This blog is about dealing with hurt feelings. In three short articles, it charts my learning over a period of several months.
1. My dilemma – written on 19.8.20.
Image: level17-design, Pixabay
The churning inside me never stops; days of suffering confront me
(Job 30:27; NIV).
Introduction During the summer of 2020, two people hurt me badly, on separate occasions. I decided to be direct with them, and did so as lovingly as I could. However, both reacted to my feedback with anger and blame, and neither was willing to work together towards reconciliation.
My dilemma: Should I speak out, or say nothing? This breakdown in two significant relationships left me ruminating for many weeks about all that had gone wrong, generating a constant sense of dread. Sadly, this was not a new experience. Dealing with hurt feelings has posed a serious dilemma for me throughout my life: is it better to speak out to those concerned, or to say nothing?
What did Jesus say and do? As always, when I don’t know what to do for the best, I looked for guidance in the teaching and example of Jesus. However, he taught, and displayed, both outspoken and silent ways of responding to hurt, criticism, and injustice, which I have always found confusing.
For example, on one occasion he stated: If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them, and if they repent, forgive them (Luke 17:3; NIV).
Yet he also said: If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also (Matthew 5:39; NLT).
So, what happens when I try to follow each of these two apparently very different approaches?
Speaking out Experience has taught me that when I speak out directly to someone who has hurt me, it almost always backfires. In response to my feedback, they turn on me with anger and blame, or end our relationship. I then react to their hostility with my characteristic endless sense of dread.
Saying nothing On the other hand, when I say nothing, I allow the other person to hurt me without protesting, absorbing the pain and damage, just as I did with my emotionally abusive mother. This makes me feel powerless, worthless, and depressed.
Thus, whichever approach I try, I generally end up feeling as if life is not worth living.
Forgiveness Fortunately, Jesus was absolutely clear that whether or not we speak out, we should always forgive those who hurt us. This applies even if they never acknowledge what they have done, and never apologise. Forgiveness gives me something positive to work on during the months of emotional distress which follow each time someone upsets me.
Conclusion When people hurt me, I see myself as having only two basic choices: to speak out, or to say nothing. Either way, the outcome is equally damaging for my mental health. Not knowing how to resolve this dilemma has plagued me all my life, and remains a serious problem to this day.
After writing the piece above, I began to talk my dilemma over with a few, trusted people for the first time ever. Gradually, my thinking about it began to change, as described in the next article.
2. My action plan – written on 30.8.20.
Image: Jackson David, Pixabay
If you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple, and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God
(Matthew 5:23-4; NLT).
Introduction After writing the above article, I spent a long time working out how to improve my ways of relating to those who hurt me. From the insights gained, I gradually put together an action plan to follow whenever a crisis arises.
My action plan Rather than seeing my response as a stark choice between speaking out and saying nothing, I decided to tackle each situation in a series of stages.
Stage 1: Withdraw, pray, reflect When someone behaves unacceptably towards me, I will not confront the person involved immediately. Instead, I will simply tell them that I need time to reflect on what they have said or done. I will then withdraw to sleep on the matter for at least one night. Taking time out will enable me to pray, discuss the situation with someone I trust, and think carefully, before responding. This should help to prevent me from reacting angrily in the heat of the moment, with a high risk of permanently damaging the other person, our relationship, and myself.
Stage 2: Decide whether or not to be honest During the time out, if I decide it is pointless, or inappropriate, to speak directly to the person concerned, I need take the matter no further. Instead, I will work on praying for them, and forgiving them.
On the other hand, if I decide to tell the other person how their behaviour has affected me, I need to remember that they may have had no intention, or awareness, of upsetting me, and might therefore be very taken aback when I raise the subject.
Stage 3: Speak out briefly, and lovingly When I decide to give direct feedback, I will do so as briefly and lovingly as possible. I will remind the person of what they said or did, and be honest about how it has hurt me. Anything beyond this is superfluous.
Stage 4: Wait to see how the person responds If the other person reacts badly, there is no need for me to do anything further. We are all responsible for our own behaviour, and I can’t expect everyone to respond exactly as I wish. Instead, I will try to put the whole matter behind me, though I admit that I have always found this impossible.
On the other hand, if the other person reacts positively, and apologises, I will accept this immediately, forgiving them completely. We can then be reconciled, and the whole matter will be resolved.
Stage 5: Start afresh Finally, however badly things turn out, I can try to start afresh each day. Every time I find myself ruminating about what happened, I will remind myself that the matter is now closed, and that it’s time for me to move on.
Conclusion From now on, when someone hurts me, I have an action plan to follow. My overall aim will be to maintain a careful balance between being speaking out, preserving relationships, and protecting my mental health.
After finishing this article, I made further progress in dealing with hurt feelings, as described in the final piece of this series.
