When I came across this question on multiple platforms, a part of me wished there was one single thing I could share with those struggling with this internal hurt that would resolve it for them. A silver bullet.
Alas, just like werewolves, silver bullets are a myth!
So then what do you do when you’re hurting within? How do you stop it? What are some effective ways to soothe yourself? What are some ways to prevent unnecessary hurt? Let’s talk!
How To Stop Hurting (Emotionally)?
For everything in life, there are some short-term actions, a.k.a., quick fixes, that won’t completely resolve the issue at hand, however, they may provide immediate relief. Then there is the continual long-term work that might seem tedious (even hard) to begin with but will help to uproot the hurt. Both these kinds of strategies are complementary to one another, & will work best together. Some short-term strategies are naming the emotion, re-channeling the energy, using affirmations, etc. Long-term strategies are learning about emotions, your attachment blueprint, engaging in belief work, & body awareness, to name a few.
You can’t solve a problem you don’t understand! So let’s begin by looking at what (emotional) “hurt” really means.
Anita Vangelisti, a psychologist, professor, and researcher, states(1) that hurt is “a feeling that occurs as a result of a person being emotionally injured by another”.
Whenever I’ve felt hurt, on deeper analysis, I’ve realized that it’s usually because I expected something from someone (usually someone close to me – a parent, primary caregiver, romantic partner, sibling, close friend), and their actions didn’t meet my expectations.
When I feel hurt it’s usually accompanied by either anger or sadness. When anger is involved, I blame the other for my hurt. When sadness is in the scene some of my deeper ineffective beliefs come up that tell me that I am the problem – I’m not worthy/ lovable/ good/ enough.
In a research study on hurt feelings, Feeney(2) found:
“Hurt is an emotion elicited specifically by relational transgressions that evoke a sense of personal injury… In this context, personal injury is defined as damage to the victim’s view of the self as worthy of love and/ or to core beliefs about the availability and trustworthiness of others.”
Why Are My Feelings Hurt So Easily?
This is another common question for many people who experience feeling hurt – why do they hurt? Reading Feeney’s account above may have thrown some light on it.
We hurt, usually, in relational dynamics, especially in those where we have implicit or explicit expectations from the other, and the other does or doesn’t do something that makes us question our sense of worth/ being loved/ or other such core beliefs.
We may also experience feeling hurt more “easily” when we compare ourselves to others’ experiences which may or may not be true. Where it is true, it’s usually because of childhood experiences we may have had of varying degrees of verbal/ emotional/ physical/ sexual abuse.
Ryan Po shares in Quora his personal experience of why some people get hurt easily saying, “Usually, when humans grow up being exposed to bullying and hate, they develop sensitivities for events that are similar to those that they had in the past.”
Before You Start Trying To Resolve It!
Now that we have a little more nuanced understanding of what might be happening to us when we’re hurting, let’s look at three factors to consider that will help us decide the best course of action to take.
1. The Cause?
Was it something “small” – I’ve put it in quotes because it’s very, very, VERY relative, and can be affected by multiple factors.
However, taking into consideration relativity, was it something small? Like, your sibling ate half your chocolate!
Or is it something pretty big – you lost someone to a fight, breakup, or death?
Do you see how I’ve used different tenses above? When it’s something relatively small, it’s relatively easy to let it be in the past (“Was it something small”). But when it’s not small, it stays with us in our present (“Is it something pretty big”).
If it was small, and you feel deep hurt, chances are it’s not a one-off thing and maybe needs some deeper work to look at what core beliefs might be hindering your well-being in the present.
If it was big, then you might need to allow yourself time to feel the loss. Almost all loss is accompanied by some form of grief, which is very different from core beliefs work.
2. The Intensity?
How “deeply” do you feel hurt? Are you able to tolerate it? Does it feel as if you can’t breathe, or as if your heart is sinking, or as if you’re completely numb?
The intensity of your hurt is an important factor to look at when thinking of the most effective solution for your current predicament.
Low-intensity hurt might benefit from simple emotional release work, like literally shaking your body! Or hitting the gym, or doing something you like! And then depending on the situation you can take the next step to resolve the issue that caused you hurt in the first place through, maybe, communication fixes.
High-intensity hurt is likely to need engagement with nervous system regulation practices, to help you feel safe and okay before you can do anything else to work with it.
3. The Frequency?
How often do you find yourself hurting? If all else is safe – people around you aren’t abusive – and the frequency of hurt is high, then there’s a high probability that it’s a reaction to unresolved issues from the past.
If the frequency is low, then it’s possible that there’s some misalignment of expectations between you and the people you experience hurt in relation to. In this case, you might need to work on communication, boundaries, and expectation setting.
Strategies to Ease & Resolve Hurt
There are two kinds of strategies for any solution – short-term and long-term. Short-term strategies have the potential to bring immediate relief, but may not truly solve the problem. While long-term strategies are likely to take more time, if effective, will resolve the issue for good.
This article shares 6 short-term strategies. You’ll find long-term strategies explained in What To Do When You’re Hurting Inside (Part 2)?
Please note these two strategy categories are complementary to one another and will be most effective when engaged with simultaneously.
6 Short-Term Strategies For Immediate Relief
Yup, it’s as simple as it sounds, vent it out – “give free expression to (a strong emotion)”, as Google Dictionary defines it!
Venting ideally should be in a safe space, whether with a person you trust who will hold a listening space for you, or in a journal that you can write in and not share with anyone if you don’t want to.
When we vent, two things happen. One, the charged emotion gets space to be released from your body as you talk or write it out. Two, your mind is able to make better sense of it, allowing for some possible closure or next step.
