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What to Do When Someone Says Something That Hurts You

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Analyzing why people do the things they do and how those things affect others is one of my favorite pastimes. I enjoy finding solutions.

Words have the power to hurt. If someone has said something hurtful to you, learn how to deal with the pain.

Words have the power to hurt. If someone has said something hurtful to you, learn how to deal with the pain.

How to Figure Out Why Someone Said Something Hurtful

Hurtful words carry great power. They have the potential to shove somebody into a downward spiral of self-doubt and destruction, or they can jolt that person out of their comfort zone and onto a quest of self-discovery and improvement. Sometimes, there is some truth in the words. Often, there is none.

People say mean things to others for many reasons. More often than not, the person who puts somebody else down won't remember what they said a year later; however, the recipient of those words may remember them for the rest of their lives.

Questions to Ask Yourself When Someone Says Something Mean

One way to limit the negative effects these words have on you is to consider (or, even better, write down) your answers to the following:

  • Who said the words?
  • How well does that person know you or the person or circumstances they referred to?
  • What purpose, if any, did they have in saying those hurtful words?
  • Do they have any authority or expertise to have made the claim they made?
  • Is it possible you misinterpreted what was said?
  • How long are you willing to allow these comments to disrupt your peace or influence your self-esteem?

Below is some further advice on coping with hurtful words.

Start by Distinguishing the Character of the Person Who Hurt You

Instead of concentrating on what was said, first try examining the person who said it. Did you become a target of a known bully? Was this person someone you love or someone who's supposed to love you? Was it a relative, a friend, a teacher, a coach, or a stranger? Was it somebody whose opinion you previously respected; or, was it somebody who often said things you didn't agree with? Is this person mean to others; or, did they single you out?

When you analyze the character of the person who spoke those awful words to you or about you or someone you love, you may find that their words are more a reflection of who they are and not so much about who you are.

What Motivated That Person to Say What Was Said?

Sometimes people say cruel things to others when their own lives are in turmoil. It's not right. It's not an excuse. It's an explanation. When people are under too much stress, they might accuse someone else of having the faults that they fear they possess; or, they might blurt out something in anger that they don't really mean. Afterward, they may feel some guilt; but they may also feel relief that they got their fears off their chest without even recognizing that their words were misdirected.

Think about whether they said what they said intentionally to hurt you or help you. They may have put you down solely to boost their own ego. If intoxication played a role, the words said may not have been meant for you. When people are too drunk or high to think clearly, they often misinterpret different aspects of their reality which causes them to make unwarranted accusations or ignorant statements.

On the other hand, when somebody's confidence is low about certain aspects of who they are, they may twist other people's words to match how they feel about themselves as a way to validate (whether true or not) their own perception of themselves.

Why Do People in Pain Snap?

People in pain, whether it be physical, emotional, or psychological, sometimes snap at the people around them. Often, those people are the ones who are dear to them. They, usually, don't mean to hurt the people they love. The pain consumes them, and, as a result, they lash out in an attempt to feel some relief, if only for a moment.

In that brief moment they are yelling out hurtful words, their minds become distracted enough to override their concentration of their pain. It may help to point out to them that this process is understandable; however, their behavior toward you is unacceptable. They need to seek treatment to avoid causing you pain.

Why Did You Feel Hurt by What Was Said?

After you determine the personality of the person who hurt you and whatever outside influences may have played a part in their insensitivity to your feelings, examine what it was that made you feel bad. Were you bothered because you believe there was truth in what was said? Did it upset you because there was no truth to it at all? Would the words have hurt you if they were spoken in a different tone or in a different setting?

Sometimes, it's not what was said that hurts so much as it is who it was said in front of. For example, maybe a coworker or teacher said, "You screwed this all up; you're a horrible worker/student." Maybe, this wouldn't bother you too much if you're the only two people within earshot; you might defend yourself and feel confident in the work you do. However, being shamed in front of others could not only elevate the level of hurt you feel but could also play a major part in how long you hold onto it. When around other people, you might not be so quick to defend yourself because you already feel embarrassed enough. When you can't defend yourself, you may feel angry at yourself which can cause you to feel worse.