3. My further learning – written on 23.1.21.
Image: Manfred Antranias Zimmer, Pixabay
Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves
(Philippians 2:3; NLT).
Introduction Despite my hopes, putting together my action plan didn’t make me feel any better about my two shattered relationships. I was still living with constant dread, which drained my already very limited energy. My sleep and dreams were disturbed, and I began to slip into depression. Clearly, my approach to dealing with hurt feelings was incomplete.
Then, one day, I suddenly realised that when I’ve been honest with someone about their behaviour towards me, and they have taken it badly, or stopped speaking to me, there is one more step I can take, in the hope of resolving the situation.
One more step I can write to the person concerned, saying how sorry I am about everything that has gone wrong between us. I can tell them that I’m praying for them, and for our relationship, and let them know that I long for us to be reconciled. Even if they don’t respond, I will then know that I have done all I possibly can to put things right between us.
This insight enabled me to write carefully and lovingly to the two people who had hurt me. To my delight, one responded with great generosity of spirit, though sadly the other did not reply. However, by sending these letters, I finally managed to stop ruminating about all that had gone wrong. In consequence, my abiding sense of dread slowly began to diminish.
The teaching of Mother Theresa At this point, I believed my action plan was complete. Some weeks later, though, I stumbled on Mother Theresa’s teaching about how to deal with exactly the kind of hurtful situations that had destroyed my peace of mind for so many months.
In her book, “The Joy in Loving” (Penguin Books, 2000), Mother Theresa offers brief but powerful advice on how to become more humble, and therefore more Christ-like. The wording varies slightly in different editions of the book, so I have amalgamated the most relevant points into a single list which hopefully maintains the spirit of her approach:
Do not dwell on the faults of others.
Accept contradictions and correction cheerfully.
Accept criticism, even if it is unmerited.
Accept insults and injuries.
Accept being slighted and disliked.
Accept contempt, being disregarded, and being forgotten.
Be courteous, kind, and gentle, even when provoked.
Inspired by the simplicity and clarity of these teachings, I began to absorb and practice them. Not long afterwards a friend unexpectedly censured me for something which was not under my control. Feeling hurt, I began to defend myself, but quickly recalled Mother Theresa’s wise words, “Accept criticism, even if it is unmerited.” I stopped speaking, and turned away. Overwhelmed by despair, I started to weep. To my friend’s credit, she quickly realised how much she had hurt me. She approached me, apologising profusely. We clung together for a long time in great distress, comforting each other. Eventually I was able to explain how afraid I had been of her sudden anger, and how much her words had upset me. I told her that I loved and valued her, and we were fully reconciled.
Humility, acceptance and courtesy This was a deeply healing experience, unlike anything I had previously experienced. Moreover, it was not followed by dread, or depression, which seemed little short of a miracle. I therefore resolved to adopt Mother Theresa’s approach of responding with humility, acceptance, courtesy, kindness and forgiveness whenever someone hurts me.
Conclusion These three linked articles have described how I resolved my lifelong dilemma about the best way to respond when someone hurts me. I no longer see myself as having a straight, binary choice between speaking out and saying nothing. Nor do I need a complex action plan that relies on how the other person reacts at each stage. Instead, from now on, whenever I am criticised or attacked, I will use the simple, humble approach encapsulated in Mother Theresa’s teaching.
To my delight, this completely resolves my original dilemma, as it is entirely in accordance with the spirit of Christ’s own words: Love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also […] Then your reward in heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High (Luke 6:27-9, 35; NLT).
There can be no finer action plan than this.
My warmest thanks to all those who engaged in discussing this issue with me, especially Alan, Dianne, Rosemary, and John. Their contributions have been invaluable. Many thanks also to Ber, whose technical help and personal encouragement enabled me to write and organise this document.
He reveals deep and mysterious things
and knows what lies hidden in darkness (Daniel 2:22; NLT).
1. You know I’ve been abused.
I’m traumatised, and scarred.
I’ve had to live with shame, dread
And depression. It’s been hard.
2. My physical and mental health
Have failed, time and again.
I’m sure my mother never guessed
Her rage would cause such pain.
3. Since then, I’ve tried to be
A Good Samaritan each day,
But now I see that I, too, was attacked
Along the way –
4. Stripped and beaten, left half dead,
Despised, passed by, ignored,
Then you drew near to care for me,
My Priest, my God, my Lord.
5. At last, I’ve grasped your promise,
And your plan has been revealed:
My suffering will end one day –
In death, I will be healed.
1. God has seen your abuse (Genesis 31:42; NLT).
2. The tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself (James 3:6; NLT).
No one can tame the tongue. It is restless and evil, full of deadly poison (James 3:8; NLT).
The tongue can bring life or death (Proverbs 18:21; NLT).
