something like that, say something like that, or act that way? Reeling from pain, astonishment, disbelief, hurt?
As much as I would love to tell you that it’s rare for people to say or do things that hurt others, I can’t. The truth is, you will be hurt by others. You will experience the pain of cutting words. You will experience betrayal. You will walk through deep sorrow over broken relationships. And, let’s be honest, when you are hurt by someone else, it creates a wound in your heart. Pain that you need to do something with.
But what do you do with it? What do you do with the hurt and the pain when you are the one that’s been hurt? How do you even begin to handle the wound you have?
Understand the Background
Hurt people hurt people. Have you ever heard this phrase before? It’s so simple and yet so true. Think about it: When someone says something that hurts your feelings, is your initial response to respond by giving them a hug and acting like life is all sunshine and rainbows? No! Not at all! Your immediate response is to come back with a cutting remark of your own, right?
Now, I’m not saying responding with a cutting remark is the right thing to do. But I want you to see something: Your automatic response when someone hurts you is to hurt that person back. It’s a normal, human response. I’m not saying this natural reaction is the right one, but you need to understand there is a natural reaction before you can do anything to change that reaction.
Now, before you start thinking you are the exception to this rule, you need to realize something else: You are human. Every person on this planet is human. And, as human beings, we all make mistakes. We all mess up. It’s completely impossible to go through your life never making a single mistake. Sadly, a lot of your mistakes can cause hurt to other people.
Now, I don’t say this as free license to go out and do whatever you want and say whatever you want because if you’re going to end up hurting someone, why bother trying? NO! Not at all! Let me be clear: I’m saying this to set the expectation: We are all human. We all have flaws and faults. Even me. Even you.
And while you should do your best to not intentionally hurt other people, it will happen. You will end up hurting someone else’s feelings. Many times without even trying. You’ll end up saying that stupid thing you wish you could take back. You’ll end up forgetting to invite someone to an event and hurting their feelings.
But what about when other people hurt you? Oh, it’s a good thing to realize that everyone is human. To accept the fact that there will be times when you unintentionally hurt other people. But what about when you get hurt? What can you do to deal with the hurt? What can you do to make sure you don’t hurt other people just because you’re the one hurting?
How to Deal with Hurt
The sad truth is: As you go through life, you will experience hurt. Oh, many times it’s small things: Someone steps on your foot and it stings for a couple minutes, but no lasting damage is done. Something is said in a conversation that hurts your feelings, but the person who said it recognizes what they said hurt you, they apologize, and you move on.
But there are other hurts. Hurts that run far deeper than a stepped-on foot or an accidental phrase. Wounds that are caused by continuous, hurtful words. Words that become so ingrained in your mind that you begin to believe them as truth. Betrayals from a close friend. Intentional actions done only to hurt you. Selfish actions on the part of others that cause deep pain in your life.
When you are hurt by someone else, it creates a wound in your heart and soul. Now there are many ways you can choose to deal with this wound. You can deny that it exists. You can ignore it and not do anything about it. You can feed it, constantly telling yourself why you have a reason to be hurt. Or you can choose to acknowledge it, work through the hurt, and move on, not allowing the wound to define you.
Here’s the really powerful part: While you are not able to control whether or not someone else hurts you, you can choose what to do about it. Did you catch that? You cannot control if someone hurts you. But you can control your reaction to the hurt. So, you see, the question changes from ‘How do I make sure that no one ever hurts me?’ to ‘What do I do when someone hurts me?’
My Friend, I wish this were different, but the truth is you will be hurt in this life. You will experience pain and heartache. Other people will wound you whether by their words or their actions. It breaks my heart to tell you this, but if I said otherwise, I would be lying. You will experience hurt. The question to push into then is: When hurt does come, what will you do with it?
An Important Note
Before we dive into some specific steps you can take to begin healing the hurt in your heart, there is something very important that needs to be said very clearly. This blog post is not intended to take the place of live, wise counselors in your life. If you are dealing with a complex situation, particularly one that involves physical or any other kind of abuse, you need to seek out help from a licensed mental health counselor. What you are going through is not right and you need specific, guided help to make the right decisions on what to do and how walk your path to healing.
I want you to hear my heart on this one: There are situations where reestablishing trust is not possible, nor wise. There are situations where extreme boundaries need to be taken for your protection. Yet, these type of situations and these decisions should never be made alone! If you are in a situation like this or even if some of this rings true, but you’re still not sure if this applies to you, I urge you to seek out help from a licensed mental health counselor. There is no shame in seeking help! There is no shame in wanting to heal!
So, when you are hurting, what do you do with the hurt?