Sometimes hurtful words are spoken in retaliation, and you may need to apologize for something you did. Other times, you may need to learn to forgive the speaker.

Sometimes hurtful words are spoken in retaliation, and you may need to apologize for something you did. Other times, you may need to learn to forgive the speaker.

Should You Apologize or Forgive Someone Who Hurt You?

If the hurtful words spoken to you were in retaliation for something unwarranted that you said or did to hurt the person, a heartfelt apology including an admission to what you are guilty of may help mend your relationship or, at the very least, it may help the other person begin to heal.

In contrast, if the other person hurt you without just cause, you have nothing to feel guilty about. However, if what they did or said continues to cause you grief, you need to decide whether you can let go of the pain and move forward without allowing it to direct your life along a less than deserved fruitful path or if you want to feel justice by taking actions to receive an admission of guilt and an apology. Often, this is the most someone hurt can hope for and this process may help them feel a sense of release from the negatively they feel inside.

Can You Let Go of the Pain Behind Hurtful Words?

Sometimes people hurt us and almost instantly or within a relatively short amount of time we can barely recall what happened or perhaps we remember what happened but we can't recall the name of the person who hurt us. For example, you may remember when you're 40 years old that somebody gave you a bloody nose when you were a teenager; however, you may not be able to recall who the person was or even why they hit you. You simply let it go.

Amazingly, if that same person had said something hurtful to you or about you, you may never forget their name or what they said. In order to let it go, some people are able to accept and release what was said as something in the past (like a bloody nose) that has no relevance in their present. This is not an easy task and the more hurtful the circumstances the harder it is to let go but it's something to strive for to allow yourself inner peace.

How to Turn Hurtful Words Around in Your Favor

The process of breaking down the individual pieces of who said what and why may help to lessen the pain and to steer you in a more positive direction. In addition, it may help you learn more about the person who broke your heart or your confidence.

The information you gather through this analysis may help you take a more in-depth look at your own imperfections and strong points, as well as those of the person who hurt you. It might prompt you to forgive and forget or to move past the negativity of what was said. It may also inspire you to recognize signs that the person who hurt you needs help or maybe they need somebody to show them what kindness looks like. At the end of this analysis, you will probably have a better understanding of who you are, who you are not, and who you aspire to become.

Write a Poem, Rap, or Song

Change the poem below by adding the hurtful words said to you in the quotation. Let them know how it felt to receive the words they said. You might feel so bad that you allow yourself to believe what was said even if deep down you know it isn't true.

Instead of telling them that you're not "a loser" or whatever they accuse you of being, show them through your response. Show them the good in you; show them your beauty.

Look for the good qualities in the person who said these words to you and acknowledge in your piece that you may never be them or who they expect you to be but you have good qualities, as well as, bad just like every other human on earth.

Let them know you will give your best to improve and to see the good side of others. And, always imagine how the person receiving your words might feel before putting them out there. Spread love, not hate.

This exercise may help you move past what was said and minimize the significance of it regardless of whether or not you write it for your eyes only.

"Sticks and Stones," an anti-bullying poem.

"Sticks and Stones," an anti-bullying poem.

Questions & Answers

Question: Five years ago, someone said that I am a doormat, a pushover and that nobody knows me. It still hurts me. How should I move past it?

Answer: That sounds like something somebody could have said about me 5 or 10 years ago because I was a doormat, a pushover, and I didn't share much of my feelings with others. I thought I was kind and forgiving because it felt natural to me to accommodate people or as some might say be a "people pleaser." However, at some point, I recognized my flaws, and I decided to stop allowing others to take advantage of my good will. I realized I could still be kind and forgiving to others, but I had to be sure to be kind and forgiving to myself first. In being kind to myself, I began only accommodating others when it's truly what I want to do (when it feels good to me to help someone else) and not when I feel used.

In your case, If those things don't describe who you believe yourself to be or who you were at the time, then realize the person who said that to you must have misunderstood who you are and instead of stating who they thought you were they should have let you know they have concerns for you. The person who said that to you made a mistake either in what they said or in the delivery of it. We all have flaws. Nobody's perfect. Allow yourself the peace of mind to forgive if you can. I bet the person never meant to hurt you at all and may even have thought they were helping you.