They live wicked lives and they misuse their power (Jeremiah 23:10; NET).
You did not reflect on your actions or think about their consequences (Isaiah 47:7; NLT).
3. A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers (Luke 10:30; NIV).
4. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road (Luke 10:30; NLT).
By chance, a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Temple assistant walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side (Luke 10:31-2; NLT).
I am insignificant and despised (Psalm 119:141; NLT).
I look for someone to come and help me, but no one gives me a passing thought! No one will help me; no one cares a bit about what happens to me (Psalm 142:4; NLT).
Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine, and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins, telling him, “Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I’ll pay you the next time I’m here” (Luke 10:33-35; NLT).
I am the one who answers your prayers and cares for you (Hosea 14:8; NLT).
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess (Hebrews 4:15; NIV).
“My Lord and my God!” Thomas exclaimed (John 20:28; NLT).
5. My eyes strain to see your rescue, to see the truth of your promise fulfilled (Psalm 119:123; NLT).
We receive God’s promise of freedom only by believing in Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:22; NLT).
This is God’s plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus (Ephesians 3:6; NLT).
The dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:7; NIV).
I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever ( Revelation 21:3-4; NLT).
Two people have hurt me badly in the last few weeks. In both cases, after some thought, I was honest with those involved, expressing my response as lovingly as I could. However, they both reacted with anger and blame. Sadly, offering to meet for reconciliation has brought no response.
Since then, I repeatedly go over all that happened, which generates a constant, painful, and exhausting sense of dread.
The crux of my anxiety is that when someone hurts me, I don’t know whether I should speak out, or say nothing. Each approach has different consequences.
What did Jesus say and do?
As always, I look for guidance in Jesus’ teaching and example. However, he taught, and displayed, both outspoken and silent ways of responding to hurt and injustice, which I find confusing.
Until his arrest, Jesus always spoke the truth in love when people criticised or insulted him. He was, in fact, very direct. His honesty made him a lot of enemies, and contributed to his death.
After his arrest, Jesus said very little, no matter what he was accused of, and how he was treated. This puzzled his captors, perhaps antagonising them even more.
Over the years, I’ve tried both approaches. What happens when I follow Christ’s example in these two, very different, ways?
A. Speaking out
When I “speak the truth in love”, it almost always backfires. The person I’ve been honest with turns on me, angrily blaming me for what I said, even though it was their own hurtful behaviour towards me that I spoke about. I then react to their hostility with my characteristic chronic dread.
B. Saying nothing
When I say nothing, I simply allow the other person to hurt me, absorbing the pain and damage, just as I did with my emotionally abusive mother. Without feedback, of course, there is a risk that they may continue to damage me. This makes me feel helpless and powerless, worsening my chronic depression.
Either way, I can easily end up feeling as if life is not worth living.
Fortunately, Jesus is absolutely clear that whether we speak out or say nothing, we should always forgive those who hurt us. This applies even if they never recognise what they have done, and never say they are sorry.
When people hurt me, I ruminate endlessly about how I responded, and what went wrong. Whether I speak out or say nothing, the outcome is equally damaging for my mental health.
Worse still, I also feel guilty for having “caused” the other person to strike back angrily at me, and to hate me from then onwards.
So, when someone hurts me, should I speak out, or say nothing? I still don’t know the answer to this question, which has plagued me all my life. All I can do is to pray for those who hurt me, asking God to guide and heal us all.
Image: Himsan, Pixabay
Even my best friend, the one I trusted completely, the one who shared my food, has turned against me (Psalm 41:9; NLT).
What did Jesus say and do?
Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps (1 Peter 2:21; NIV).
You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? (Matthew 23:33; NIV).
The leading priests kept accusing him of many crimes, and Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer them? What about all these charges they are bringing against you?” But Jesus said nothing, much to Pilate’s surprise (Mark 15:3-5; NLT).
If you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God(Matthew 5:23-4; NLT).
A. Speaking out
Speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church (Ephesians 4:15; NLT).
If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them (Luke 17:3-4; NIV.
The churning inside me never stops; days of suffering confront me (Job 30:27; NIV).
B. Saying nothing
He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth (Isaiah 53:7; NLT).
You have taken away my companions and my loved ones. Darkness is my closest friend (Psalm 88:18; NLT).
Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me (Psalm 42:7;NIV).
Why wasn’t I buried like a stillborn child, like a baby who never lives to see the light?(Job 3:16; NLT).
When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there [and] Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:33-4; NIV).
When you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins (Mark 11:25; NLT).
Love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you (Luke 6:27-8; NLT)
The Lord of Hosts […] is wonderful in counsel and excellent in guidance (Isaiah 28:29; NKJV).
Today’s blog is about emotional abuse, and its consequences.
