We are so quick to judge what others do based on their actions and what we do based on our intentions. Have you noticed that? I am certainly guilty of this.
But the truth is, regardless of our intentions, if we hurt someone, we don’t get to tell them that we didn’t. We shouldn’t invalidate their experience, even if we don’t like it. Our job as a friend, partner, parent, sibling or whatever – is to honor their feeling and experience and apologize.
I can’t tell you how many times I have told someone that they hurt me, and their response was super defensive, making me feel like I was crazy to feel that way and me sitting there afterwards questioning the validity of my own feelings. Was I being fair? Am I an unreasonable person? Yeah, those days were definitely before my Jedi training.
These conversations that we had often ended in a huge fight. At the time, my partner just couldn’t be in the wrong or be the bad guy. And that was how he saw himself. I didn’t see him as wrong or bad, I just wanted to tell him how he hurt my feelings so it wouldn’t continue in the future and that he would know me. He had a hard time accepting any kind of criticism or even perceived criticism because he was so externally focused on how people saw him. He had a very fragile ego, and it was difficult for him to hear, “hey I felt hurt when X happened” in any other way other than, “I am abandoning you.”
It was agonizing for both of us to say the least. I didn’t feel seen or heard and he felt attacked and that he did everything wrong. And I often found myself saying, “when I tell you I feel hurt, why can’t your response be, oh my God, I am so sorry! I never meant to hurt you!”. All I was looking for was an acknowledgement and an apology and I would be over it in less than 5 minutes.
For some of us, it is really hard to not be on the defensive when someone says you hurt their feelings. Why is that? I think it really comes down to how we see what is happening and how we see ourselves. If we see the statement of someone saying that you hurt their feelings as an attack, because we never meant that, we really need to slow things down. Let’s be honest, it is a neutral statement. Maybe you didn’t mean it, maybe it wasn’t your intention to hurt the person, but you did. And it doesn’t make you a horrible person – it makes you human. And their feeling is just as valid as yours.
We are always going to inadvertently hurt the people we love. And them telling us? That is a gift. Some people hold onto their hurt and anger and eventually blow up. Or they never say anything, and it eats away at them.
Them telling us is a data point that gives us an opportunity to fix communication and/or how we handle things. It is an asset because it improves the quality of the relationship in the long run.
Try to see someone sharing feeling hurt with you (even if they are upset) as an asset to your relationship. Remember, it is you and your partner against the problems you have, not the two of you against each other.