Question: How do I get past a friend of mine calling me a pig and saying he wished that I died during surgery, just because I said he used to like me?

Answer: It might be possible that your friend said those things because he was so worried that you might die during surgery and he didn't know how to deal with the fear of losing you so he set his mind to distant you and protect his heart. If that's not the case and he said those things to be cruel then perhaps you should distance yourself from him and spend time with people who value you for who you are. If you still want to be friends with this person and the feeling is mutual then you should probably let him know how hurtful his words were and ask if he meant them.

Question: My boyfriend keeps saying mean things to me and throwing my past in my face. He tells me I will never be a housewife just a forty-year-old party person. How should I handle this?

Answer: You're in control of your own destiny - not your boyfriend. If you want to become a housewife someday, you can make that happen. Your boyfriend may have fears for your safety or he may be afraid he'll lose you to someone who will treat you better or maybe his meanness is coming from somewhere else altogether. If I were in your shoes and I thought this relationship was worth trying to save I would request from him that we have a nice talk - no name-calling-no insults-no screaming and then I would let him know those tactics are unacceptable. I would tell him how it made me feel when he said those mean things and I would tell him that couples should lift each other up and bring out the best in each other. I would tell him everybody makes mistakes in life - not one person on this planet is perfect. We learn from our mistakes and move on leaving our past errs where they belong - behind us - while trying to do better and be better. Then I would ask him if he wanted to work on making our relationship better. If so, I would ask him to tell me what his fears are in our relationship and I would put my concerns about myself aside and listen carefully to how he feels. Afterward, we will both be a little more knowledgeable about what we're doing to hurt each other and whether or not we want to change our behaviors to keep our relationship or not.

Question: This boy said I am not pretty. It really hurts. How can I move past it?

Answer: Everybody has their own opinions on what features make someone attractive. While one boy may think you are not pretty, another may think you're the prettiest person on earth. One thing I have noticed is that when people are kind and good hearted, when they stand up for themselves and others if needed, and when they have ambition and motivation to excel and to help others, their beauty can't be beat and the people who's opinions matter recognize those qualities as the ones that make people pretty.

Question: I was buying a necklace and asked if it matched my coloring (hair, skin, etc). My “friend” said “smile," and that the yellowish color matched the yellowish color of my front crowned teeth. Do I say something to this person?

Answer: I think that if the comment causes you grief and you can no longer look at this friend without thinking about how their insensitive words affected your self esteem you might want to let them know that. However, if your teeth coloring really doesn't bother you then you can appreciate the fact that having a yellow tint to your teeth is better than having a mean tint to your spirit. Keep smiling...most people look beyond your teeth anyhow and they see the sparkle that your spirit emits.

Question: I went to spend some time with family, but as I was leaving someone said something along the lines of "I don't know why you're leaving like you have plans when you know you're boring." It didn't really hurt me, but the fact that he said something so ignorant because he didn't know me angered me in so many ways. Why does this effect me so much?

Answer: This person who doesn't know you caught you off guard as you were leaving and he made an assumption about who you are based on a short amount of time. He also risked embarrassing you in front of others possibly to get a chuckle from them at your expense. It wasn't a kind thing to do, and people like yourself who recognize that thoughtless behavior get angered by witnessing it.

Question: A good friend of mine who became a romantic interest while long distance started experiencing home troubles when I returned home. I approached him about the mixed signals and he said he, “didn’t feel the need to define ‘what are we’ because, to be blunt, we are only friends who sexted and talked a lot”. Should I forgive him? He still wants to be friends, but I can’t understand why he’d say something that wasn’t true at all.

Answer: Without knowing what you mean by him experiencing home troubles I'd have to guess that you mentioned those home troubles because you believe they have something to do with the reason he's sending you mixed signals. If that is the case then his response may be a sign that he feels your relationship with him is jeopardizing a relationship at home and perhaps he wants to lessen the importance of it to relieve himself of guilt or accountability or he may be trying to back away from where that was leading because he liked your relationship better when you were friends who didn't sext. A caring friend might have been more sensitive in their wording and instead of saying you are "only" friends might have said what he loves about the friendship you had prior to the sexting and why he would like to go back to being friends in that way again. If my interpretation of what you wrote is way off, forgive him and be the friend you were before. If my interpretaion was spot on, you might want to ask yourself what is it about him that makes him a good friend to keep in your life.