Introduction The following quotation sets the scene, though its relevance might not be clear until you have read the whole article:
Turn your steps towards these everlasting ruins, all this destruction the enemy has brought on the sanctuary. Your foes roared in the places where you met with us; they set up their standards as signs. They behaved like men wielding axes to cut through a thicket of trees. They smashed all the carved panelling with their axes and hatchets. They burned your sanctuary to the ground; they defiled the dwelling place of your Name. They said in their hearts, “We will crush them completely!” They burned every place where God was worshipped in the land (Psalm 74:3-8; NIV).
An open letter to my mother Mother, despite claiming to love me, you established control over me from my early childhood onwards. You did this through scorn, criticism, bullying, condemnation, rage, and bouts of violent destructiveness. These behaviours made me fear you deeply. I lived in dread of your next outburst.
You continued to maintain control over me during my teenage years and adulthood, too, using intrusion, disapproval, and anger when I dared to express personal feelings, thoughts or beliefs you didn’t like. Similarly, you reacted with fury and threats of coercion if I tried to make my own decisions about what I wanted to do with my life. When I made mistakes, or got things wrong, you never forgave me, or forgot it. All this made me dread seeing you and spending time with you. I particularly hated the sound of your voice, and loathed you touching me, but was afraid to stand up to you, or to say “no”.
Your ways of controlling me have had severe, pervasive, long-term consequences for my mental health, in the form of low self-esteem, anxiety, dread, panic attacks and agoraphobia. I have also had to cope with a constant sense of not wanting to be alive, with chronic depression, and with episodes of acute depression. Furthermore, one question has always preyed on my mind:
How could you say you loved me, yet behave as you did towards me?
It didn’t make sense. I just couldn’t square what you said with what I experienced.
Then, on the 24th of May, 2020, a friend sent me a message she had seen on a Facebook site about domestic abuse. It read:
It’s not CONSENT if you make me afraid to say no.
I stared at these words, instantly electrified by their brevity, clarity and profound truth. Within seconds, a personal variation flashed into my mind:
It’s not LOVE if you make me afraid to say no.
Deeply stirred by this insight, further phrases began tumbling out of my unconscious mind. Here are just a few examples:
It’s not love if you make me afraid to disagree.
It’s not love if you criticise me all the time.
It’s not love if you make me afraid to be myself.
It’s not love if you make me afraid to choose for myself.
It’s not love if you belittle my achievements.
It’s not love if you only approve of me when I behave like you.
At last, in my late sixties, my friend’s message had given me the answer to my question: your behaviour towards me shows clearly that you did not, in fact, love me in any meaningful way at all.
This shocking realisation made me consider what kinds of behaviour do, in fact, reflect and express genuine love. Here are the best answers I’ve found so far:
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous, or boastful, or proud, or rude. It does not demand its own way (1 Corinthians 13:4-5; NLT).
It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:5; NIV).
I know that none of us is perfect, mother, but when I confronted you, you could at least have admitted what you did to me, and said you were sorry. Over the years, I managed to raise the subject of your behaviour with you several times, always at huge personal cost. However, you never responded with genuine understanding or honesty, instead always trying to justify, minimise, or deny what you had done.
For many years now, I have worked hard to forgive you. Sometimes I even think I’ve succeeded. Fortunately, God understands and accepts the intense anger and bitterness that can still occasionally emerge from my mind, heart and soul. Slowly, gently, he gives me the insights I need in order to be healed, for which I am profoundly thankful.
Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honouring each other (Romans 12:9; NLT).
Do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them (Ephesians 6:4; NLT).
Thank you for my life, Lord, My exile here on earth,
For all I have experienced
Thank you for my wounds, Lord,
My healing at your hands;
For all the care I’ve welcomed
Thank you for my darkness, Lord,
My losses, and my grief;
For all the times I’ve laid awake
Thank you for my sins, Lord,
My sorrow and my shame;
For all the ways I’ve tried
To put things right.
Thank you for your gifts, Lord,
Your blessings, and your joy;
For all the fears
I’ve worked to overthrow.
Thank you for my home, Lord,
My kindred, food, and drink;
For all the ways I’ve had to change
Thank you for your teaching, Lord,
Your pattern, faith and hope;
For all the sickness
I have had to face.
Thank you for your crown, Lord,
Your forgiveness, and your love;
My birth, life, death, and, most of all,
When I bring you home from exile, you will be like a pleasing sacrifice to me(Ezekiel 20:41; NLT).
Though he wounds, he also bandages. He strikes, but his hands also heal(Job 5:18; NLT).
Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows (John 16:33; NLT).
If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift (Matthew 5:23-4; NIV).
Be thankful in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18; NIV).
He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases. He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies (Psalm 103:2-4; NLT).
God saved you by his grace when you believed (Ephesians 2:8; NLT).