Acknowledge the Hurt
When a person lashes out at you – emotionally, verbally, or in any other way – let’s be real: It stinking hurts! I hope you weren’t looking for an “everything will be okay” pep talk! This topic is hard, yes, but sometimes the truth is hard! When someone hurts you, it hurts. A wound is created. And that wound brings with it a huge amount of pain and heartache.
The challenging thing with this type of wound is that it might not be easy to see, which makes things a lot harder! Think about it: If you get a cut and it starts to bleed, it’s pretty easy to see the wound. The steps you need to take are pretty straightforward. Stop the bleeding. Clean the wound. Bandage the wound. Keep it clean so that it can heal properly. Yet, a lot of the wounds you receive are not as clearly seen as a physical cut. Many of them are much more subtle and harder to identify.
So, where do you start? Start by acknowledging the hurt. Admit the fact that you are wounded and hurting. As you walk through this piece, try to stick to the facts. You know the person who hurt you, so saying their name isn’t a bad thing. But avoid making up the reason why, or the excuse for why they acted the way they did. Try following this simple formula:
[This person] hurt me when they did [this action]. As a result I feel [angry, sad, like I got cut off at the knees, anxious, depressed, violated, etc.].
What if you can’t even fill in that sentence? What if all you know is the feeling? This is very legitimate. Sometimes you might not know where to start. Sometimes all you know is that you feel hurt or sad or angry or very touchy in a certain area, but you don’t know why. Sometimes you have to work backwards through the feeling to discover your wound. Try answering these questions:
- What am I feeling? Identify the feeling. Is it hurt, anger, sadness, anxious, etc.? Putting words to a feeling is so powerful!
- What words or action triggered this feeling to come up so strongly? This might not be the wound itself yet! This might be something simple like someone put their coffee cup down in the wrong place. The key is to identify the trigger point that caused the emotion to rise up so strongly.
- Why should that matter? Push into this a little. You might have to ask yourself ‘why’ a few times. Sometimes wounds get buried deep and don’t want to be discovered for what they really are.
- What action caused this whole chain reaction to start? What was the event (words or actions) that caused this wound in the first place?
As you’re pushing into these questions, discovering the source of your wound, it helps to write things down. Writing helps your brain take things that are scrambled and jumbled and make sense of them. It gets those thoughts into a concrete form where you can look at them more objectively and start to work through each thought one by one. This might take some time! Remember, many wounds get buried deep and do not want to be seen for what they are. It’s almost like your brain starts working against you on this one! Like your subconscious brain tries to hide the wound from your conscious brain. This is why writing it down is so helpful. You can work on it for a bit, walk away, and come back to it while still knowing where you left off.
If you think through these questions and you’re still stuck, I highly encourage you to seek help from a wise counselor. They can help you either one-on-one or in a group setting to push in and figure out the why behind your hurt.
Once you know you’ve been hurt, and you’ve identified the wound, what do you do with it? What’s your next step? It’s great to figure out why, but how do you begin to heal from the hurt?
You Have A Choice
Let’s say you are making dinner and your knife accidentally slips and you give yourself a decent cut on your hand. Would you glance at it and think, “It doesn’t exist, I’ll just keep making dinner”? I certainly hope not! For starters, no one likes blood in their salad and secondly, the cut will only get worse if you ignore it! What if you waited a few minutes, then got out your bottle of lemon juice and decided to pour some on the wound just to make sure you really felt the pain? That would be completely ridiculous, right? No one wants to have lemon juice or salt poured into a wound. That’s what makes the idiom “like salt in a wound” so powerful!
And yet, this is exactly what many people do when they’re wounded. Not a physical cut, but emotionally or mentally wounded. Wounded in their heart and in their soul. Somehow it feels easier to ignore the wound, to ignore the hurt than to do anything about it.
Or, they relive the hurt over and over and over again. They remind themselves of it so that they never forget it. They punish the person who hurt them in their mind. Yet they never realize the person that did the hurting is completely unaffected by the narrative that is happening in their mind. The only person this hurts is you.
But what if, when that cut on your hand happened, you immediately stopped preparing dinner? What if you stuck your hand under cold water to clean the wound and to ease the pain? What if you put some salve on it, then bandaged it properly? What if you watched over the tender area of your hand, changing the bandages when needed, adding more salve? You would be consciously giving that wound the opportunity to heal correctly.
Now, this is easy to do when it comes to physical wounds, but what if you took this approach when it came to your non-physical wounds? Those wounds in your heart and soul? It would make all the difference in the world, wouldn’t it?