Question: My friends have had a dislike of my mum for about a year now for no apparent reason. This one "friend" makes really hurtful comments, for example when a frail old lady walks past he'll say something like "look it's his witch mum." It angers me but if I lash out none of my friends will back me up. What should I say or do?

Answer: There's nothing more hurtful or disrespectful than for somebody to put down someone we love, especially, in our presence. Know that whatever mean things they say only reflects negatively on who they are. I think the best way to handle this situation would be to take each of them aside individually and say something like this, "You know, that's my Mum you're talking about, and I love her. I don't like hearing you say mean things about her. How would you feel if somebody spoke badly about someone you love? I like hanging out with you, and I'd like to remain your friend, so please stop." If you were to say this to all of them at once, they might crack more jokes and continue picking on you and your Mum at least throughout that day (although they might ease up on it later) so it's probably better if you wait for a good time to tell each privately.

Question: Someone hatefully said to me they’re sorry I was “all up in my feelings, but go f—-off” this person is an acquaintance of the family that really had no reason to say this to me, as I was talking to her sister and not her. So why does it bother me so much, and how do I get over it?

Answer: It might be more about the fact that she interrupted you when you were trying to get the point across to her sister than about what she said. I suspect after this flair up you never really had a chance to say what you intended on saying or it had less of an effect than you'd hoped. That's probably why it still bothers you. Perhaps, if you can finish your conversation, you'll feel better, and the interruption will have no more power over your thoughts.

Question: Someone has said something nasty and it affects you and makes you get anxiety. For example, always thinking of what the person said and how it ruins your life in your moment destroying any good feeling that you finally desire. Should I get a therapist?

Answer: If you have a primary care physician you might contact him/her and they should be able to advise you on what steps to take to help relieve your anxiety. Some things that have helped me to stop negative thoughts in the midst of an anxiety attack have been … counting out loud...relaxing in the bath...imagining me in a happy place...taking control of my self-esteem by setting small goals for self-improvement and feeling good about myself when I accomplish them.

Question: How do you respond when called a junkie or crackhead? How to let go of a past life that people will not allow you to forget?

Answer: Most people have something in their past they wish they could forget. It may be something that happened to them or something they did (or said) to themselves or somebody else. Overcoming a drug addiction is not an easy task, and it's difficult when people don't acknowledge the work that it took to put the addiction in the past. If I was a recovered drug addict and somebody called me a junkie or crackhead, I would say something like this to them, "You know, it took a lot of work for me to overcome my addiction. While I may have been a junkie or a crackhead in the past, those words and the actions associated with them no longer define me. Is there something from your past you wouldn't want me to remind you of every time you remind me of mine? Instead of bringing up my past, concern yourself with your own." Maybe taking a stand like this will make them bite their tongue the next time they think about making false claims against you. If not, know that you're strong, and while you can't control what others say, you may be able to control whether or not you allow it to hurt you.

Question: I recently had to feel the burn from an internet bully who said despicable, nasty stuff and lots of unthinkable swear words. I know I shouldn't take that seriously, but it bothers me so much that I literally cried because of it. I was not even mean to that person, but she used extremely vulgar language which left a big impact on my mind. How do I recover?

Answer: I'm so sorry you had to experience the wrath, insensitivity, and ignorance of a bully. Know that when bullies strike with no regard for how their actions and words affect their victims, it speaks more negatively about them than it does about the person they target. When I have dealt with bullies saying awful things to me, I've found that it helps me to wait a day, think about the context of what was said and then send a nice a little note off to the person letting them know how much it hurt me to hear their words and perhaps how wrong they are about their perception of me. Most of the time, I get a sincere apology but sometimes I get a person so wrapped up in anger they want to continue their abuse. Either way, I feel better that I let them know how hurtful they had been and I'm always hopeful they will see the error of their ways and make changes in how they treat others.