Venting is a great tool when used in the right situation, however, venting means you do it and let it go. You may do it more than once – a few times – that’s okay.
However, if you find yourself venting about the same situation over and over again more than a few times, it’s no longer a useful tool for you. Now it’s become a shackle where you’re reinforcing any and all limiting beliefs you carry (by the way, we all carry limiting beliefs to varying degrees).
2. Re-channel The Energy
While venting allows the charged emotion to directly be released from the body, re-channeling all that charged energy can allow the unpleasant emotional charge to turn into something pleasant.
For eg., directing the emotional charge into poetry, writing (a story, or an article), drawing (I personally find watercolors very helpful), going for a run, hitting the gym – choose your magical potion!
Again, just like with venting, notice if you need to re-channel too often – it could be a sign that it’s turning into a mask for avoidance and suppression of what’s really going on within.
3. Name It To Tame It
This is one of the simplest strategies that will probably take the least amount of time, and provide an immediate release, once you learn it!
Dr. Daniel J. Siegel, neuropsychiatrist and author, shares a very simple strategy in his book, The Whole-Brain Child, called Name It To Tame It.
I know it says “child” in there, but let me tell you – most adults are children with respect to their understanding of emotions and how to work with them!
He says that the moment you’re able to name what you’re feeling, you immediately feel some pressure of the emotional charge release.
Now here’s the learning bit – many of us struggle with being able to name our feelings, let alone being able to sense and see that there’s usually more than one emotion at any given time!
So you may have to use some resources, like a feelings wheel, to begin learning different emotions with respect to your own feelings.
According to Siegel, you don’t even have to give it a name from the dictionary! For instance, if I’m feeling anger, fear, shame, & hurt together – I can call it Shaf, or Fash, or Hafs – it doesn’t matter as long as I resonate with it!
While The Whole-Brain Child is written to make the science behind how a child’s (toddler to early adulthood) brain is wired more accessible to non-science folx, I found it to be an excellent read in my mid-twenties to understand my own brain & its working!
4. Ground & Release
If you don’t have enough time, and/ or the situation is not conducive for deeper work, you can do a quick grounding exercise.
For example, focus on your breath for a couple of breaths, then consciously slow it down – making the inhale deeper and through your nose, and the exhale longer and through your mouth (throw in some sighs as you exhale!) Repeat a few times (5-10).
The slowing down of breath helps the nervous system regulate – making you feel you’re okay. And the exhale through the mouth with a sigh allows for some release to take place.
5. Work The Affirmation
Do affirmations work? Yes, and no. Yes, they work if, in the long run, they’re paired with the long-term work mentioned in Part 2 of this 2-part series.
No, they don’t – they’ll stop working after a while, or may not work at all if there’s no long-term plan!
Affirmations need a down-regulated nervous system – one that feels safe and secure. So I recommend using your affirmations along with the 4th strategy of Grounding & Releasing.
A few examples of affirmations are, “I am okay”, “I let all unneeded energy be released”, “I am calm, safe, and okay”, “May I have clarity and wisdom”, etc.
6. Follow A Process
There are a number of processes created by various people that can be helpful to use at the moment – they may need some practice, but once you do them a few times, you’ll be able to do them with ease!
One such process is SIFT – In his book Brainstorm, Dr. Siegel talks about the process of SIFTing. It stands for Sensations, Images, Feelings, and Thoughts.
Using this process, when you feel hurt, notice what sensations are present in your body, observe if any images are coming into your mind, see what feelings might be present, and watch the thoughts that may be coming to you in the moment.
Lisa Firestone, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, an author, and the Director of Research and Education for the Glendon Association, says(3) about SIFTing:
“This straightforward exercise can offer a surprising amount of insight into any underlying stressors. For example, there may be an image from our childhood, a phrase, a sensation, or a feeling that arises that helps us connect our current day reactions to difficult experiences from our past. This process helps us understand ourselves and develop insight.”
It’s important to understand, as mentioned at the beginning of the strategies segment, that short-term strategies can be great in-the-moment quick fixes. But in order to truly understand, process, and release hurt feelings it’s crucial to do the long-term work.
Let’s Bring It All Together
- Hurt is usually associated with relational transgressions and a sense of injury to the (perceived) self.
- The three factors to consider when looking for an effective way to resolve hurt: are its cause, the intensity with which you feel it, & how frequently you experience it.
- To resolve hurt there can be both, short-term & long-term, strategies. While these can work independently of each other, they work best together.
- Venting, re-channeling your energy, naming the emotion, grounding and releasing practices, affirmations, and following already existing processes like SIFT, are some short-term strategies.
- For long-term strategies, please read, What To Do When You’re Hurting Inside (Part 2)?
How well do you understand your hurt feelings? Have you tried any of the strategies shared above? Are there any other strategies you use that you find helpful?
Are you struggling with any specific cause of hurt right now? Do you have access to support & care? How can I be of help?
I look forward to reading your comments 🙂
(1) Vangelisti, A. L., Young, S. L., Carpenter-Theune, K. E., & Alexander, A. L. (2005). Why Does It Hurt?: The Perceived Causes of Hurt Feelings. Communication Research, 32(4), 443–477. https://doi.org/10.1177/0093650205277319
(2) Feeney, J.A. (2005), Hurt feelings in couple relationships: Exploring the role of attachment and perceptions of personal injury. Personal Relationships, 12: 253-271. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1350-4126.2005.00114.x
(3) Name It to Tame It: The Emotions Underlying Your Triggers, by Lisa Firestone, Ph.D., clinical psychologist, an author, and the Director of Research and Education for the Glendon Association. Reviewed by Lybi Ma. Psychology Today
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