And here is the key to it all: You have a choice! You have a choice in how you respond when someone hurts you. Oh, you won’t always be able to control whether or not someone hurts you, but you do have the power to choose how you will respond.
So, what will you choose? Will you choose to ignore your wound? Pretending it doesn’t exist, that it doesn’t hurt? Can I let you in on a secret? An ignored wound is never dealt with and never given the opportunity to heal.
Will you choose to relive the hurt over and over and over? Will you choose to torture yourself by wounding yourself over and over long after the initial wound had been incurred? Can I let you in on a secret? The only person you’re hurting is yourself!
Or will you choose to acknowledge the hurt, to identify what caused the hurt, and take steps to allow your wound to heal? I’ll be honest: This choice is the hardest choice to make. But this choice, unlike the others, sets off a positive cycle that, though hard, will reap enormous benefits in the future.
You have a choice. You can choose to acknowledge the hurt and take steps to heal your wound or you can choose to feed the wound and make it so much worse. You can choose to extend forgiveness to someone or you can choose to ignore your wound and let it effect not only you but everyone around you. It comes down to this: What will you choose?
The Truth About Forgiveness
One of the big pieces in creating a space where your wound can heal is to forgive. Now, hear me out on this one because the concept of forgiveness has been misused and misunderstood. So before we get into the how to forgive, let’s first define what forgiveness is.
To forgive someone does not mean approving of their behavior. It is not putting a stamp of approval on the hurt that was done to you. To forgive someone is not to leave yourself open to continual and constant hurt. (This is where healthy boundaries come in.)
Forgiveness does mean not holding the other person responsible to pay for what they did. Forgiveness means releasing another person from the debt you feel they owe you.
Think about it this way: You are driving in the country and for some reason (maybe you swerved to miss a cow), you drive through a fence creating a huge hole in that fence. The owner of the property saw the whole thing happen and comes over to talk to you. Now, he could get very angry and yell at you, he could make you pay to have the fence rebuilt, he could make you do the word yourself! And any of those reactions would make sense! Instead, he releases you. He refuses to take your money to repair the fence. He takes all the work of rebuilding the fence onto himself and will not accept help from you to do the work. In essence, he has forgiven you by not holding you responsible for crashing through his fence. Does this means his job in fixing the fence is easier? No. Does this erase the fact that you crashed through the fence and caused damage in the first place? Not at all. It simply means the farmer chooses not to hold you responsible for the wrong you did to him (and his fence). Do you see?
Forgiveness is not saying what happened is okay. Many times, your hurt was caused by a wrong action or cutting words. That is not okay! Forgiveness does not mean you approve of the wrong. It simply means you refuse to allow the hurt to fester and you choose to release the one who hurt you from paying you back for the hurt they caused you.
Please understand, we are not talking about holding someone accountable or responsible for their actions right now! The person who hurt you does need to be held accountable for their actions. This can look very different depending on the situation. However, we are talking specifically about forgiveness here. You forgiving the person who hurt you. Holding someone accountable or responsible for their actions is a different piece of a complex situation. Forgiving someone does not mean releasing them from accountability. They are still responsible for what they have done. Forgiveness means you are choosing to release them from what you feel they owe you. You are choosing to release the hurt and not feed your wound.
This is a tough process – and believe you me, it is a process! In some cases, it is possible to forgive people quickly and never think about the hurt again (like if someone accidentally stepped on your foot). However, when you are dealing with a deep hurt, it is very difficult to let go and forgive someone for that big wound they inflicted on you.
This is a process. Forgiveness is not always a one time event. True forgiveness can take days, weeks, months, or sometimes even years. What’s more, your timeline and process will be different from anyone else’s. As you walk this road of forgiveness, don’t walk it alone! Find someone you trust – a wise friend or a licensed mental health counselor – who will walk with you, encourage you to keep going when it gets tough, and who can remind you of why you are doing the hard work to forgive another person.
Remember forgiveness does not approve of the hurt. Forgiveness is not saying the wound does not exist. Forgiveness does not take away the accountability from the one who hurt you. Forgiveness acknowledges the hurt, the wound head-on. More than anything, forgiveness means releasing the person who hurt you from the debt you feel they owe you.
Trust verses Forgiveness
Many people assume that when you forgive someone, the slate is wiped clean and you start over, continuing the same relationship as before with the person that hurt you. This could not be further from the truth! When someone hurts you, your relationship changes! When someone betrays your trust, that trust is not automatically restored.
You see, forgiveness is making the choice that the person who hurt you does not owe you a debt for what they did. Forgiveness is given. Trust is completely different. Trust is earned. As a person shows themself to be trustworthy, you trust them more. When that trust is broken, you have to start rebuilding trust. And that takes time.
Think of it like this: You are building a replica of the Eiffel Tower out of LEGOs. This will take time, dedication, and effort to see the finished project. If someone comes along, sees your Eiffel Tower in process, then picks up a baseball bat and knocks off the top section of the tower, do you continue building where you were? Not at all! There’s nothing to continue building on where you were! You have to go back and build on the base that remains to get back to the point where the baseball bat collided with the tower.
This is a picture of trust. Trust is earned, little by little over time. However, when that trust is broken, it can cause a lot of damage. Just like a baseball bat to a LEGO replica of the Eiffel Tower. Once trust is broken, you cannot simply continue on as things were. You cannot continue building on what was there because it is gone! You have to go back and work, little by little, to restore trust.
While it is possible to build back trust to the same level as it was before, it will take time! Perhaps a lot of time. It will take effort and energy from both people involved. Building back trust is not an easy thing!
Forgiveness is granted. Trust is earned.
So many times these two very different concepts are seen as one and the same. Don’t be taken in here! They are not the same! They are both pieces in the same puzzle, but forgiveness and trust are very different.
Set Healthy Boundaries
There is one more very important piece to dealing with you hurt and allowing yourself the space your wound needs to heal. This piece is setting healthy boundaries.
What is a boundary? Very simply, boundaries are defining what is your responsibility and what is not. To use an analogy that Drs Henry Cloud and John Townsend use in their book ‘Boundaries,’ think of it like putting up a fence around your yard. The fence defines your property or responsibility and what it not your property or responsibility.*
On top of that, your fence is responsible for keeping certain things in your yard and keeping certain things out of your yard. In a physical yard this could mean keeping your dog in your yard so that it doesn’t try to dig up your neighbor’s garden. But let’s say you have a pack of wolves that roam your neighborhood. Your fence keeps the wolves out, protecting your dog and your children.
Healthy boundaries could mean limiting the interaction you have with someone who has hurt you. It could mean stopping contact with that person for a time. It could mean limiting your interaction with them to when others you trust are present. Your boundaries are going to be unique to you and the situation you are walking through.
You see, healthy boundaries are like a bandage to a cut. They protect you and give space for the wound to heal. If you allow the person who hurt you to have full and free access to connect with you, it’s like you are continually ripping off a bandage, exposing the cut, and maybe even pouring lemon juice in it! You have to be very careful with the boundaries you set, though! It’s easy to fall into the trap of isolation and call it “boundaries.”
Boundaries, while simple, are also complex. Your boundaries will look different than anyone else’s. There are far too many nuances for me to cover here in this post, so here is what I want you to do: Get yourself a copy of the book ‘Boundaries’ and read it! It will forever change the way you look at them.
I would love to share with you the secret to never getting hurt. A way to protect yourself against all wounds. Sadly, this secret does not exist. The reality is: You will experience hurt, pain, frustration, and wounds here on this earth. It’s part of being human.
But here’s the good news: You don’t have to live in the hurt and the pain forever. You can make a choice to allow the wounds you have to heal. But you have to make the choice and do the hard work in order to heal. You have to:
- Acknowledge the hurt
- Identify the wound
- Make a choice to forgive
- Set healthy boundaries
If you have walked through these steps and still feel like you need guidance, or if you find yourself stuck, not knowing what the next right step is, please seek out the wise counsel of a licensed mental health counselor that you trust. This blog post is not intended to take the place of live, wise counselors in your life. If you are dealing with a complex situation, particularly one that involves physical or any other kind of abuse, you need to seek out help from a licensed mental health counselor. Each situation is unique and there is no shame in seeking out specific, guided help to make the right decisions on what to do and how walk your path to healing.
*Special thanks to Drs Henry Cloud and John Townsend for their insight into boundaries and their simple fence analogy. Their book, ‘Boundaries,’ along with the others listed below, have helped me tremendously on my journey as I have walked through forgiveness and healing wounds in my own life. Don’t wait another day before you start your journey!
- Unravelling the Truth from the Lies: Overcoming Imposter Syndrome
- What To Do When You Feel Down
- Gaining Freedom by Choosing to Overcome Your Emotions
- Improve Your Focus with Purpose: Lessons from Sunflowers
- Motivation to Keep Moving When Life is Hard
Elizabeth Tatham, founder of Inspiration in the Everyday, is a homeschooling momma of 5 who loves helping other homeschooling mommas create a unique homeschooling adventure your kids will love…without the overwhelm! Join in on the journey with 7 simple steps to make your homeschooling day go faster, easier, and with less tears here.